A Reflection on Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month



This letter is dedicated to the APIA Scholars Staff and Board who are tireless advocates, passionate humans, and people with whom I am lucky to learn and grow from on a regular basis.

APIA Scholars was proud to participate in many opportunities commemorating and celebrating the AANHPI community this past month during AANHPI Heritage Month; however, our hearts are hurting as we look toward the upcoming Memorial Day weekend. Memorial Day offers all of us an opportunity for reflection as we commemorate the service and lives lost in our U.S. Armed Forces, this year certainly, we will all be reflecting on lives lost. I wrote the piece before the unspeakable tragedy in Texas this week and am horrified to add this to the list of violence that has occurred in these United States in the past two months. We have a lot of work to do in the weeks and months ahead, and while not wanting to minimize the celebration and hope the AANHPI community experienced during this commemorative month, our need to organize, speak out, and act is now more urgent than ever.

As Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month draws to a close, it is important to take time to reflect on the month, including the tremendous highs and lows. Originally declared Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in 1978 and expanded to the full month of May in 1992, Heritage Month – as we refer to it – is a time to uplift and celebrate the many contributions of the AANHPI community to our nation, the diversity within our community, and to honor the unique histories of these communities within the fabric of America.


When I think of what AANHPI Heritage Month has meant to me, the word “Resilience” comes to mind. I have had the opportunity to participate in panels and online discussions with fiercely passionate AANHPI women, who have risen above the racism, xenophobia, and hate they have experienced in their lifetimes and careers only to channel those experiences towards community activism, philanthropy, leadership, and the list goes on and on. Because they have been resilient and resolute in their commitment to action to advance change.


A true highlight of the month was listening to our own APIA Scholars student and alumni community share their unique talents, through beautiful expressions of poetry, art, dance, essay, and research at our 2022 Story Slam event. It was an emotional, “in living color” experience that underscored for all who attended the importance of authentic self-expression and acceptance, not only for those in the AANHPI community, but for us as human beings. Our scholars, like so many, have risen above abuse, harassment, racism, and unrelentless stereotyping, and yet they emerge resilient and full of promise.
The Story Slam at APIA Scholars provided tremendous hope and renewed commitment for our work and even reminded me to lean-in to the celebration of our community and to focus on the joy and beauty of the AANHPI community in America today.


Communities of color continue, even amongst the backdrop of AANHPI Heritage Month, to experience violence, racism, harassment, trauma, heartache, and fear.

  • 70-year-old Nirmal Singh, a Sikh man from India was brutally attacked in Queens, NY in an incident currently being investigated as a hate crime.
  • A gunman opened fire inside the Geneva Presbyterian Church whose congregants were members of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church wounding five individuals. The gunman was Taiwanese, investigators believe the shooting to be a politically motivated – underscoring the complexities also within the AANHPI community.
  • A gunman opened fire in a Korean owned hair salon in the Koreatown section of Dallas, TX, shooting three women, who have all survived.
  • Yumi Nu, the first Asian American “curved” model to appear on a Sports Illustrated cover is publicly called “Not Beautiful” by conservative online personality Jordan Peterson.


Jennifer Lee, professor of Social Sciences at Columbia University cited in a recent Brookings article, data that in the past year, 1 in 10 Asian Americans have been coughed on or spit on, 1 in 3 have been told to “go back to your country” (myself included) and yet, one-third of Americans, continue to remain unaware.

Lee writes that the invisibility of anti-Asian racism is a reflection of the invisibility of Asians in the American Imagination:

  • 58% of Americans cannot name a single prominent Asian American, and
  • 42% cannot think of a historical experience or policy related to Asian Americans.


Lee shares that the invisibility is also glaring in funding priorities. Between 1992 and 2018 the National Institutes of Health invested only 0.17% of its budget on research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Foundations have not fared better. Of the $19 billion awarded between 1983 and 1990, 0.18% was awarded to AAPI organizations, increasing to 0.20% by 2018. For every $100 awarded by foundations only 20 CENTS was designated for AAPI communities!
This year’s AANHPI Heritage Month comes just two months after the anniversary of the horrific Atlanta Spa shootings, and while there were commemorations, there has also been a sense of dismissiveness around this particular incident for reasons aptly outlined and discussed in the Vanity Fair article “How the Atlanta Spa Shootings Tell a Story of America” which was an incredibly humanizing depiction of the women who lost their lives.


As AANHPIs stand with other communities of color, most recently with the community of Buffalo, the sheer collective unity of support, advocacy, and commitment to one another is and can be reality. The changing fabric of America can no longer be ignored, and in fact, should be celebrated, because it is only as rich, intricate, and decorated as the diverse people who live within it.

Last week, I had the pleasure of standing in the Rose Garden off the West Wing of the White House listening to our President, Vice President, Dr. Jill Biden, and Ambassador Tai, celebrate, lift up, and underscore the importance of the achievements and contributions of AANHPIs “then and now”. Our Asian Vice President challenged us to ask, “Who are we as a Nation? And what do we stand for?”

We will have the opportunity to answer this question in the coming months and years and I implore us to take the path that is right, not the path that is easy.

It has been my honor to have participated in so many intentional, passionate, genuine, and inspiring events this May. I have been able to reconnect with leaders in the AANHPI community both virtually and in person and I am sure that spirit, hope, and dedications in our community is not only resilient, but thriving and will persevere.


Noel Harmon
May 26, 2022