May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute

There are more than 40 different Asian/Pacific Island languages spoken as a second language in the American household. A rather broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji, and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, and the Federated States of Micronesia), and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, and Easter Island).


The month of May was chosen for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Observance because of two important dates in the middle of the month. On the seventh of May in 1843, the first Japanese immigrant traveled to the United States. On May 10, 1869, the transcontinental railroad was completed. Most the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.


The Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Executive Directorate of Research, Development, And Strategic Initiatives has released the following facts in celebration of 2017 Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month:


  • Private Jose B. Nisperos became the first Asian/Pacific American to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on Sept. 24, 1911, while engaged in combat at Lapurap, Basilan, Philippine Islands.

  • Asian/Pacific American women first entered military service during World War II. The Women's Army Corps (WAC) recruited 50 Japanese-American and Chinese-American women and sent them to the Military Intelligence Service Language School at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, for training as military translators.

  • Filipino-American women worked with the underground resistance movement to help American forces in the Philippines throughout the three-year period of Japanese occupation during World War II.

  • After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Japanese-Americans were perceived as a threat to national security based solely on their ethnic ancestry. Consequently, in 1942 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the War Relocation Authority. Thousands of Japanese-Americans were involuntarily moved to internment camps. Despite being subjected to prejudice and discrimination, a large number of Nisei (first generation Japanese-Americans born in the United States) volunteered for service in the U.S. Army.

  • On December 20, 1941, the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) of the Chinese Air Force, nicknamed the Flying Tigers, was comprised of pilots from the United States Army Air Corps, Navy, and Marine Corps.

  • Carolyn Hisako Tanaka served in Vietnam despite having been placed in an internment camp with her family following the attack on Pearl Harbor when she was 6 years old. After the war, the family returned to find their home had been burned down. In 1966, as an emergency room nurse, she enlisted in the Army, telling skeptical friends, “I have a skill that is needed in Vietnam, and I’m going there to do my duty for my country.”

  • Sunita Lyn “Suni” Williams, is an American astronaut and United States Navy officer of Indian-Slovenian descent. She holds the records for total spacewalks by a woman (7) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes).

  • In 1956, Dalip Singh from California became the first Asian-American elected to Congress. In 1962, Daniel K. Inouye from Hawaii was elected to the Senate, and Spark Matsunaga from Hawaii elected to the House. Two years later, Patsy Takemoto Mink from Hawaii was elected to the House, becoming the first Asian-American woman in Congress.

  • The 442nd Regimental Combat Team (RCT) was an infantry regiment in the United States Army comprised of Americans of Japanese ancestry. The 442nd fought in Italy and France during World War II against the German Army of Hitler's Third Reich.

  • 33 Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans have received the Medal of Honor.

  • Born in Hawaii, Ellison Onizuka entered active duty with the U.S. Air Force in January 1970. He was an aerospace flight test engineer before becoming a mission specialist on the Discovery and Challenger Space Shuttles. Aboard the Discovery, Onizuka and the crew completed 48 orbits of the Earth. Onizuka died on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger exploded. Sunnyvale Air Force Station was renamed to Onizuka Air Force Station on January 26,1994. The base was active from 1960-2010.