Asian American and Pacific Heritage Month


Siha Park, Contributor

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebrates Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. Asian includes the whole of the Asian continent and Pacific includes the Pacific islands in the subregion Melanesia.

Why is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May?

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month lasts for the entirety of May. It was chosen to be the month to celebrate AAPI people because it marks the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States. They immigrated on May 7, 1843. It is also observed as the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was completed on May 10, 1869.

The First Japanese Immigrant

America’s first Japanese immigrant is considered to be a 14-year-old fisherman whose name is Manjiro. He was the man of his family, becoming a fisherman to help support his family. He joined a crew with four other sailors and set sail on January 5th to search for bonito. Unfortunately, their ship was caught in a storm, going off course. It crashed on January 13th. One of his crew mates, Jusuke, had gotten severe injuries on his leg. The crew spent six months surviving on the little food they found. 

On June 27th, the whaling ship, “John Howland”, spotted the crew. Sailors from the ship went ashore to look for fresh water and to supplement their supplies. By the orders of the ship’s commander, the fishermen were brought onto the ship by the sailors. Fortunately, the commander was kind, and fed and clothed the fishermen. Because they came from Japan, they were not able to be returned due to the country’s closed doors. 

For the next five months, the fishermen traveled with the sailors. Soon after arriving in Hawaii, Captain Whitfield started his preparations to leave, inviting Manjiro with him to be educated. Although the other four fishermen did not favor breaking up the group, they decided to trust the captain and let Manjiro pick. The Captain decided to shorten Manjiro’s name to John Mung. 

Manjiro arrived at his second home at 11 Cherry Street, Fairhaven on May 7, 1843. He temporarily lived with the captain’s friend, Eben Aiken as the captain was busy. He was tutored by a local teacher, Jane Allen so he could be somewhat prepared for his first schooling in autumn. Manjiro’s first school in America was the Old Oxford Schoolhouse. 

The captain returned and bought a farm, where Manjiro was able to learn how to ride a horse. Because the farm was farther away from the Old Stone Schoolhouse than before, Manjiro attended another smaller, local school. He was later accepted to study at the Bartlett School to learn advanced mathematics, navigation, surveying, and coppering. 

Manjiro wanted to see his family. He went to Hawaii to meet up with his former crew mates. Jusuke, who received injuries to his leg, had passed away, only letting Manjiro meet up with three other fishermen.  Even though Manjiro had failed to return to Japan once, he decided to try again. He took advantage of the “gold fever” in California and earned enough money to take himself and the other fishermen back to Japan. 

The three boarded the American ship Sarah Boyd, set for China. When they neared the Ryukyu Islands, they lowered a separate boat, named Adventurer, and rowed. About three weeks later, they approached Okinawa island. At first, the locals were afraid of them, but after a short period of time, they were accepted. Word about them spread around, and they were taken into custody to be interrogated. Although they were taken care of well, their movements were restricted. He finally had a reunion with his family after 11 years and 10 months. Unfortunately, their reunion was short as Manjiro was summoned to teach English to samurai and others. 

In December, 1853, Manjiro was appointed as a samurai who was in direct service to the Shogun. He took on a second name and adopted that of his home village, becoming Manjiro Nakahama. The treaty negotiations with Commodore Perry were indirectly influenced by him, ending 250 years of Japan isolating itself from the rest of the world. While traveling on a mission to Europe in 1870, Manjiro stopped by New York City to visit Captain Whitfield. They reunited after 21 years. Manjiro died on November 12, 1898 in his son’s home. 

How To Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

As AAPI Heritage Month, or Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is approaching, here is a list of some ways to celebrate:

  1. Reading Asian Pacific related books
  2. Watching Asian Pacific related movies
  3. Exploring Asian Pacific art
  4. Exploring Asian Pacific agriculture
  5. Trying Asian Pacific gourmet

Inventions made by Asian/Pacific Americans

Before USB was invented, computers used ports to plug devices into computers and transfer data. Imagine the lengthy procedure! So, who had the genius idea of shortening the process? Indian-American developer Ahay Byatt invented the USB. Steven Shih Chen, Taiwanese & American entrepreneur, along with two other people saw potential in the site and bought it. There are more inventions made by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a result of many Asian/Pacific contributions. Annually recognizing Asian/Pacific historical and cultural contributions helps citizens learn more about them.