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Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 17, 2022

Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! This month recognizes the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States.

A rather broad term, Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. The month of May was chosen to commemorate both the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad - which was predominantly built by Chinese immigrants on May 10, 1869.

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month, we're highlighting a few AAPI mountaineers, athletes, activists and leaders in the outdoors throughout history. Scroll down to learn more about each, and see below for resources to learn more. Additional highlights will be added throughout the month of May!

Mary Tape - Tape v. Hurley - Landmark Civil Rights Case

(photo credit: PBS)

Mary Tape: Almost 70 years before Brown v. Board of Education, Mary Tape fought for her daughter’s right to attend public school in California. Tape immigrated to the U.S. alone when she was 11 years old, and in 1884, she tried enrolling her daughter in a white public school in San Francisco. When her daughter was turned away by school authorities because of her Chinese ancestry, Mary and her husband Joseph sued the Board of Education. This lawsuit became a landmark civil rights case for public school desegregation.

Despite the ruling from the Supreme Court of California that stated “excluding children of Chinese parents from public schools” violated state law and the legal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, educators and administrators remained determined to keep Mamie Tape from going to school with white children. Tape v. Hurley became a landmark case addressing segregation in public schools and 70 years later, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education finally ruled that racial segregation in public school was unconstitutional in the U.S. (NPS)

Sammy Lee - First Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sammy Lee: Sammy Lee was the first Asian American man to win an Olympic gold medal and the first diver to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in the platform event. As a child, Lee was only permitted to use his community's public pool one day a week, the day that all non-white children could swim. As a college student, Lee won national AAU championships in the 3-meter springboard and 10-meter platform events.

Lee went on to earn an M.D. degree and joined the U.S. Army, serving in the medical corps during the Korean War. After retiring from competitive diving, he practiced as an ear, nose and throat specialist and coached the 1960 US Olympic diving team.

Ambreen Tariq - Founder of Brown People Camping

(photo credit: Appalachian Trail Conservancy)

Ambreen Tariq: Ambreen Tariq is the activist and outdoor enthusiast behind Brown People Camping which launched in 2016 in celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial. She utilizes storytelling to share how her life experiences as a Muslim, South-Asian American immigrant female have shaped her love for the outdoors and to promote more passionately for everyone to experience and enjoy the outdoors in their own authentic ways.

She is a non-practicing attorney who works for the federal government in Washington, DC. Through Brown People Camping, Ambreen Tariq has collaborated with various partners in government agencies, nonprofits, and private industry to promote diversity in the outdoors. Tariq also wrote Fatima’s Great Outdoors, a story about an Indian immigrant family’s first time exploring the outdoors. (NPR & Brown People Camping)

Outdoor Asian

Outdoor Asian: Outdoor Asian’s vision is to create a diverse and inclusive community of Asian and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors. They engage communities with locally-based trips, outings and workshops to inspire individuals and families in the outdoors, create a platform to lift up stories and histories, and connect individuals to a wide-ranging network to create API leaders in the outdoor recreation and environmental sectors.

Outdoor Asian has chapters in Los Angeles, Oregon, Vermont and Colorado! You can learn more about their work, as well as opportunities to participate in meetups, workshops and other events here.

(photo credit: Wikipedia)

George Helm Jr.: George Helm Jr., born in the small town of Kalamaula, on the island of Molokai, shaped the contemporary consciousness of Hawaiian identity and values for generations. Helm, a musician, activist and keen philosopher, is credited with resurfacing the term, “aloha aiana,” literally meaning “love of the land” in the collective fabric of Hawaii’s social movements of the 1970s. He was a passionate leader and peaceful instigator.

Helm's philosophy was, "We are in a revolution of consciousness. What we are looking for is the truth. There is man, and there is the environment. One does not supersede the other. Man is merely the caretaker of the land, that maintains his life and nourishes his soul. The land is sacred. The church of life is not in a building, it is in the open sky, the surrounding ocean, and the beautiful soil.” (Hawaii Magazine and Kingdom of Hawaii)

(photo credit: Refugee Congress)

Nga Vuong-Sandoval: Nga Vuong-Sandoval is the Refugee Congress Delegate for Colorado. As a Vietnamese refugee, Nga embraces her heritage and refugee experience and is empathetic to the plight and struggle of other communities. She shares, “today, I’m a proud Việtnamese refugee and social justice advocate. I understand that my parents’ steadfast cultural teachings were the nourishment I needed then and now. I recognize that my journey to learn about my own history, heritage, and culture was a gift from my ancestors. But the most important lesson learned for me is that not all prized possessions are stored in extravagant museums. They’re secured beautifully inside us. It manifests when I speak my mother tongue, celebrate my culture, and learn about my history. They’re my greatest treasures.”

Vuong-Sandoval is a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, a founding member and public speaker with Colorado Refugee Speakers Bureau, and so much more. She also received the 2021 Colorado Attorney General’s Award for “Outstanding Community Service” for her tireless advocacy for underrepresented communities. (Refugee Congress & History Colorado)

(photo credit: Negra Bohemian)

Yuji Ichioka: Yuji Ichioka was a Japanese American civil rights activist and historian who was born in San Francisco in 1930 to Japanese immigrant parents. Ichioka and his family were held at the Topaz Japaneze incarceration camp in Utah, and after their release, he attended UCLA. In 1966, Ichioka visited Japan for the first time, and on this trip was inspired to learn the language, culture and experience of Japanese immigrants in the US. Yuji Ichioka is credited with coining the term, “Asian American” which was revolutionary at the time as it united Asians in the US as one, creating a sense of solidarity and pride. (Negra Bohemian)

(photo credit: Aina Momona)

Queen Lili’uokalani: Lili’uokalani was the queen and last ruling monarch of the kingdom of Hawai’i, and was the first and only queen to rule the Hawaiian Islands, reigning from 1891 until they were seized and stolen by the imperial government of the USA. When Lili’uokalani’s brother was king, he was forced at gunpoint to sign the Bayonet Constitution which limited the monarchy’s power and also stated that only Hawaiian and white men who were wealthy could vote. When she became queen, she rejected this “constitution” and proposed her own which restored full power to the Hawaiian monarchy and voting rights for the por. Led by the US government and Sanford Dole (Dole Food Company), warships and US troops removed Lili’uokalani by force. Queen Lili’uokalani attempted to restore her throne, and continued to demand a free Kingdom of Hawai’I until her death. She’s also credited with over 150 songs, including Aloha Oe. (Negra Bohemian)


Right to Be: Right to Be works to build a world that is free of harassment and is filled with humanity. Their focus is on turning the care we have for each other into simple, creative, effective action. Daily, they train hundreds of people to respond to, intervene in, and heal from harassment. Right to Be offers free trainings to the public including bystander intervention for a variety of communities. This month, consider taking "Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment".  Explore their training options here

National Park Service, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - visit the National Park Service website highlighting Asian American and Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month! The page highlights history and heritage, travel, educator resources, stories and so much more! 

Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month with PBS- visit this link to view a collection of documentaries and programs that celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage. 

Check out Y-USA's API Heritage Month playlist on Spotify - Y-USA's National Asian Pacific Islander Leadership Network has created a playlist for API Heritage Month! 

Assigned Categories: Diversity & Inclusion