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Asian Pacific Americans Seeking Recognition

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 15, 1998 – Asian Pacific Americans were among the last group of immigrants to flood the shores of America -- "melting pot of the world."

First, there was a great wave of European exploration and colonization. Colonists later brought shiploads of Africans to work on southern plantations. Next the Chinese were brought to work on the Pacific railroad. Later, Japanese, Filipinos and Koreans came to work on Hawaiian sugar plantations, according to researchers at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

Today, Asian Pacific Islanders, along with Hispanics, make up the largest groups coming to the United States, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service statistics for fiscal 1996.

There were restrictive country quotas limiting the number of Asians and Pacific islanders allowed to immigrate into the country. That changed with the enactment of the Immigration Act of 1965 leading to a great wave of Asians coming to America after the fall of Vietnam in 1975.

"With different histories, cultures, languages and identities, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Asian Indians, Koreans, Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders are grouped together as Asian Pacific Americans," read the institute's publication.

"Until World War II, there is little known of the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to the Department of Defense," researchers noted.

Growing sentiment in the Asian Pacific American community for national recognition of their contributions to U.S. history and culture prompted Congress to pass resolutions proclaiming the week of May 4, 1979, as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, said Corazon Sandoval Foley, chairperson of the Asian Pacific American Federal Foreign Affairs Council.

Foley is also a senior regional economist for East and South Asia in the State Department's Office of Economic Analysis, Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

"President George Bush proclaimed the months of May 1991 and May 1992 as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month," said Foley. "(New York) Congressman Frank Horton sponsored the resolution which became law in 1992 which proclaimed May as the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

"He said the celebration is a way of saying a special 'Thank you' to the millions of Asian Pacific Americans who have contributed to making this country the greatest nation on Earth," said Foley, a Filipino American.

May was chosen because it marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to America. May also marks the anniversary of the driving of the Golden Spike, highlighting the completion of the transcontinental railroad. U.S. railroads brought Chinese workers to the United States to build the Central Pacific railroad across the Sierra Nevada.

"Commemorating the heritage and culture of Asian Pacific Americans is a time of great pride and rededication to the cause of greater representation and participation by the community in all aspects of American life," Foley said. "Pride, because heritage is one of great richness and depth that have facilitated the Asian Pacific American community's outstanding contributions to American history. The traditions of family, hard work and community have been critical in sustaining the community in good times -- and bad times."

She said there have been bad times, including the internment of some 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II and treating Chinese, Filipinos and other groups as targets of aggression throughout the United States.

But, Foley added, "The valor of the Japanese Americans who fought for our country during World War II affirmed the patriotism and loyalty of Japanese Americans -- and taught us important lessons about justice and tolerance in this country."

Vivian Kim, founder and chair of the National Association of Asian American Professional Women, said having an Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is important. "It's meaningful to us because it not only acknowledges our heritage, it also highlights the contributions we've made to society and our status in the United States," she said.

"It's particularly important for Asian American women who are trying to present a positive image in the work place and society as a whole," said Kim, a procurement analyst at the Department of Health and Human Services' Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration. "Usually, Asian American women are perceived as passive and project a poor image because of our history.

"Confucius teachings says you obey your father when you're a child," Kim said. "When you get married, you obey your husband. When you're old, you obey your first son. That's the environment the Asian woman grew up in -- man as the center of her whole life."

Confucianism is the ethical teachings formulated by Confucius and named after the ancient Chinese philosopher and teacher. It introduced into Chinese religions the emphasis of devotion to parents, family and friends, cultivation of the mind, self-control and just social activity.

"That was our attitude and behavior, consequently we're perceived as very humble, passive -- silent," Kim said. "We never speak out. To an Asian woman, suffering in silence is a beautiful virtue."

But 20th century Asian women's lives are changing because of more educational and training opportunities, and they're motivated, she said.

"Now it's time we change the way society views us!" Kim said emphatically.

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