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A mother with her daughter seeks information at the Harold Washington branch of the Chicago Public Library over the weekend.

Asian-Americans start off May celebrating heritage with entertainment, knowledge

by Michelle Salemi
May 01, 2012

What once began as a 10-day celebration now encompasses the entire month of May as one public facility in Chicago helps the Asian Pacific American community reconnect to its cultural challenges, achievements and contributions.

The Chicago Public Library is hosting a variety of programs highlighting the traditions and history of the Asian-Americans, as well as focusing on their contributions made to music and the music industry.

Leland Elder, a member of the marketing department at the CPL, said he expects a good number of people gathering this year based on past events.

“We usually get a good turnout for all of the ethnic heritage month celebrations,” Elder said. “Moreover, the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month opening program is usually very well-attended.”

Michelle Kim, 22, a Schaumburg resident who is of Korean descent, said Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, commonly known as APAHM, is an important time for people to experience her ethnic background.

“I’ve come across Asian Pacific American heritage month a few times in my life,” Kim said. “It’s a nice notion to raise awareness of my culture and our triumphs.”

The Asian American Coalition of Chicago, or AACC, supports this month’s celebration and encourages residents to participate in the events that take place throughout the city.

Doug Nguyen, AACC chairperson for 2013, said he sees the positive effects APAHM has in the city.

“The celebration very much resonates within the Chicago communities because it highlights our diversity and contributions to Chicago's socioeconomic and cultural life,” Nguyen said.

Asian Pacific American heritage was first commemorated in 1978 for one week for a few reasons. The beginning of May marks the the anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese Immigrants and the completion of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese laborers.

Congress voted to expand it from a week to a month-long celebration in 1990. In 1992, the month of May was permanently designated as “Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.”

According to the American Presidency Project website, President Barack Obama gave an APAHM proclamation speech in May 2009, emphasizing the significance of recognizing this culture in our country.

“I call upon the people of the United States to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities,” Obama said.

The branches of the CPL celebrate diversity annually with other ethnic heritage month observances that feature programs from African American History Month to Women’s History Month.

For this reason, Kim said she is glad the CPL includes Asian Pacific American culture on the long list of ethnicities celebrated in such a diverse city.

“I think if Chicago public places are going to raise awareness on other heritages and cultures, it's also important to include the Asian Americans,” Kim said. “We are a deep part of the history here.”

To kick off the APAHM’s events, the library’s opening program will be held on Saturday at 2 p.m., at the Richard J. Daley branch. Scheduled events include traditional dance and musical performances.