AAPI Heritage Month | 2021
Following overwhelming support from both chambers of Congress, President Biden signed legislation last Thursday to address the increase in hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The law passed by a vote of 94 to 1 in the Senate, and 364 to 62 in the House. “We simply haven’t seen this kind of bipartisanship for much too long in America,” President Biden said.
May is National Asian Pacific American Heritage (AAPI) Month. In the US, the AAPI community comprises approximately 50 ethnic groups who speak over 100 languages, including Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, and Hawaiian.
Between 2000 and 2019, the AAPI population was the fastest growing minority group in the United States, an increase of 81% percent. During this time, the AAPI population in Arizona grew almost twice the national average. Close to 10% of the total AAPI population in Arizona live in Tucson.
Asian Americans were among some of the earliest settlers in Tucson, arriving 140 years ago via the Southern Pacific Railroad. Along with other ethnic groups, Asian Americans helped Tucson become a vibrant metropolis by operating small businesses and aiding Mexican refugees entering the United States after the Mexican Revolution.
In 1882 the United States Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting Chinese immigration. Chinese men in Arizona had to carry identification papers at all times, and were frequently harassed by inspectors. Apart from the constant threat of deportation, there were also frequent crimes committed against Chinese men, especially storekeepers.
But some of these Chinese families stayed, and prospered. Many grew fresh vegetables that provided Tucson with food otherwise not available, and owned laundry businesses and restaurants. The University of Arizona tells some of these stories here.
If you have driven up the Catalina Highway towards Mt. Lemmon, you have certainly seen this sign. The Tucson Federal Prison Camp, also known as the Catalina Federal Honor Camp, was a minimum-security honor camp built to house trustee-level felons. Originally built due to an agreement between the Bureau of Prisons, the Bureau of Public Roads, and the Arizona Highway Commission to use prison labor to build a new highway into the Catalina mountains outside of Tucson, Arizona, this prison housed war-resisters of various backgrounds during World War II. Most notably, Gordon Hirabayashi served his prison sentence for violating curfew and exclusion orders after he lost his appeal to the Supreme Court in 1943, followed by forty-one Nisei who served between six and twenty-four-month sentences for Selective Service violations in 1944. The site of the former prison, which is located on the Coronado National Forest, was renamed in 1999 the Gordon Hirabayashi Recreation Site.
One of our interns, Jack Wampler, interviewed our own Alexus Dudoit on her perspective as a Tucsonan with Hawaiian heritage.
J: “What does the AAPI experience mean to you?”
A: “It’s just part of my life. But, it led me here. I’ve never really thought about it before because it’s just inherent in my life and it hasn’t impacted me as much as my family.”
J: “How do you feel your experiences have differed as a resident of Tucson?”
A: “That’s the cool thing about Tucson, it’s made up of a really diverse population, so I never really had to worry about what people thought. My experience was different because I saw first hand what racism can lead to but never really experienced it directly myself.”
J:”What does it mean to you to be a member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in Tucson?”
A: “It means having a group of people that understand the culture I was born into that I don’t always see. It’s a different way of growing up, values, and ideals, but I’m so grateful for it. Members of the AAPI community may not face discrimination in the same way their grandparents once did, but the trauma from that suffering still affects them today. For example, my great-grandparents spoke Hawai’ian, but then the language was banned and my family was never exposed to it. That’s why it’s important every day to recognize how the AAPI community has contributed to places like Tucson.”
J:”How would you suggest that people learn more about how to support the AAPI community?”
A:” If you have a chance, make sure to check out the Self Evident: Asian America’s Stories podcast; it’s all about changing Asian American stereotypes with storytelling from the AAPI community.”
Here are some AAPI community groups in Tucson that focus on cultural education.
Situated at La Cañada Dr. and River Rd., the 15,000-square-foot Chinese Cultural Center serves the social and cultural needs of the 5,000 Chinese residents living in Pima County. The contemporary structure honors Chinese tradition with symbolic design elements, such as circular moon gates and the use of the color red. The center’s main hallway displays quarterly rotating exhibits and items depicting the history of Tucson’s Chinese Americans.
They even have a YouTube channel complete with cooking videos!