Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
by Drew Baker/
May 10, 2019
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is every May. In the United States, the month is designed to celebrate and honor the history and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in this country.
Beginning in the 1970s, several states designated a week in May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. Government officials selected May to honor both the first Japanese immigrants to the United States (on May 7, 1843) and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (on May 10, 1869) — a project largely built by Chinese immigrant labor. In 1990, President Bush extended the celebration to a month-long observance.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the most religiously diverse racial groups in the United States. According to PRRI’s American Values Atlas (2016), 34% are unaffiliated, 15% Hindu, 7% Buddhist, 7% Muslim, 13% Catholic, and 16 % Protestant.
Like the wider American populace, the fastest growing group among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States is the unaffiliated. However, previous studies of Asian American and Pacific Islander religion in the United States have always found both wide religious diversity and significant populations that identify as “none” or “unaffiliated.” Among other things, the consistently high percentage of “unaffiliated” among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States points to the inherent limitations of dominant western ways of categorizing religion.
Since Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders claim extremely diverse cultural heritages and claim ancestors that became Americans at different points in the history of the United States (from the 1850s to the 1960s to today), recognizing the wide diversity among Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States is a central focus of this heritage month. In honoring the history behind the heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, it is also important to recognize that in many cases — particularly in the case of many of the first Pacific Islander Americans — the people did not cross national borders as immigrants, so much as the borders crossed them (as the United States added territories through colonization).
This month is an excellent opportunity to recognize, honor, and celebrate the diverse history of these communities — religious and otherwise. With this in mind, below you will find helpful starting points related to Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage for collection development, programming, and research for theological and religious education.
Learning about Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Religion:
Looking for basic statistical information and analysis about Asian Americans, Pacific Islander Americans, and religion? Start with PRRI and Pew’s recent studies of American religions. Both studies reveal the complex religious diversity among these populations.
Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History, edited by Xiaojian Zhao and Edward J.W. Park, 3 Volumes (Greenwood, 2014). ISBN: 9781598842395
Resources for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Programming and Support:
This government website (hosted by the Library of Congress) includes images, audio, video, exhibit information, and pedagogical resources for teachers and librarians. While the teaching resources are targeted more for secondary education, many of the ideas can be helpful platforms for developing programming for higher education (and theological higher education in particular).
The LA County public library system supports some of the most robust library programming related to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the country. In addition to concentrated programming during this month, the Asian Pacific Resource Center website (part of LA County Rosemead Public Library branch) has programming and resource suggestions year-round.
APALA is the association for Asian/Pacific American librarians. All librarians can find programming and resource suggestions related to Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage throughout their publications and events programming.
While ostensibly a guide to the Library of Congress’ resources on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, this very thorough guide provides helpful search suggestions applicable to any library in addition to robust bibliographies on the topic.
Asian American Librarians and Library Services: Activism, Collaborations, and Strategies, edited by Janet Hyunju Clark, Raymond Pun, and Monnee Tong (Rowman and Littlefield, 2018). ISBN: 9781442274921
Media on Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Religion:
What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics? : Reading the New Testament, by Tat-siong Benny Liew (University of Hawaii Press, 2008). ISBN: 9780824831622
The Future of Evangelical Theology: Soundings from the Asian American Diaspora, by Amos Yong (IVP Academic, 2014). ISBN: 9780830840601
Revealing the Sacred in Asian and Pacific America, edited by Jane Naomi Iwamura and Paul Spickard (Routledge, 2003). ISBN: 9780415938082
Off the Menu: Asian and Asian North American Women’s Religion and Theology, edited by Rita Nakashima Brock, Jung Ha Kim, Kwok Pui Lan, Seung Ai Yang (Westminster John Knox, 2007). ISBN: 9780664231408
American Sutra: A Story of Faith and Freedom in the Second World War, by Duncan Ryuken Williams (Harvard, 2019). ISBN: 9780674986534
Colonial Contexts and Postcolonial Theologies: Storyweaving in the Asia-Pacific, edited by Mark G. Brett and Jione Havea (Palgrave, 2014). ISBN: 9781137475466
This article is part of the Atla Committee for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion’s semi-regular articles designed to provide theological and religious studies librarians with resources and advice for providing equitable access and research to the full spectrum of human diversity.
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