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How to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in the Workplace

Written by
Connie Du
Connie Du

Let’s not beat around the bush. 2021 was a year that saw a rise in anti-Asian sentiment worldwide. We want to always celebrate the diverse cultures, histories, and often underreported contributions of the AAPI community, but this year, it feels especially poignant.

At Bonusly, we’re strong believers in bringing our full selves to work—including our ethnic and racial backgrounds. Not only that, but we like to celebrate it. Recognizing and celebrating employees’ racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds can be effective in building psychological safety and employee engagement!

If your leadership team or key stakeholders need a bit of a nudge to embrace diversity, equity, and inclusion, download this fact sheet for some of the most compelling D&I statistics around.

The beginning of May signals a month-long celebration of the many, many, cultural backgrounds that make up the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity. AAPI Heritage Month is a great opportunity to have fun, learn about your colleagues, and educate yourself! 

Understand

In 1976, congressional staffer Jeanie Jew witnessed the United States’ bicentennial celebration (it’d been 200 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed) and was troubled by the lack of recognition for AAPI contributions. Her great-grandfather, M.Y. Lee, had immigrated to the United States in the 1800s to help build the transcontinental railroad—a tremendous accomplishment that was blighted by violent anti-Asian discrimination and the introduction of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

She’d mentioned her concerns to New York Congressman Frank Horton, and it took until 1992—more than 15 years later—before the legislation to permanently designate May as AAPI Heritage Month passed through Congress.

“The revelations about Mr. Lee and the story of Asian Americans led [Jeanie Jew] to believe that not only should Asians understand their own heritage, but that all Americans must know about the contributions and histories of the Asian-Pacific American experience in the United States.”
–New York Congressman Frank Horton

So, why May? It commemorates the first Japanese people to immigrate to the United States, on May 7, 1843, and also is a nod toward the May 10, 1869 completion of the same transcontinental railroad that Jeanie Jew’s own grandfather had worked on.

Now, 23 million Asian American and Pacific Islanders trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with their own unique histories and cultural practices. There’s a lot to cover—here are a few ways to get started:

Learn

Often seen as a monolithic “model minority,” we should first understand that “Employment and economic status among members of the AAPI community are also far from uniform: While some AAPI subpopulations are heavily concentrated in higher-wage professional and management occupations, others are heavily concentrated in lower-wage service occupations.”

This danger of a single story rears its head here. The AAPI community consists of more than 50 ethnic groups, grouped together as a demographic purely because of vague geographic borders; it’s impossible to capture a singular “Asian-American experience.” Instead, the following ideas and resources are meant to capture the diversity of narratives and stories present in the AAPI community.

books

Read a book by an AAPI author

There’s nothing like diving into new experiences through a great book. Host a book club with your team members, and learn together!

Some of our favorite books by AAPI authors include:

The Making of Asian America: A History
Erika Lee
Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning
Cathy Park Hong
Asian American Dreams: The Emergence of an American People
Helen Zia
The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen
How to Pronounce Knife
Souvankham Thammavongsa
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations
Mira Jacob
Crying in H Mart
Michelle Zauner
Sour Heart
Jenny Zhang
The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan
Interpreter of Maladies
Jhumpa Lahiri

film

Watch a movie by an AAPI director

Something about watching something come to life on the screen just gives us full body chills. If you’re not much of a reader, there’s some really excellent movIes out there that explore the multiplicity of the AAPI experience. At Bonusly, we often host movie screenings (virtually, for now!) as a way to learn about our cultures and spend time together.

Nomadland (2020)
Chloé Zhao
Minari (2020)
Lee Isaac Chung
Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
John Chu
The Farewell (2019)
Lulu Wang
Always Be My Maybe (2019)
Nahnatchka Khan
Bitter Melon (2018)
H.P Mendoza
Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1987)
Christine Choy
Tigertail (2020)
Alan Yang
Meet the Patels (2015)
Ravi Patel, Geeta Patel
Columbus (2017)
Kogonada

Do

Eat and drink

We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again—eating and drinking is one of our favorite ways to get to know a culture better. Here are a few different ways to enjoy and learn about AAPI cuisine:

Participate in asynchronous discussion

For a lightweight way to learn and discuss, Bonusly likes to post a prompt in the beginning of the week—typically a short video or article—with some questions to get everyone thinking. Team members are free to discuss and chat about what was striking, surprising, or new to them.

Here’s some media we’re planning to talk about:

Make a contribution to an AAPI non-profit organization

Donating to an organization that advances AAPI issues is a great way to tangibly support the AAPI community. Here are a few to applaud, research, and donate to:

Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC) 

Fighting for civil rights and empowering Asian Americans to create a more just America for all.

Bonusly is proudly spotlighting Asian American Advancing Justice (AAJC) as our featured donation for the month of May!

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

SAALT’s vision is to help build a South Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ty with shared val­ues that uplift all peo­ple of col­or, and will cross lines of race, caste, gen­der, sex­u­al­i­ty, and reli­gion to abol­ish sys­tems of oppres­sion and achieve col­lec­tive lib­er­a­tion.

Asian Mental Health Collective

Asian Mental Health Collective seeks to raise awareness about the importance of mental health care, promote emotional well-being, and challenge the stigma concerning mental illness amongst  Asian communities worldwide.

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)

Our mission is to build collective power with AAPI women and girls to gain full agency over our lives, our families, and our communities.

Red Canary Song

A grassroots collective of Asian & migrant sex workers, organizing transnationally.

Stop AAPI Hate

Stop AAPI Hate began as a reporting center to track and analyze incidents of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through our reports and advocacy, we have raised national awareness about the issue of anti-Asian hate.

Host a speaker from your local AAPI coalition

Chances are, you have a local organization that's working hard to advance the AAPI community and pursue justice in your area. They're your experts—why not invite them to speak at your company about the unique issues your city is tackling? It's a great way to build stronger relationships in the community you reside in. Google around for who's present in your area—this list is also a good place to start. 

Next steps

Has this post sparked inspiration? Tell us in the comments below, or check out these additional Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion resources from Bonusly:

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Originally published on May 01, 2021 → Last updated June 2, 2021

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Connie Du

Connie is on the marketing team at Bonusly and is dedicated to making workdays a little brighter for everyone. ☀️She loves writing, her cats, and a well-placed emoji.

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