A Teacher’s Guide to Celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Diverse perspectives strengthen education, according to Heather Singmaster’s EdWeek article from November 2018. They broaden students’ view of history and teach them to respect people from different cultures. This month, you have the opportunity to foster students’ appreciation for Asian/Pacific Americans by celebrating Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
History of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a law that dedicated a week in May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week, according to the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month website. Then in 1992, Congress passed a law that designated May as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The politicians who proposed these laws, Rep. Frank Horton of New York and Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, chose May because the first Japanese immigrant came to the United States May 7, 1843, and the transcontinental railroad — which was mostly made by Chinese immigrants — was completed on May 10, 1869.
Why Asian/Pacific Heritage Month Is Important
Asian Pacific Islanders make up 6.8% of the population and are the fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the United States. Yet Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have been underrepresented in this country for years, according to Connie Chang’s article for Parents published April 2021. Plus, recent anti-Asian violence in the United States proves why educators need to foster awareness and understanding, Chang said in her article.
It’s also important for all students to feel represented, Laura Thomas said in her Edutopia article from August 2016. When Asian/Pacific American students learn about historic people from their ethnic group who achieved great things, they believe they can accomplish anything.
Celebrating Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month can also help you keep students engaged toward the end of the school year. As you teach students about a culture some may be unfamiliar with, it can pique their curiosity and renew their interest.
How to Celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
You may feel like you don’t have time to teach students about Asian Pacific heritage, but there are many fun ways to integrate this annual celebration with ELA, Math, Social Studies, and Well-Being. Here are some ideas to get you started:
Show your class an age-appropriate film about Asian/Pacific culture. Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki’s made many kid-friendly movies you students can enjoy, including My Neighbor Totoro and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Disney movies like Moana, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Mulan can also introduce students to Asian/Pacific heritage.
Also, take advantage of Studies Weekly YouTube videos on Asian and Pacific Island heritage:
- Vietnamese Immigrant, Trang Nguyen
- Social Studies Heroes: Indira Gandhi
- Asian American Cultural Contributions
- May is Asian Pacific Month
ELA Integration: Use these movies to teach students new vocabulary words. You can also ask them to write a movie review or character profile to test their comprehension.
Visit a Museum (In-person or Virtually)
Go online and see if there is a museum in your area that exhibits artifacts from Asia and the Pacific Islands. If you can’t find one, don’t worry. Many museums offer online resources that you can use instead. For example, the Museum of Chinese in America in Chinatown, Manhattan, NY, hosts a MOCAKIDS Storytime program on Zoom every 2nd and 4th Thursday at 4 p.m. ET. The museum also has some of its collections online for students to browse.
Located in Seattle, Washington, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience offers school tours. However, if Seattle Washington is too far for you, they have some of their collections online too.
The Japanese American National Museum has tons of resources you can use for free, including on and offline activities, origami tutorial videos, printable curriculum, and first-person accounts of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Read Children’s Books
Celebrate Asian/Pacific heritage and improve your students’ reading at the same time with these delightful children’s books:
- Bilial Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed — A boy named Bilal teaches his friends how to cook his favorite meal: Daal. Together, they learn the value of patience, teamwork, and sharing.
- Drawn Together by Minh Lê — A Thai-American boy thinks he doesn’t have much in common with his grandfather but soon discovers they share a love for art.
- Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan — Grace loves hearing her grandmother’s stories about growing up in China. When her grandma suddenly passes away, Grace learns how to say goodbye.
- Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho — An Asian girl comes to appreciate what makes her beautiful by thinking of her mother and grandmother who also have eyes that “kiss in the corner.”
Teach About Historical Figures
Highlight remarkable Asian/Pacific historical figures, including Queen Liliuokalani, Hawaii’s first female monarch, Dalip Singh Saud, the first Asian, Indian, and Sikh to serve in Congress, and many Asian-American activists.
Read our blog Teaching about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month to learn more about other Asian/Pacific historical figures you can spotlight.
Ask students to research and write about some famous Asian/Pacific American like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, the voice of Maui in Moana; and Liu Yifei, who starred in Disney’s live-action film, Mulan. Students can also learn more about some of the Asian-American artists featured in the Smithsonian, such as painter Yasuo Kuniyoshi, sculptor Akio Takamori, and ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu.
Fascinate your students with not only what people eat in Asian and Pacific Island countries, but how they prepare their meals. In Tonga, for example, they cook food in an underground oven called an umu — unless they are roasting a pig on a spit. In Japan, chefs use different knives for chopping vegetables and certain types of fish.
For remote learning, students can prepare an Asian/Pacific meal with their family and make a video showing the cooking process.
Math Integration: Ask students to calculate how much food they would need to make a meal for the whole class. Then have them figure out the cost to buy all the ingredients.
Learn a Different Language
Another great way to instill an appreciation for Asian and Pacific Islander culture is by teaching your students how to say common phrases in different languages. They will see that people in other countries say, “Please” and “Thank you,” just like they do. And, learning these words in other languages can help your students remember social etiquette.
Promoting Diversity and Respect
As you celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month with your class, your students can grow to value different cultures, and see how our country benefits from people with various backgrounds. The more they respect and appreciate different cultures, the more likely they will become upstanding citizens in a multicultural society.
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