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Honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May 20, 2021

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The Diaspora and Multicultural Partnerships team at UNICEF USA is pleased to commemorate and celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The month of May recognizes the history and culture of the AAPI Diaspora community and their contributions to the U.S. and the world.

In 1978, a joint Congressional resolution established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week which was later expanded to a month-long celebration. May was chosen to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants in May 1843 and the invaluable contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad completed in May 1869. Over the years, the AAPI community in the U.S. has grown exponentially, reaching 24.5 million currently, due to the increased migration of populations from this region seeking both refuge and opportunity.

UNICEF’s programs are implemented across the wide expanse of the AAPI region, with offices in 32 countries whose mission it is to support the most vulnerable children in the hardest-to-reach places. AAPI Diaspora organizations in the U.S. are plentiful, actively representing communities from Pakistan to the Philippines, from social clubs to professional associations. UNICEF USA recognizes the important role that Diaspora groups play in unifying disparate communities of former migrants and relatives with common affinities to specific AAPI countries. AAPI Heritage Month is a special chance to acknowledge the critical nature of linkages within these communities and the affirmation of the nexus between communities in the U.S. and their original homelands in the Diaspora. 

Citizens above 45 years of age wait to receive a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Shivaji Nagar's vaccination center in Mumbai, India. © UNICEF/UN0459706/Koyande

The catastrophic toll that COVID-19 is taking on the country of India is a stark example of how South Asian communities in the Diaspora have responded and are collaborating in the wake of the tsunami-like effects of the virus. South Asians are the fastest-growing population among all major ethnic groups in the U.S. and the 3.9 million Indian Americans make up roughly 80% of the South Asian community. With close to 26 million confirmed cases, as of May 2021, and over 283,000 deaths, the coronavirus continues to exact a vise-like grip on India. Indian Diaspora groups, along with others, have come together in powerful ways during the emergency, resulting in strategic giving that has majorly helped to stem the tide. UNICEF India’s humanitarian appeal has seen positive results from requests for resources to enhance on-the-ground support for an ailing health system in India. Groups like Indiaspora, a non-profit network of global Indian-origin leaders are increasing their visibility and facilitating exciting collaborations.

We seek to be an inspiration for the Diaspora, to be a force for good, to provide a platform to collaborate, to build community engagement ...and to catalyze social change."– Indiaspora

UNICEF has warned that other countries in the AAPI region are bracing for new surges of the virus, with cases in neighboring countries rising at alarming rates across South Asia, especially in Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. AAPI Diaspora communities are already beginning to raise awareness about the potential devastation that will likely extend further throughout the region. UNICEF USA is hopeful that these partnerships will strengthen the world’s capacity to respond and is encouraged by Vice President Kamala Harris’ recent speech paying tribute to Diaspora groups working together across nations to build bridges that address this global crisis.

18-year-old Mohammad comforts a younger Rohingya refugee while the child’s family went to bring back aid after their home was lost to the fire that devastated the Balukhali area of the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar. Faisal’s own shelter also burned down during the fire. Thousands of homes have been destroyed upending the lives of Rohingya families and children living in the refugee camps. © UNICEF/UN0432247/Lateef

Lastly, it is important to note that celebrating AAPI Heritage Month raises our collective consciousness about the significance of history and asks the world to acknowledge and appreciate the lived experiences and ancestral links of AAPI communities. This commemoration includes essential information-sharing that is especially important in light of recent violent incidents targeting the AAPI community across the United States. UNICEF USA is committed to working toward a world where children across the globe are free from racism, violence and hatred and we stand firmly in support of the Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities who make up a robust and dynamic part of the Diaspora.

UNICEF USA is committed to representing the varied interests of Diaspora communities in support of UNICEF’s global work. The Diaspora and Multicultural Partnership team is dedicated to building relationships that are emblematic of UNICEF USA’s embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion. AAPI Heritage Month is an apt contribution to producing an inclusive environment in the U.S., devoid of discrimination against any single group, and instead one that creates an environment of understanding and appreciation. 

If you would like to learn more, please contact:
Anne-Marea Griffin
Senior Director, Diaspora Partnerships
UNICEF USA
amgriffin@unicefusa.org

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Top Photo: At least 1,200 students, with teachers and parents at Vila North School joined the globe to celebrate World Children’s Day and say no to violence against children with support from Ministry of Education & Training and UNICEF Pacific. © UNICEF/UN0259590/Pacific