Asian-American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Recognizing immigrants
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the choice of month stemming from two historically significant dates: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the US (May 7, 1843) and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad (May 10, 1869), the latter made possible through the labor of thousands of Chinese Americans.
This Chinese American labor is an example of a significant, yet largely forgotten, piece of American history. The majority of the laborers working on the railroad were Chinese American. They worked in poor conditions and at one point went on strike for higher pay. Their impact on the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad was tremendous. However, despite their contributions, the history of these workers doesn’t receive much attention.
There are many stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States who, like the railroad workers, are underappreciated. The first Japanese immigrants to the United States came to the West Coast; the first to settle in Oregon were Miyo Iwakoshi and her family, who arrived in 1880. She was the first of thousands of Japanese immigrants to Oregon. Since the 1880s, many more immigrants from Japan have come to the US, making contributions as varied as owning businesses in their communities to political and social activism. Pacific Islanders, too, have impacted and shaped the nation as well as the state of Oregon in many significant ways since the first Pacific Islander immigrants arrived in the early 1800s.
So, instead of letting histories such as this fade into the background, it’s necessary to not just acknowledge but to focus on these unjustly marginalized groups. Treating these stories and the people they represent with the respect they deserve will not only positively impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders but will benefit what we know of the United States’ history and carry forward into the impactful contributions that are yet to come.
Anna Janowski is a teen volunteer at the Beaverton City Library. Outside of school, she likes to read, write, play softball and the trumpet.