Asian American and Pacific Islanders, grouped under the acronym AAPI, spans a huge section of the globe. Honoring any ethnic group in the United States, education (and oftentimes re-education) is a lifelong process. It’s important to keep learning for ourselves and to teach our tots about the unique cultures and peoples of the world.
AAPI: A brief history
“Asian American” was first coined in the 1960s in a movement to unite distinct groups under the collective experiences they were having in the U.S, as well as a preferred name over the term “oriental.” These groups included anyone with origins in East Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mongolia) and Southeast Asia (Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore).
By the 1980s, the U.S. Census expanded the term to include Pacific Islanders (Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia). This has since changed into separate groups officially, but AAPI or API as a group name has stuck. Today, “Asian American” consists of anyone with origins in East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia (Indian, Bangladesh, Sri Lankan, Nepal and Pakistani).
These groups represent over 26 different ethnic communities with over 67 unique languages and dialects – that’s a lot!
Why Honor AAPIs?
AAPIs are a significant part of U.S. culture and history despite not always being represented fairly or sometimes at all. Since the 1800s, Asian communities have been excluded with xenophobic behavior and anti-Asian laws, prohibiting them from being fully integrated into U.S. society, legally or culturally. The Chinese Exclusion Act, for example, had long lasting consequences that ended up discriminating against ALL Asians that wanted to come to the U.S.
Did you know that the reason the government chose May as AAPI month was because the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S in May 1843? Or that the first transcontinental railroad was completed in May 1869, with a work force consisting of 90% Chinese men who were then erased from photos and eliminated from the narrative of the work they did?
If Asian influence wasn’t in the U.S., think of all the things we'd miss out on — noodles, dumplings, sushi, curries, anime, yoga, martial arts, skincare, video games, cars, electronics, technology, fashion, science, medicine...
While the COVID19 pandemic has not been easy on anyone, the East and Southeast Asian communities have also been facing the pandemic of racism and anti-Asian hate. Many people have placed blame on anyone whom they believe is “Chinese-looking” for the virus. This type of blame is not only unhelpful but misplaced. The repercussions of these acts and words however, have rippled through families, friends and communities. The same sentiment of saying “go back to your country” (implying that they still don’t belong) has resurfaced in many social media videos in the last year, an idea that originated in the 1800s. For this reason it is even more important to honor AAPIs and their contributions as Americans who have been a part of U.S. development and growth since the very beginning.
As a Chinese-American woman, I have been particularly affected by the pandemic and its racial repercussions in the lives of my East Asian and Southeast Asian friends and family. I worry about my parents who run their own business in Pennsylvania, my brother who is a middle school teacher in New Jersey, my friends who live in cities and take public transportation, now carrying pepper spray and taking Ubers to avoid potential conflict and confrontation. If you see anyone in a potentially dangerous situation, please don’t ignore it. Help in the safest way that you can.
Here are some ideas and activities to do with your tot to learn the unique backgrounds of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
- Grab a map and learn all the countries, capitals and bodies of water that surround East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and the Pacific Islands, and the names of people that live in each.
Look locally and find places to visit with the National Park Service.
History has been taught a lot of different ways throughout...history! PBS currently has a docuseries about the history of Asian American identities, contributions and challenges faced. Asian Americans is available here.
- Learn to say hello, goodbye and thank you in each language!
- My Neighbor Totoro (and other films by Studio Ghibli)
- Over The Moon
- Mulan (1998 version)
Food is an essential part of Asian life. Grab your toddler tower and try making one of these recipes from The Woks of Life. Bonus points for learning the meaning behind certain foods, like eating noodles for longevity on Lunar New Year.
- Pull up your favorite food app and order from your local Asian-owned, Asian cuisine restaurants!
- If you live near a Chinatown, Koreatown, Little India or an area with a lot of Asian restaurants, do a scavenger hunt for foods to try with your tot!
- Eyes That Kiss In The Corners
- Baseball Saved Us
- Nadia’s Hands
- Bee-bim Bop!
- Bilal Cooks Daal
- The Name Jar
Social justice book lists recommended for tots:
- Yoga: Honoring the origins of yoga in India is something that has been lost over time. This is a great opportunity to talk to your tots about the history of yoga practice and practice some tree poses together!
Hula: There is a great video on Youtube about What It Takes To Be A Hula Champion
- Martial Arts: The world of martial arts is huge! Consider classes like Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Kung Fu, which all originate from different countries.
*While this is by no means an exhaustive list of including all AAPIs or activities honoring all groups within this category, it is a start to creating more awareness!
Learn different holidays and traditions. This can be really fun and exciting for tots: Lunar New Year with the dragon dance, Songkran festival with the water festival and water fights, Holi with its colors... just to name a few!
A few recommendations for parents to learn more about AAPI history:
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