On May 7, 1843, the first Japanese immigrant arrived in the United States. Twenty-six years and 3 days later, on May 10, 1869, the final spike was driven into the Transcontinental Railroad, a line build largely by Chinese immigrants. By this very coincidence of two history-making events occurring in the same month, May became the focal point for Congressional proposals to create a national week marking Asian Pacific American heritage.
Begun more than a century after both of these events, the drive for national recognition got off to a rocky start. Neither of the first two resolutions to create a national week of recognition, the 1977 House Joint Resolution 540 drafted by representative Frank Horton (NY) nor the Senate Joint Resolution 72 drafted by Daniel Inouye (HI), passed. Finally, in October 1978, a revised bill that again originated in representative Horton's office was passed, authorizing the president "to issue a proclamation designating the 7-day period beginning on May 4, 1979, as "Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week (Public Law 95-419)." This bill was re-issued annually until 1990, when Public Law 101-283 expanded the commemoration for the full month of May. In 1992, Congress ensured this commemoration would endure time by making this an annual commemorative event (Public Law 102-450).
This short video sets the spoken word artistry of Asian American Kelly Zen Yie Tsai to music and film. As May is also a time of graduation and new beginnings, this particular poem, "To Find Your Place in the World," seems especially fitting.