Celebrating AANHPI Heritage Month

A multicultural family smiles as they stand outside their home

Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month is a time to recognize the contributions of people from more than two dozen countries and territories. Organizations should consider taking a thoughtful approach to highlighting their AANHPI employees throughout May and year-round.

To celebrate AANHPI Heritage Month, organizations can acknowledge and celebrate employees with roots across Asia, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. AANHPI communities are highly diverse and include anyone with heritage from more than 30 countries and territories, each with its own history and culture.

May is a time to pay tribute to the generations of AANHPI communities that have enriched businesses in industries across the United States. As of the 2020 Census, an estimated 24 million Asian Americans and 1.6 million Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders reside in the U.S. By 2050, that group will make up an estimated 9.7 percent of the country's population, or roughly 40 million people.

Organizations should consider taking a thoughtful approach when highlighting the efforts and accomplishments of AANHPI employees and AANHPI communities in general. Leaders should consider these groups' historical contributions, achievements and current challenges to form a solid plan.

How AANHPI Heritage Month came to be

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law that would celebrate the occasion for one week in May. This time frame was chosen to correspond with two significant milestones in AANHPI history: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and the contributions of Chinese workers to the transcontinental railroad, completed on May 10, 1869.

In 1992, under the George H.W. Bush administration, Congress passed a law that annually designated May as AAPI Heritage Month. It has been observed nationally since and is now known as AANHPI Heritage Month.

Pivotal contributions from AANHPI communities

AANHPI communities have played an essential role in shaping U.S. culture and history, advocating for labor law changes, fighting in multiple wars and making significant contributions to science and technology, among many other accomplishments.

Economically, AANHPI communities have established numerous small and large businesses, including some of our nation's most successful and innovative enterprises. Some inspiring leaders with AANHPI heritage include Google CEO Sundar Pichai, former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, Adobe Systems CEO Shantanu Narayen and fashion label founder Vera Wang. Several prominent AANHPI figures have also served in the federal government.

By devising effective appreciation and recognition initiatives for AANHPI Heritage Month, businesses can nurture an inclusive culture and maintain the month's momentum year-round.

6 ways to celebrate employees with AANHPI heritage all year

Leaders can take several meaningful actions to show solidarity and support AANHPI employees year-round, not only in May. Here are six ideas to consider:

  1. Implement an employee resource group (ERG). Doing this as a part of your DE&I strategy can promote an inclusive culture and encourage employees to connect globally with a network of people who share interests and experiences.

  2. Support businesses owned by AANHPI communities. Consider offering local AANHPI cuisine — authentic, infused or inspired — at a workplace event. You can also hold meetings at neighboring AANHPI-owned or -managed restaurants. Additionally, explore what AANHPI-owned businesses can offer your celebration.

  3. Volunteer at organizations with an AANHPI focus. Gathering team members to work with nonprofits supporting AANHPI communities can be a meaningful way to celebrate AANHPI Heritage Month. Not only can you develop a better understanding of concerns within AANHPI communities, but you can also make a positive contribution to these communities.

  4. Host themed lunch-and-learns. Lunch-and-learns are a great way to educate workers on the diversity and cultures of AANHPI communities. Topics could include anything from business practices and etiquette common in AANHPI communities to inventors with AANHPI heritage.

  5. Start a book club. Reading books by AANHPI authors can help employees understand these communities' experiences and spark meaningful discussions. This activity can also be done virtually. The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center has a list of recommended books if you're interested in this idea.

  6. Take a virtual tour. Many AANHPI museums, landscapes and heritage sites can now be toured online. Employees can visit places such as the Kyoto National Museum and the Great Wall of China from the comfort of their homes or offices. Consider providing a digital forum for participants to meet and discuss what they've learned.

The best ideas thrive in an inclusive work environment that values diverse perspectives. Gather strategies and solutions at our DE&I Resource Center today.