May marks Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to honor and celebrate the many contributions Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have made to the history, society, and culture of the United States (U.S.). According to the Census Bureau, Asian and Pacific Islanders make up about 5% of the American population and are the fastest growing racial group in the U.S.
We’ve put together a list of activities and ideas for celebrating AAPI Heritage Month with your Girl Scouts. Read on for some fun and thought-provoking ideas to do this month, and throughout the year!
Delve into history
Did you know that the month of May was chosen to honor AAPI heritage to commemorate two important moments in Asian American history? The arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S. was on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was built mostly by Chinese immigrants, was on May 10, 1869.
A group of Filipino sailors were the first Asians to settle in the U.S., moving into the area now known as Louisiana in the mid-18th century. Since then, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have contributed immensely to U.S. history.
Explore some of these historical moments with your girls! Ask them what they’ve covered in school (they might have learned about the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese internment camps), and use that as a segue to explore other moments in history!
- The Smithsonian has a trove of resources for girls to learn about Asian American and Pacific Islander culture and history.
- Listen to oral histories of recent immigrants and refugees to Minnesota through the Minnesota Historical Society.
The phrase “Asian American” was coined relatively recently. In the late 1960s, Yuji Ichioka, a Japanese American historian and civil rights activist, began using the word to unify the various Asian ethnic groups and increase their political clout.
The term, however, can sometimes fail to highlight the incredible diversity of the population and lumps many into the “model minority,” where all Asian Americans are seen as studious, apolitical, and high-achieving. This narrative of the ease and ability for Asian Americans to attain success in the U.S. obscures the hardships that many Asian Americans still currently face. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, made up of members of Congress who are of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, shared statistics about the economic and social challenges for the Asian community.
Teaching Tolerance outlines ways to start a conversation with your girls about the negative impacts of stereotyping, and how we can challenge and question those assumptions.
Read or watch works featuring or created by Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Books and films are an accessible and fun way to explore the different perspectives and experiences of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Reading Rockets and Lee & Low Books have lists for younger girls, while Book Riot and Teaching For Change have lists for older girls (and adults!). For movies, the Center for Asian American Media has a searchable database of educational films and a list of their more current TV and film picks.
If your girls are interested and willing, they can discuss the portrayal of Asian American characters in popular culture. Deborah Gee’s documentary Slaying the Dragon covers media stereotypes of Asian and Asian American women, Hari Kondabolu’s documentary, The Problem with Apu, explores the societal impact of The Simpsons character of Apu, and the Ithaca College Library has an extensive list of Asian American tropes in films.
These are just a few ideas to get you started! As always, when planning activities, offer a variety of experiences to your girls, but let them ultimately decide what they’d like to engage with and explore. Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month!
Lily Yu – Lily is a Volunteer Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time by leading her daughter’s Daisy troop (who’s more excited to work on petals and Journeys—it could go either way!). In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family.