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Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month: A Commemorative Observances Legal Research Guide

History and Overview

The origin of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month dates back to the 95th Congress (1977-1978), when five joint resolutions were introduced proposing that a week in May be designated to commemorate the accomplishments of Asian/Pacific Americans. The House of Representatives introduced three joint resolutions (H.R.J. Res. 540, H.R.J. Res. 661, H.R.J. Res. 753) to designate the first 10 days in May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week, while Senator Daniel Inouye also introduced S.J. Res. 72 in the Senate to designate the beginning of May as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week. A fourth joint resolution (H.R.J. Res. 1007) was introduced in the House by Rep. Frank J. Horton that proposed designating seven days in May, beginning on May 4, as Asian/Pacific American Week. This joint resolution was passed by Congress and became Pub. L. No. 95-419. This law directed the President to issue a proclamation designating the week beginning on May 4, 1979 as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

On March 28, 1979, President Carter External issued Proclamation No. 4650 External, the first presidential proclamation for Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In this proclamation, President Carter spoke of the significant role Asian/Pacific Americans have played in the creation of a dynamic and pluralistic American society with their contributions to the sciences, arts, industry, government, and commerce.

Over the next ten years, Presidents Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush External continued to issue annual proclamations designating a week in May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

In 1990, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 101-283, which amended Pub. L. No. 95-419. Pub. L. No. 101-283 requested the President to issue a proclamation that expanded the observance of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to a month in May 1990. This law called on the people of the United States to observe Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month with “appropriate ceremonies, programs and activities.” President George H.W. Bush issued Proclamation No. 6130 External on May 7, 1990, designating May 1990 as the first “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”

The following year, Pub. L. No. 102-42 was passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on May 14, 1991. This law requested that the president proclaim May 1991 and May 1992 as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Months." This law also recognized the significance of May 7 and May 10 in the history of Asian/Pacific Americans. May 7, 1843 is the date on which the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States, while on May 10, 1869, the first transcontinental railroad in the United States was completed with significant contributions from Chinese pioneers. In 1992, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 102-450, which permanently designated May of each year as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”

Pursuant to Pub. L. No. 102-450, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, Trump and Biden have issued annual proclamations designating May as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.”