MCHR Diversity Spotlight – May 2021
Older Americans Month
The month of May is proclaimed “Older Americans Month” throughout the nation. The theme for 2021, Communities of Strength, signifies how older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others. This month, we will celebrate the strength of older adults and the Aging Network, with special emphasis on the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.
When Older Americans Month was established in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. About a third of older Americans lived in poverty and there were few programs to meet their needs. Interest in older Americans and their concerns was growing. A meeting in April 1963 between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” the prelude to “Older Americans Month.”
Historically, Older Americans Month has been a time to acknowledge the contributions of older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Every president since John F. Kennedy has issued a formal proclamation during or before the month of May asking that the entire nation pay tribute in some way to older persons in their communities. Older Americans Month is celebrated across the country through ceremonies, events, fairs, and other such activities.
For more information on this year’s theme, please visit the Administration for Community Living website. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to get involved or find out what they are doing to celebrate Older Americans Month. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has many resources for seniors available on its website. For resources specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, please visit the National Council on Aging website.
Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
The month of May also is recognized as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, in celebration of the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. A rather broad term, Asian-Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and the Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).
Asian-Pacific Heritage Month originated in a congressional bill. In June 1977, Reps. Frank Horton of New York and Norman Y. Mineta of California introduced a House resolution that called upon the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. The following month, senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both were passed. On October 5, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution designating the annual celebration. Twelve years later, President George H.W. Bush signed an extension making the week-long celebration into a month-long celebration. In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law.
The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.
Unfortunately, there has been an increase in the number of discriminatory incidents involving Asian people in the last year. The reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate reported there were nearly 3,800 incidents reported in 2020, up from about 2,600 the year before.
For more information on Asian-Pacific Heritage Month, please visit the Asian-Pacific Heritage Month website. For a more thorough history of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, please read this informative article by Kat Moon.