Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Obama proclaims APA Heritage Month

Newly added to our annual Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month section is this year's official presidential proclamation designating May to commemorate the history and heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

While at first glance it appears to be the usual sort of official release that is probably ghostwritten then quickly rubberstamped in the West Wing, a closer look definitely reveals more than a subtle shift in the tone and address of this statement.

For one thing, the nation's first president to hail from Hawai'i has renamed and recast the month as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, pointedly putting the "P.I." back in "AAPI".

An even closer look at the description of what is being commemorated reveals, less superficially, a real and frankly exciting change in tone from the kind of boilerplate annual proclamation we've grown accustomed to in recent years. Where there had been abstraction and generality there is specificity and recognition of our community's diversity. Where there had been reference to vague and monolithic contributions as entrepreneurs and (even more vaguely) " servants of the cause of freedom and peace," this year's proclamation recalls the earliest immigration, the labor of the railroads and farms and mines, as well as current contributions in academia, the arts and literature, government, technology and other sectors.

In short, it is happily the kind of proclamation we would have expected from Barack Obama -- our first Hawai'i President, our first nonwhite President, our first "hapa" President. For those who enjoy government speeches and rhetoric, it's pleasant reading and an interesting departure from the past years when our community has felt so left out in the political cold.

Check it out for yourself at the Village's Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month section.