AAPI Heritage Month celebrates the state’s fastest-growing minority population

Black and white photos of Japanese immigrants and Chinese laborers.
AAPI Heritage Month takes place in May to commemorate Asian immigration to the United States and the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which was largely built by Chinese laborers. However, most U.S. universities celebrate the event in April while students are still on campuses.

Washington’s second-largest minority population is Asian American Pacific Islander — a Census term that refers to people with origins in countries stretching from India to Hawaii, from Japan to Tonga. People of AAPI origin make up nearly 13% of Washington’s population, the 2020 Census found. That group was the fastest-growing minority population in the state from 2010–20.

Celebrations of the contributions and culture of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders take place every year in May. Most colleges and universities, however, celebrate in April before students depart for the summer.

Events on Washington State University campuses during April include:

AAPI

Asian American and Pacific Islander, an umbrella term for people from East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Also called Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI), or Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA).

Origins of AAPI Heritage Month

In 1978, Congress passed a joint resolution to commemorate Asian American Heritage Week during the first week of May because of two important anniversaries: the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in America on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (by many Chinese laborers) on May 10, 1869.

In 1992, that week was expanded into a month-long celebration. In 2021, a presidential proclamation expanded this to include Native Hawaiians.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a celebration of the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.

A calendar showing May with the April page laying in front, and a Native Hawaiian playing a large drum.

April, or May?

Many U.S. universities celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in April before many students leave in May.

AAPI population in the United States

Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders are among the fastest growing population groups in the United States. There are more than 24 million Asian Americans in the U.S., a population that grew by nearly 40% from 2010–20. There are about 1.6 million Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents in the U.S., a population that grew nearly 30% between 2010–20.

An Asian American shopkeeper in an apron leaning against a post.

Broad Diversity

The term “Asian American Pacific Islander” encompasses some 50 nations and ethnic groups who speak 100 languages. Those groups experience stark differences in health status, household income, educational attainment and more, leading a growing number of data scientists to be concerned about the practice of collecting their many identities under one demographic category.

AAPI residents in Washington

Washington state has significant numbers of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents. Washington ranks among the top 5 states in the U.S. for its population of these origin groups:

Origin GroupTotal population in WashingtonPercent of national population of that group
Afghan6,8754%
Cambodian30,8678%
Carolinian25619%
Chamorro19,17213%
Chinese196,2284%
Chuukese1,57813%
Easter Islander147%
Fijian4,5628%
Filipino194,6824%
French Polynesian274%
Guamanian2,1709%
I-Kiribati395%
Indonesian7,2825%
Japanese89,0126%
Korean101,3385%
Kosraean34316%
Laotian12,4905%
Malay2146%
Malaysian1,6004%
Maldivian639%
Maori4396%
Marshallese7,57014%
Melanesian4,6428%
Micronesian37,42313%
Mien1,7678%
Mongolian2,3616%
Native Hawaiian31,0615%
Nauruan812%
New Caledonian145%
Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander114,1897%
Niuean458%
Northern Mariana Islander10920%
Palauan1,69414%
Polynesian61,7686%
Rotuman123%
Saipanese15213%
Samoan28,74311%
Singaporean8036%
Tahitian3044%
Taiwanese15,9175%
Thai14,9785%
Tokelauan11510%
Tongan3,4454%
Vietnamese103,3705%
Yapese26113%

Six largest Asian groups in Washington:

  1. Chinese (except Taiwanese)
  2. Filipino
  3. Asian Indian
  4. Korean
  5. Vietnamese
  6. Japanese

Six largest Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander groups in Washington:

  1. Native Hawaiian
  2. Samoan
  3. Guamanian or Chamorro
  4. Other Pacific Islander, not specified
  5. Other Micronesian
  6. Marshallese (Micronesian)

Sources: AAPI Data, U.S. Census Bureau, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, History Channel

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