As an Asian American working in marketing, I got into conflict over Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).
While I like the idea of celebrating the Asian and Pacific islander community, it’s hard not to feel like APAHM is another box for companies to put on their laundry list of Diversity Milestones. That is, if they think about recognizing it in the first place.
Brands and companies that are * only * trying to get me and my Asian colleagues engaged for lectures and workshops for # APAHM next month … You’re running late!
– Katerina (@katerinajeng) April 16, 2021
For brands pushing their APAHM plans through, I would offer this as advice. APAHM is an opportunity for brands to learn about the history of a community that is often invisible and recognize those whose experiences are minimized. To properly celebrate APAHM on a social level, you need to be authentic, action-oriented, and acknowledge that Asians and islanders in the Pacific are not a monolith. Or just don’t say anything.
A time to think, a time to learn
APAHM was established to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian and Pacific islanders to the history and culture of the United States. May was specially chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese citizen to America in 1843 and to commemorate the work of Chinese immigrants on the transcontinental railroad. This year, APAHM comes at a particularly painful time after more anti-Asian hate crimes have been committed around the world.
I don’t know, it seems that Heritage Month could have a different meaning this year.
– Angry Asian man (@angryasianman) April 1, 2021
In addition to raising awareness of the history of the Asian and Pacific islanders in America, May is also a time for personal reflection. Tazi Flory, product marketing specialist and co-head of Asians @ Sprout, shares some of the conflicting emotions she experiences at every APAHM.
“I think of the diverse and rich cultures that make up the Asia Pacific islander experience, and I also think of the difficulties, hope, and heartbreak associated with immigrating my ancestors and other Asian Americans. It’s a time when I feel proud and connected to other Asian identification people, but at the same time grieve for the culture my family has lost through forced assimilation. “
Jenny Li Fowler, director of social media strategy at MIT, confirms Flory’s assessment: “It feels like it has always pushed other months of awareness into the background, and now I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s important to appear for your community (and your entire community) all year round, not just for a month. “
Fowler goes on to explain how APAHM can serve as an opportunity to shed light on a community that is often invisible. “We talked to one of our professors about hating Asian Americans in this country and took an academic approach. Instead of an empty festival post, we are constantly sharing this type of content to educate people or to amplify people’s voices and stories who have not been amplified before. “
How to Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at Work
As we noted in our article on What Brands Need to Know About Black History Month, celebrating a Racial Awareness Month begins and ends with brands getting their work done. If brands are serious about using their social platforms to uplift the Asian and Pacific islander community, they need to be aware of three things:
1. “Let the community speak”
Fowler works in higher education and points to students as a great source of inspiration for the social. “Our students are pretty amazing and take it upon themselves to act. [In April]They did a beautiful light installation on Killian Court that said ‘Stop Asian Hate’ and I reinforced it. “
Flory offers similar advice. “How can brands promote Asian creators, activists, and leaders in their industry? Are there events or workshops that brands can sponsor to learn not only about the Asian experience, but also how to be an ally? Something as simple as raising Asian voices, especially on your social channels, or partnering with an AAPI organization is a good place to start. “
If you have an Asian American resource group or student group in your company / school / organization, reach out to them and ask them what they want. They work for you or go to your school. 3/6
– Naomi Ko Eunji Ko (@konaomie) April 23, 2021
2. Think about who will be included in your celebrations
A common mistake brands make when recognizing APAHM is to exclude all countries and races that make up the identity of both Asian and Pacific islanders.
When most people hear “Asian” they usually only think of East Asians: people of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent. In fact, Asia is made up of over 40 countries, and the islanders of the Pacific are often completely forgotten at APAHM celebrations.
To everyone out there with #APAHM content / events coming out next month: INCLUDE PACIFIC ISLANDER FOLKS IN YOUR CONTENT / EVENTS.
Otherwise, just call it an Asian event. It’s not bad to call it an Asian-themed event / content. Just don’t say AAPI and delete PI people in the process.
– Kriselle G 🇵🇭 she / her (@KriselleMG) April 13, 2021
Take a moment to consider who is included when you say Asian and Pacific Islander. If your brand is writing about APAHM, your social content should reflect the full spectrum of Asians and islanders in the Pacific – not just three countries. Highlight organizations run by Southeast Asian individuals and raise the voices of Pacific islanders alike. Words have power, and the terms you use must accurately describe who you represent in your content.
I would go further and say: only use this grouping if you actually mean both communities. If you’re reporting on a story or community that includes people of Asian descent but not Pacific Islanders, you can just say “Asian American” without “Pacific Islanders”. And vice versa. https://t.co/DOpOVJz4FR
– Quincy Surasmith | Quincy Surasmith (@Quincetessence) April 24, 2021
3. Don’t just post – act
People of color are tired – and that includes Asian and Pacific islanders. In particular, people are fed up with the hollow statements brands post to celebrate months of racial awareness.
“Show me some action,” says Fowler. “If you’re really committed to diversity and inclusion, tell me what you are doing to attract more people of color or to create more opportunities for the under-represented.”
Instead of just posting about Asian nonprofits on your timeline, give your time and resources to that organization too. Contributions made to work for Asian and Pacific Islanders in the workplace should definitely reflect internally equal pay and fair growth opportunities.
Thank you @TSGiles and Bloomberg @Business for encouraging Big Tech to do more in the fight for racial justice. Businesses have tremendous power – and caring for our community is only the first step. Http://t.co/jRA6NBKyme
– End AAPI Hate (tStopAAPIHate) on February 26, 2021
If brands can back up their words with action, says Flory, then their support is felt to be real. “If the brand wants to be authentic, a look inside is a good start. Does this brand have Asian identifiers? Are you overstretching the business and holding leadership roles? Has a brand donated money to BIPOC organizations? These are the questions I want brands to address if I want to take their claim to be an ally seriously at all. “
Celebrate Asians and Islanders in the Pacific every day
When June 1st is over, it’s all too easy for brands to move from APAHM to the next holiday or awareness month. But your Asian and Pacific Islander employees and customers don’t have the same luxuries.
Don’t wait for APAHM to question how your organization is doing to Asian and Pacific islanders every day. What do you do to encourage and raise marginalized voices when they are not in the spotlight? Read on to learn how to incorporate DEI into your social strategies and turn your Awareness Month celebrations into real actions that support marginalized communities year-round.