May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Most of us are aware that February is Black History Month, which started in 1976 as an observance and celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history.
Fewer of us know that since 1992, May has been designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month. In May we celebrate the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
I am an Asian American. My grandparents emigrated from Japan to the United States in the early 1900’s and settled in California, where my parents were born. In May 1942, my mother and father, and my oldest brother, who was an infant, were “evacuated” from the West Coast and “interned” in a “relocation camp” in Topaz, Utah. All my extended family members were forced to leave their homes, livelihoods, friends, and possessions and move to “camps” located away from the West Coast. A total of 120,000 Japanese Americans were moved into 10 camps that were quickly built in remote areas throughout the United States. Two-thirds of these persons, including my parents and brother, were born in the United States and were therefore citizens of the United States.
I share this personal family history as background for this article. As an Asian American, I have experienced prejudice, intolerance, suspicion, and racial bias. Even so, I consider myself to be extremely fortunate, compared to other members of racial minorities in this country whose lives are much more difficult. I was able to get an excellent education and to follow an amazing career path. Being an attorney and specifically a partner in Carter & Tani for over 30 years has afforded me opportunities to enjoy a full and rewarding life. I love my work and my co-workers at Carter & Tani. I feel privileged to work with a wide array of fantastic clients and help them navigate through their legal needs. I have a large and nurturing family whose members not only love each other but even like one another.
These relationships of family, co-workers, and clients have provided me great personal and professional satisfaction.
But I am acutely aware that not all members of racial minorities are able to achieve goals such as these. There are many examples of systemic injustice, cultural and language barriers, and historical obstacles that keep the American Dream out of reach for many people in our country. And there are, and have been, instances of violence and hate crimes against members of racial minorities – such as the recent shootings in Atlanta in which 8 persons were killed, 6 of whom were Asian American women.
For these reasons, I believe racial equity is an issue that demands the attention of all Americans who believe in the principles of equality and social justice on which our nation was founded.
I have accepted the 21-Day AAPI Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge that the American Bar Association (ABA), through its Diversity and Inclusion Center, has organized. For 21 days beginning on May 10, the ABA is sending me an email filled with resources, including readings and videos, that educate me on issues of racial equity. We are on Day 16, and already I have learned a great deal. Through reading and watching individuals’ stories, historical documentaries, inspirational presentations, and other resources, I am being challenged to be more outspoken about racial equity and to share with others my personal story, as well as the ABA’s materials that raise awareness and knowledge on this challenging and crucial problem. I welcome your questions and/or offers for further dialog.