In the U.S., May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month—an acknowledgement of the history, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. At a time when calls for diversity in the workplace are growing, observing AAPI Heritage Month is a way to convey appreciation to AAPI employees and promote a stronger sense of community in an organization. Cultural observations and celebrations are also important in the face of a rise in anti-Asian discrimination and violence. Read on for suggestions on how to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month in a way that is thoughtful and engaging.
1. Honor AAPI history AND contemporary culture
Many Eastern cultures hold rich histories that are important to celebrate. There’s a difference, though, between honoring history and solely focusing on it. While the past is important, AAPI communities are more than their history—their present contributions are also worth celebrating. Avoid over-emphasizing the ancient aspects of Eastern cultures by also highlighting current events, contemporary AAPI leaders, artists, and other individuals who are driving innovation when planning programming.
2. Steer clear of stereotypes
AAPI communities include roughly 70 ethnic groups that speak over 100 languages. There is no single definitive Asian and Pacific Islander experience, making it tempting to rely on broad, familiar aspects of a culture that become representative of an entire group. Many stereotypes related to AAPI communities, from the model minority to exoticized females, exist in pop culture. Instead of falling for the stereotype trap, use this month to help employees explore a wider array of cultural touchpoints and celebrate diversity.
3. Be inclusive
Employees don’t have to be of Asian or Pacific Islander descent to enjoy and appreciate AAPI Heritage Month. The month is about inclusivity; it’s about acknowledging members of the AAPI community and giving due praise for the contributions that they have made to society as a whole. And while this is a time for the AAPI community to be in the limelight, managers should not make individuals feel pressured to lead the activities or be singled out. It’s okay to ask for volunteers to guide activities or messaging, but making staff feel obligated to participate by virtue of their race or ethnicity is not the right approach.
4. Make it authentic
Be creative and thoughtful in planning programming for AAPI Heritage Month that speaks to your company’s culture and ways of communication. Lunch-and-learns with guest speakers, Facebook Live events, donations to organizations that support Asian, South Asian, and Pacific Islander communities and volunteering with local coalitions are some of the many ways to get involved.
Cultural and historical celebrations in the workplace are an excellent opportunity to promote amity and awareness among employees as they learn about their co-workers’ different cultural heritages. Approaching AAPI Heritage Month—and other multicultural observances—with an open mind and willingness to learn is essential for building better connections with our fellow teammates and recognizing our common humanity.