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Honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month

Blog written by Nancy Li, Human Resources Coordinator at Amalgamated Bank

Happy Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! AAPI are people having origins from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and peoples of Oceania. The month of May is dedicated to celebrating all the contributions and impact the AAPI community has had on American culture since the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants in the U.S. in 1843, as well as the Chinese migrant workers that partook in the construction of the transcontinental railway. 

In honor of AAPI Heritage Month and as an American- born Chinese woman, I want to share the story of Chinese migrant railroad workers who fought for their rights after facing terrible working conditions. During the California Gold Rush of 1848 – 1855, Chinese migrant workers arrived in the United States in significant numbers. Studies have shown that they often worked long hours and received less pay in comparison to their European American counterparts.1 On June 25, 1867, thousands of Chinese railroad workers staged the largest labor strike of their era. Though they never received pay parity, their efforts and accomplishments have not been forgotten.

While this event took place nearly 160 years ago, it still strongly resonates with me. It is a story that encompasses the idea that my family members (and many others) had of immigrating to America and working hard to support their family; the idea of the “American Dream”, which is still very relevant today.

I take pride in the many sacrifices my ancestors made in hopes of creating a brighter future for their families. Much like the Chinese immigrants of the past, my Chinese immigrant parents from Guangdong worked hard through the many struggles and adversity that they encountered after moving to a new country. They continue to endure social inequalities, prejudice, and racism against Asian Americans.

We all have many rights and opportunities today due to the struggles and battles of those who came before us. Despite years of fighting for equality, Asian Americans are still fighting today and there is a lot of work to do. It’s time for us to break free of stereotypes and show the strength of our voices. I feel it's important to put our stories in the spotlight and have our concerns heard. Change is progressive, and we are constantly working towards a vision of a better future for Asian Americans, to reverse the trending upward tick of racism and violence against the AAPI community, and seek social justice, just as our ancestors did.

With the rise in hate crimes directed towards the AAPI Community, my heart simultaneously saddens and strengthens. The pain I feel urges me to steel myself and press onwards to raise awareness using the voice I was given, to challenge prejudices and harmful biases that feed acts of hatred against this community. I hope that sharing our history and my experience on this blog will encourage others to do the same. The AAPI culture is rich with hundreds of years of history; it deserves to be celebrated and I’m proud to be a part of it.

I am very proud and appreciative of the Amalgamated Bank Team for taking the initiative and committing $25,000 to a Rapid Response Fund (which will provide funding to organizations working to combat violence and hatred directed at the APPI Community.)

For further information on this Rapid Response Fund, head to the Amalgamated Foundation website.

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