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Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Welcome

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in the United States during May to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the history and culture of the United States.

Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage  Month 2023 - Fenway Health

During May, the United States celebrates Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Also known as AANHPI Heritage Month, this month provides us all with the opportunity to learn the rich culture, language, traditions, and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. This guide offers a diverse list of books, activities, and resources for curious people who want to dive deep into the history and significance of members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. 

Ways to support the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities during May: 

  • Visit online exhibitions or galleries about AANHPI history and heritage. 
  • Read books by authors in the AANHPI community. 
  • Support local AANHPI groups through events and cultural activities.
  • Listen to music produced and written by AANHPI members.
  • Check out our exhibition at the Foley Library! 

Spokane's Asian American History: From Chinatown to Ghost Town

Expo '74, officially known as the International Exposition on the Environment, was a world's fair held on May 4, 1974, in Spokane. In fact, 2024 marks the 50th anniversary of Expo '74! Known as the event that put Spokane on the map, Expo '74 is what most visitors of the then-burgeoning city remember from their trip to Spokane. It was the first environmentally themed world's fair, and developers began demolishing the Northern Pacific rails to clear the view for the centerpiece of the event: Spokane Falls.

1926: The Northern Pacific Depot was built in 1890 after the great fire of 1889.

First among the developers of Expo '74 was a man named King Cole. Cole was named King because his father was convinced he would do great things. Cole's father was right to think that because Cole's big dream of hosting a world's fair in Spokane came true through difficult negotiations at the local, state, and international levels. One of Cole's main concerns involved clearing the Northern Pacific Railway to make room for the construction of Expo '74 and to create more viewable space for Spokane Falls.

BIrd's-Eye View of Expo '74

Arriving in Spokane in 1881, the Northern Pacific Railway spurred business and pinned Downtown Spokane as the urban center for the growing city. Since 1974, Riverfront Park has become the destination that many people visit for leisure in the city while experiencing the beautiful nature of the falls. Riverfront Park symbolizes the importance of environmentalism and the legacy of the "Father of the Fair," King Cole, but buried underneath this joyful landmark lies the deep history of anti-Asian sentiment, racism, discrimination, and socio-economic struggle. 

King Cole Cutting the Ribbon to the Entrance of Expo '74 on Opening Day

Trent Alley, also known as Spokane's Chinatown, was initially settled in the late 1800s in what is now downtown Spokane. Driven by job opportunities in the logging and mining industries, Chinese immigrants flooded the surrounding Spokane and Coeur D'Alene area. Chinatown developed into an ethnic community composed of Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, and Scandinavian immigrants throughout the 20th century. Although Chinatown contained rich culture, businesses, traditions, and activities, most Spokanites outside downtown viewed it as a dangerous neighborhood. Filled with vice, prostitution, drugs, and other illegal activities, local newspaper articles documented Chinatown as a place to avoid. 


Excluded from the rest of Spokane, Chinatown developed its own culture, businesses, and political ideologies. Chinatown even had its own "mayor." Viewed as a prestigious and honest man, Lee Tai Gee became the first Chinatown "mayor" soon after he moved to Spokane. Lee Tai Gee came to Spokane around the year of the Great Fire of 1889, establishing his life in the Pacific Northwest by laying the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railways. After his work developing the railways, Lee went on to open several general stores and restaurants downtown on Front Street. Much like other Chinese men at the time, Lee Tai Gee worked diligently to make enough money to move back to Canton, China, and reunite with his family. Several local newspaper articles document Chinese men working hard to make enough money to reunite with their friends and family in their homeland. Many found it challenging to find jobs outside the laundry, restaurant, and general store businesses serving white people. While some Chinese men were lucky enough to retire back to China, others remained stuck in Spokane due to their poor socioeconomic status. 

Chinese American Restaurant "ChingKing Inn" advertisement

With the declining Chinese population due to poverty, local and national anti-Chinese sentiments, and relocation, Spokane's Chinatown exponentially disappeared throughout the 20th century. As Chinese businesses and homes were destroyed to clear the way for the Miluakee railway, city developers continued brainstorming ways to bring out Spokane's nature. In addition to their physical homes and businesses being destroyed, Chinese immigrants faced a harsh reality of anti-Chinese sentiments, racism, and discrimination. The racism Chinese immigrants faced worsened throughout the years, which led many immigrants to live in the underground tunnels of downtown Spokane. As the years progressed, the Chinese population began to plummet, and Chinatown eventually became a ghost town by the late 1930s.

To most Spokanites, Expo '74 changed the trajectory of their lives. Unfortunately, the legacy of Expo '74 does not reflect the hopeful vision of success that city developers were trying to accomplish. In reality, Expo '74 destroyed businesses, homes, and ethnic communities that were fundamental to the socioeconomic growth of the city. Studying Spokane's history through different perspectives is critical because it allows us to understand the importance of heightening the voices of those in the AANHPI community. Acknowledging Chinatown's short existence fills in the gaps of essential information that account for the importance of contingency in telling historically accurate stories.

The Origins of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

This year, the federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) celebrates AANHPI Heritage Month by "Advancing Leaders Through Innovation." This year's theme is the culmination of the 2021 - 2024 series, which highlights the United States' efforts in "Advancing Leaders." 

  • June 30, 1977: The origin of AANHPI Heritage Month dates back to the 1970s when the 95th Congress (1977-1978) introduced five joint resolutions to propose a week in May designated to highlight the accomplishments of AANHPIs.
  • In October 1978, President Jimmy Carter expanded the observance as an annual celebration. 12 years later, President George H.W. Bush extended the week-long celebration to a month. 
  • In 1990, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 101 - 283, which requested President H.W. Bush to issue a proclamation that expanded the observance of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week to a month in 1990. 
    • This law called on the people of the United States to observe Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month with "appropriate ceremonies, programs, and activities." 
  • In 1992, the official designation of May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Month was signed into law.
  • Asian/Pacific Heritage Month was renamed AAPI Heritage Month in 2009.
  • As conversations surrounding AANHPI race, heritage, and nationalities progress, it is critical to be as inclusive as possible when defining people in the AANHPI community. As of 2024, AAPI Heritage Month now separates Native Hawaiian individuals from the broader Pacific Islander term. 
    • Although AAPI consists of people identifying with Pacific Islander heritage, it is more inclusive to create two separate categories for those who identify with the Native Hawaiian community. 

Please click here for more information about the history of AANHPI Heritage Month. 

What does AANHPI mean? Where are Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders From?

Recognizing those in the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities requires understanding the origins of their heritage. The Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence uses Asians, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders to include people of Asian, Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander ancestry who trace their origins and identities to the countries, states, or jurisdictions and/or the diasporic communities of the following geographic regions:

It is also important to remember that ethnic identities overlap and co-occur, not discretely or serially. Within Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, identities can intersect in many aspects, including ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, geographic location, socio-economic status, political and family history, traditions, and practices. To say that Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander history is one experience or ethnic identity is inaccurate and does not highlight the importance of diversity that AANHPI Heritage Month prioritizes. 

Please click here for more information and a map of the specific geographic locations (countries and regions) included in the list above!