May 15, 2015
Representing Diverse Elders During AAPI Heritage Month (APAHM)
By: Ben de Guzman

May is recognized as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. From modest beginnings when President Carter signed a Joint Resolution on October 5, 1978 marking the first ten days of May as “Asian-Pacific Heritage Week,” to 1992, when the entire month of May became officially recognized as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), it has become an opportunity to lift up the experiences of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Across the country, communities, organizations, and governments at local, state, and regional levels celebrate the month in a variety of ways, including cultural performances, political discussions, and other activities.

11164657_10153228093175568_2271997763216837411_nInterestingly enough, celebrating APAHM here in Washington, DC has, in some ways, reverted back to its roots. In order to accommodate schedules for participants traveling from locations near and far, local and national partners in government, non-profit organizations, and the private sector have planned a series of events that look to cram as much of a whole month’s celebration into a week as possible. The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans has tracked many of these activities on their web site.

Having lived in Washington a long time now, I’ve seen my fair share of celebrations over the years. This year, I had the distinct pleasure of “running the gauntlet” of activities for APAHM through the lens of my work here at the Diverse Elders Coalition. Seeing how the voices and experiences of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander elders are reflected in the national slate of events has been interesting.

The week kicked off with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders 2015 Summit, which brought together over 2000 registered participants at the nation’s capital for a day-long series of panels, discussions, and cultural performances. I was honored to be invited to co-facilitate a lunch-time discussion on Aging & Seniors, along with Daphne Kwok from AARP, Everett Lo from the Social Security Administration, and Erwin Tam from Senior Corps. Our DEC partner the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging was present as well, and I was happy to have the support of my new friend and colleague, NAPCA CEO Dr. Wes Lum. WHIAAPI’s blog post captures other highlights from the day, including a video message from the President.


For many years, I’ve been associated with NCAPA and a number of their member organizations, so I was pleased to attend their “NCAPA 2.0 Briefing and Second Annual AAPI Data Summit.” In many ways, it was a family reunion for me, re-connecting with dear friends and colleagues in the AAPI community, including the new NCAPA National Director, Mini Timmaraju, a woman I’ve had the pleasure of working on these issues with since our college days together at the University of California (Go Bears!). The presentation about the research and data projects about AAPI communities included the study by AARP about AAPIs over 50 and financial security. In response to research that fails to disaggregate different subpopulations and masks individual disparities and complexities, organizations have taken it on themselves to create research that provides a more accurate picture of the community. My work now with the DEC and our partners NAPCA and the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center will surely benefit from this research.

With evening events such as the annual Gala for the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies in the mix as well, it’s been a pretty long week. I’m glad to be wrapping up this week’s events though by joining the Health Rising Leadership Fellows at the Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum and talking about leadership and multi-racial/ multi-sector advocacy with some of the emerging advocates for AAPI communities around the country. Seeing these young leaders at the stage in their careers that I was when I first started this work was a neat way to bring this event full circle. There will be more activities to celebrate AAPIHM here in Washington, DC and elsewhere as the month progresses, but this week’s events will be particularly memorable for me.