The US has celebrated the heritage and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders every May for nearly 45 years.
Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month began in 1978 as a 10-day observance with a Congressional resolution. Congress expanded the observance to a full month in 1992.
May is significant for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US in early May of 1843. And some 25 years later, Chinese immigrants played a key role in the laborious construction of the transcontinental railroad. Completed in May 1869, the rail line linked the Midwest and Eastern US with the Pacific coast.
As with any heritage month, it's important not to overlook histories of oppression or intolerance. Unfortunately, in recent years, AAPI people have faced intensifying racist harassment and violence.
Stop AAPI Hate, a national nonprofit organization that tracks these incidents, said it received 10,370 reports of hate-based incidents between March 2020 and September 2021.
Who identifies as AAPI?
Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI for short, is a broad term that includes people from throughout the continent of Asia, and about two dozen Pacific Islands, including Guam, American Samoa, and Hawaii.
Like every group, the people in the AAPI community are not monolithic, according to Angelique Geehan.
"They are as different from each other as humans can be, except for the characteristic they share by chance: That their ancestors came from places on earth that we consider the same or that we group together and recognize as part of the continent of Asia or any of the many Pacific Islands," Geehan said. "Knowing that, I think it's fair to say that any issue that matters to anyone might matter to someone of the AAPI community."
A self-described queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support. She also organizes as part of several groups, including the QTPOC+ Family Circle and the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance.
Here are some of her thoughts on issues at the intersection of tech and the AAPI community.
In a word: Intersectionality.
"What I do perceive is that many people, including AAPI people, forget or actively suppress that we can be women, men, any other gender, or agender," Geehan explained. "That we can be fat or plus-size and of many skin tones. That we can be Black, Indigenous, of multiple different heritages. That we can be disabled in consistent ways, ways that change over time, and even ways that we and others may not be aware of."
Or, to say it another way, tech organizations, colleagues, and decision-makers should be aware that "AAPI people can have all kinds of identities interconnected with their existence as an AAPI person."
As a result of intersectional identities, Geehan notes, "Our understanding of these issues deeply affects how we use and create technologies, how tech can support or impede our ability to exist in recognition of all our characteristics and identities."
Geehan said three key issues that matter to everyone, including people who identify as AAPI, include:
With great power — virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and social networks that connect the globe, to name but a few — comes great responsibility.
Geehan encouraged people with the power to make changes and decisions in industries to be more "rigorous and thorough" in studying their actions' impacts — not just on consumers and competitors.
"I would like companies and leaders to take responsibility to reduce the harm they cause and help each other do that better. To be fully accountable to their communities," she continued. "That might be something increasingly discussed as part of 'DEI' measures, like recognizing and valuing all members of the AAPI community, not just those who are slim or fit, able-bodied, lighter-skinned, and East Asian."
Geehan framed tech industry-related wins less as an individual or industry achievement and more like a group achievement that benefits many people.
Potential opportunities and achievements include:
There's always room for improvement when it comes to expanding diversity in tech.
Here are some suggestions from Project Include for taking action beyond AAPI Month. The nonprofit organization's main objective is advancing tech industry diversity.
Rethink your hiring and retention practices
Design and implement an inclusive culture
Start with humanity and empathy to create a culture that values diversity and inclusion, not just avoiding legal risk. Consider hiring a diversity and inclusion executive, then empowering them to bring the company's diversity vision to reality.
Build a good conflict resolution framework
Conflict is an inevitable part of our personal and professional lives. Encourage people to come forward with concerns by employing a third-party person or organization to receive reports of conflict and provide guidance.
Doing this can inspire confidence because the ombudsperson doesn't work directly for the organization.
Movements for social justice over the last two years have created an environment where people are more receptive to difficult but valuable conversations.
"We're definitely having people understand what's going on better," Ellen Pao, a former CEO of Reddit, told Axios. She helped establish and leads Project Include.
"The hard part is getting people to actually act on it," she said. "We're at this unique point where we have an opportunity to push back on racism or allow it to continue to fester."
Angelique Geehan works to support and repair the connections people have with themselves and their families, communities, and cultural practices. A queer, Asian, gender binary-nonconforming parent, Geehan founded Interchange, a consulting group that offers anti-oppression support.
She organizes as part of several groups, including the National Perinatal Association's Health Equity Workgroup, the Health and Healing Justice Committee of the National Queer and Trans Asian and Pacific Islander Alliance, QTPOC+ Family Circle, and Batalá Houston.
Angelique Geehan is also a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.