Celebrate APIDA Heritage Month

APIDA stands for Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi American. It is an acronym used to refer to people of Asian, Pacific Islander, and South Asian descent who live in America. This term is often used to describe a diverse group of people who share similar experiences of living in America while navigating issues such as racism, discrimination, and cultural identity. The APIDA community includes people from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds and geographical areas of East Asia, South Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia.

Asian American Heritage Month began in the United States in 1978 when a congressional bill was passed to proclaim the week of May 4th, 1979 as “Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.” Jeanie F. Jew, president of the Organization of Chinese American Women in 1976, is credited for being the primary writer of the legislation. This week was chosen because it included the anniversaries of the first Japanese immigration to the United States on May 7, 1843 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad (in which many Chinese immigrants played a key role) on May 10, 1869. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a bill that extended the observance to a month-long celebration, officially designating May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. This recognition was meant to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout U.S. history.

Asian, Pacific Islander, and Desi Americans have made many significant contributions to United States history, despite facing discrimination and marginalization. Chinese laborers played a crucial role in building the Transcontinental Railroad in the 19th century, connecting the East and West coasts of the United States. Dr. David Ho, a Taiwanese American physician and virologist played a key role in developing the first effective treatment for AIDS. Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese American physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and made significant contributions to the understanding of beta decay. Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian American elected to Congress in 1956, and Norman Mineta was the first Asian American to hold a cabinet-level position in the US government. Indian American Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar was a Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist who made important contributions to the understanding of stellar structure and evolution. Yuri Kochiyama was a prominent Japanese American civil rights activist who worked alongside Malcolm X as a member of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to fight for the rights of African Americans, Asian Americans, and other marginalized groups.

In addition to making contributions to American society, the APIDA community has made significant contributions to global society. Keeping with the vision of the BIPOC cataloging project, the APIDA Voices collection has focused on highlighting the voices of marginalized communities, often indigenous, within the geographical homelands of the APIDA global community.

Marginalized communities in the APIDA homelands

Global societies use different reasoning to single out communities for marginalization. Race, ethnicity, and religion are common factors in marginalization and genocide. Race is a social construct that uses physical characteristics, primarily skin color, to dictate a community’s access to resources, liberty, and the right to life. Ethnicity is a cultural identity that stratifies people within nation-states. Religion is one’s spiritual belief system that has been used to ostracize and mass exterminate communities. The people in the marginalized communities of the APIDA homelands often live in remote and impoverished areas, with limited access to basic services such as healthcare, gainful employment, and education. They are victims of forced displacement, land dispossession, and cultural suppression. They often lack political representation and are at high risk of violence, labor exploitation, unlawful imprisonment, and ethnic cleansing (genocide).


Adivasis are the Indigenous peoples of India who tend to live throughout the country, but most of the population is concentrated in the northeast part of the country. The Adivasi practice a distinct religion and do not engage in a caste system. They remained self-ruled until the British colonial invasion. The Adivasi who lived in mineral-rich areas were subjected to land dispossession in addition to discrimination, and cultural suppression.

Ainu (Anyu)

The Ainu are Indigenous people of Japan who live in Hokkaido, the Kuril Islands, and Sakhalin. The Ainu fought colonization by the Dutch, Japanese, and Russians resulting in a drastic decline in their population from violence and disease. The Japanese government has passed several policies that forced the Ainu off their lands and to assimilate into Japanese culture.


Bougainvilleans are a group of people who are indigenous to the island of Bougainville, which is located in the eastern part of Papua New Guinea. Bougainvilleans regard the land as a sacred living spirit and environmental damage is considered as an attack on their culture and beliefs. The Bougainvilleans have been marginalized due to a long history of colonialism, conflicts over land and resources, and political struggles. After years of political struggles, the Autonomous Bougainville Government (ABG) was established in 2005.


Dalits, also known as “untouchables,” are a marginalized community in India who face discrimination based on their caste. They have been historically excluded from many aspects of society and are often relegated to low-paying and menial jobs. Dalits continue to face discrimination and violence in many parts of India, despite legal protections from the Indian government.


The Dayak are Indigenous people who primarily inhabit the island of Borneo, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. They have a rich history and have been living in Borneo for thousands of years. In Indonesia, the Dayak have been subjected to forced resettlement and displacement from their ancestral lands. In Malaysia, the Dayak have faced discrimination in employment and education, and have struggled for recognition of their customary land rights. The Dayak have also faced cultural erasure and forced assimilation.


The Hmong people are an ethnic group primarily from the mountainous regions of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and China. The Hmong were first known as the Jiuli, and they practice an animist religion. The Hmong have faced persecution, discrimination, forced relocation, land seizures, and cultural assimilation in their native countries. Many have fled as refugees those that remain live in hiding or as transients. The Hmong refugees that have resettled in America continue to face challenges.


The Kanak people are the Indigenous people of New Caledonia, a French territory. The Kanak lived autonomously until European colonization which brought deadly disease and significant loss in their population. The Kanak have faced marginalization and discrimination from the French government, subjected to forced labor, travel limitations, curfews, and restrictions on their political and cultural rights.

Kanaka Maoli 

Kanaka Maoli (Native Hawaiians) are the Indigenous people of Hawaii and the descendants of the original Polynesian settlers who inhabited the Hawaiian Islands for centuries before the arrival of European explorers and colonizers. The Kanaka Maoli have faced various forms of marginalization and oppression including land dispossession, cultural suppression, and health disparities over the course of Hawaii’s history, which has had a profound impact on their social, economic, and political status. Today, they continue to struggle for sovereignty and self-determination.


The Maori are the Indigenous people of New Zealand, who arrived from Polynesia more than one thousand years ago. The Maori have been marginalized by colonization and the loss of their land. The New Zealand government has passed assimilation policies that aimed to erase the Maori culture and language. The Maori have faced historical and ongoing marginalization resulting in disparities in health, education, and employment outcomes. Today, they continue to work towards cultural revitalization and maintain access to their ancestral lands.


Mongolians are an ethnic minority group in China who live primarily in Inner Mongolia and endure cultural suppression and discrimination. The Chinese government has implemented policies like “Hanification” to suppress their language and cultural practices. The “Hanification” policies specifically limit the practice of traditional Mongolian culture, including the celebration of traditional festivals and the performance of traditional Mongolian music and dance. Many Mongolians live in remote areas, and their access to education, healthcare, and job opportunities is limited, furthering their oppression in their homeland.


Papuans are the Indigenous people of West Papua, a region that has been under Indonesian control since the 1960s. Papuans have faced marginalization and discrimination from the Indonesian government which has sought to exploit their land and resources.  Papuans also face violence and human rights abuses including torture, imprisonment, and extrajudicial killing for their resistance to Indonesian rule. The Papuans also face political exclusion and cultural suppression.


The Rohingya are an ethnic Muslim minority group in Myanmar who have faced discrimination and persecution for decades. The Rohingya are not recognized as citizens by the Myanmar government and have been subject to forced displacement, violence, and restrictions on their movement and access to basic services. In recent years, the Rohingya have been subjected to violent attacks by the Myanmar military, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the country. The United Nations has described their situation as a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.


The Ryukyuans are an Indigenous people of the Ryukyu Islands, located between Japan and Taiwan. The Ryukyu Kingdom was an independent state that existed from the 15th century until it was annexed by Japan in 1879. The Ryukyuans have been subjected to forced assimilation and cultural suppression by the Japanese government.


The Samoans are a Polynesian ethnic group primarily residing in Samoa, a group of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. They also live in American Samoa, which is an unincorporated territory of the United States. Samoan culture is known for its strong family ties, communal values, and reverence for tradition and mythology. Samoans in American Samoa and Samoa have faced marginalization due to colonialism and ongoing economic and political dependency on other countries. They have also been impacted by environmental and climate change issues, such as rising sea levels and coral bleaching.


The Tamil people are an ethnic group predominantly from the Indian subcontinent, specifically the southern part of India and the northeastern region of Sri Lanka. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in South Asia and have a rich cultural and linguistic history. The Tamils in Sri Lanka have faced discrimination and violence for decades by the Sri Lankan government and many Tamils have been killed or forced to flee as refugees.


Tibetans are an ethnic minority group in China who live primarily in the Tibet Autonomous Region. They have faced restrictions on their religious and cultural practices, and many have been subjected to forced resettlement and displacement. They have been subjected to strict control over religious and cultural practices and limited access to education and employment opportunities.


The Uyghurs are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group in China who live primarily in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. They have faced persecution and discrimination for decades by the Chinese government, including restrictions on their religious and cultural practices. The Uyghurs are subjected to mass internment in “re-education” camps, forced labor, and cultural suppression.

It is important to acknowledge that the marginalization of racial, ethnic, and religious communities is a global issue. Many members of our APIDA communities have fled persecution in their homelands only to move to America to continue to live as marginalized members of society. Additionally, religious minorities like the Hui Muslims of China and Hazaras in Afghanistan face persecution simply because of their religious beliefs. The Burakumin in Japan lived under similar marginalized conditions because of their low social status, as do the Dalit, or untouchables, in India. The Zainichi Koreans in Japan are nationless like the Rohingya of Myanmar. There are many more Indigenous communities that live as outsiders on the ancestral lands. This collection includes library resources related to these communities and their cultures.

The APIDA Voices collection will sadly conclude the BIPOC Cataloging project’s work here at the DePaul University Library, and there will be no additional Voices collections from this point. The Voices Collections will continue to be updated as my colleagues select new materials to add to the Library’s general collection. It has been a joy to curate these resources and provide a starting point for the greater DePaul community to really engage with the voices of marginalized communities which is essential to DePaul’s mission and the ideals of Vincentian personhood.

Selected Resources by authors from marginalized communities

Ainu spirits singing : the living world of Chiri Yukie’s Ainu Shin’yoshu (Ainu)

Our land was a forest : an Ainu memoir by Shigeru Kayano (Ainu)

Handbook of Tribal Politics in India by Virginius Xaxa (Adivasis)

Imaginary maps : three stories by Mahāśvetā Debī  (Adivasis)

As mothers of the land the birth of the Bougainville women for peace and freedom by Josephine Sirivi (Bougainvillean)

Buffalo nationalism : a critique of spiritual fascism by Kancha Ilaiah (Dalit)

A history of early modern Southeast Asia, 1400-1830 by Leonard Y. Andaya (Dayak)

Folk stories of the Hmong : peoples of Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam by Dia Cha (Hmong)

Fly until you die : an oral history of Hmong pilots in the Vietnam War by Chia Youyee Vang (Hmong)

Selected poems of Déwé Gorod sharing as custom provides (Kanak)

From a native daughter : colonialism and sovereignty in Hawaiʻi by Haunani-Kay Trask (Kanaka Maoli)

Indigenous and decolonizing studies in education : mapping the long view by Linda Tuhiwai Smith (Maori)

Mongolian folktales by Zhambyn Dashdondog (Mongolian)

The revolt of Prince Nuku cross-cultural alliance-making in Maluku, c.1780-1810 by Muridan Widjojo  (Papuan)

Whispers and vanities : Samoan indigenous knowledge and religion (Samoan)

In search of biohappiness biodiversity and food, health and livelihood security by Monkombu Sambasivan Swaminathan (Tamil)

Tibet by Thubten Jigme Norbu (Tibetan)

The dragon in the land of snows : a history of modern Tibet since 1947 by Tsering Shakya (Tibetan)

We Uyghurs have no say : an imprisoned writer speaks by Ilham Tohti (Uyghur)

Worse than death : reflections on the Uyghur genocide by Mamtimin Ala (Uyghur)

The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide by Azeem Ibrahim

The Rohingya : an ethnography of ‘subhuman’ life by Nasir Uddin

Library Resources

eHRAF World Cultures

South and Southeast Asian Literature in English

South Asia Archive

South Asian Newspapers: Historical Newspapers from South Asia


Gall, Timothy L., and Susan Bevan Gall, editors. Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures, 2nd ed., vol. 8, UXL, 2012. Gale eBooks.

Lee Tu, Dawn. “Asian Pacific Heritage Month.” Asian Americans: An Encyclopedia of Social, Cultural, Economic, and Political History, Xiaojian Zhao, and Edward J.W. Park, Greenwood, 1st edition, 2013. Credo Reference.

Williams, Victoria. Indigenous Peoples : an Encyclopedia of Culture, History, and Threats to Survival. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, an Imprint of ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2020. Print.

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