As an Asian American woman working in marketing, I’m conflicted about Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM).
While I like the idea celebrating the Asian and Pacific Islander community, it’s hard not to feel like APAHM is another box for organizations to tick on their laundry list of diversity milestones. That is, if they remember to acknowledge it at all.
Brands and companies who are *just* reaching out to hire me and my Asian colleagues for speaking engagements and workshops next month for #APAHM…you’re late!
— Katerina (@katerinajeng) April 16, 2021
For brands who do push through with their APAHM plans, I’d offer this as a word of advice. APAHM is an opportunity for brands to learn about the history of a community that’s often invisibilized and recognize those whose experiences are minimized. To appropriately celebrate APAHM on social, you need to be authentic, action-oriented and recognize Asians and Pacific Islanders are not a monolith. Or just don’t say anything at all.
A time to reflect, a time to educate
APAHM was created to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian and Pacific Islanders to the history and culture of the United States. May was chosen specifically to commemorate the first Japanese citizen’s immigration to American in 1843 and to memorialize Chinese immigrants’ work on the transcontinental railroad. This year, APAHM comes at a particularly painful time, following the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes across the globe.
I don’t know, feels like Heritage Month might take on a different significance this year.
— Angry Asian Man (@angryasianman) April 1, 2021
Beyond raising awareness around the history of Asian and Pacific Islanders in America, May is also a time for personal reflection. Tazi Flory, a Product Marketing Specialist and co-lead of Asians@Sprout, shares some of the conflicting emotions she experiences every APAHM.
“I think about the diverse and rich cultures that make up the Asian/Pacific Islander experience, and I also think about the hardships, hope and heartbreak that happens with immigration that my ancestors and other Asian Americans went through. It’s a time where I feel pride and a sense of connection with other Asian identifying folks, but at the same time mourn the culture that was lost to my family via forced assimilation.”
Jenny Li Fowler, the Director of Social Media Strategy at MIT, echoes Flory’s sentiment: “It feels like it always took a backseat to other awareness months, and now I have mixed feelings about it. I think it’s important to really show up for your community (and all of your community) all year round, not just for a month.”
Fowler goes on to explain how APAHM can serve as an opportunity to shed light on a community that is often invisibilized. “We talked to one of our professors about how hate against Asian Americans is not something new to this country and took an academic approach. Instead of an empty celebration post, we’re steadily sharing this kind of content to educate people or to amplify the voices and stories of people who have not been amplified before.”
Above all, marketers need to remember Asians aren’t a monolith and each community has its own cultures and heritage worth celebrating. Representatives from Twitter Asians, the business resource group for Asian-identifying individuals at Twitter, elaborate further. “It’s important to break the monolithic understanding of what it means to be Asian and celebrate the differences that make our community unique. For example, a first generation Pakistani versus a sixth generation Korean American will have vastly different perspectives. Many users are coming to social to learn about their cultural heritage and celebrate with others.”
How to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at work
As we noted in our article on what brands need to know about Black History Month, celebrating a racial awareness month starts and ends with brands putting in the work. If brands are serious about using their social platforms to uplift the Asian and Pacific Islander community, here are three things they need to keep in mind:
1. “Let the community speak”
Working in higher education, Fowler points to students as a great source of inspiration for social. “Our students are pretty amazing and they take it upon themselves to act. [In April], they did a beautiful light installation on Killian Court that said ‘Stop Asian Hate’ and I amplified it.”
Seen on Killian Court. #StopAsianHate
— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) April 3, 2021
Flory offers a similar piece of advice. “How can brands elevate Asian creators, activists and leaders in their industry? Are there events or workshops that brands can sponsor to not only learn about the Asian experience, but how to be an ally? Something as simple as elevating Asian voices, specifically on your social channels, or partnering with an AAPI organization, is a good place to start.”
Also, if you have an Asian American resource group or student group within your company/school/org, reach out to them and ask them what they want. Since, you know, they work for you, or attend your school. 3/6
— Naomi Ko 고은지 (@konaomie) April 23, 2021
2. Consider who is included in your celebrations
One common mistake brands make when acknowledging APAHM is excluding all of the countries and ethnicities that comprises both the Asian and Pacific Islander identity.
When most people hear “Asian,” they tend to only think of East Asians: people of Chinese, Japanese or Korean descent. In actuality, Asia is made up of over 40 countries and Pacific Islanders are often forgotten entirely in APAHM celebrations.
To everyone out there with #APAHM content/events coming up next month: INCLUDE PACIFIC ISLANDER FOLKS IN YOUR CONTENT/EVENTS.
Otherwise, just call it an Asian event. It's not bad to call it an Asian-focused event/content, just don't say AAPI and erase PI people in the process.
— Kriselle G 🇵🇭 she/her (@KriselleMG) April 13, 2021
Take a moment to consider who is included when you say Asian and Pacific Islander. If your brand is posting about APAHM, your social content should reflect the full spectrum of Asians and Pacific Islanders—not just three countries. Highlight organizations led by South East Asian individuals and equally elevate the voices of Pacific Islanders. Words have power, and the terms you use need to accurately describe who you’re representing in your content.
“There is no single way to represent one monolithic Asian experience,” say representatives from Twitter Asians. “Aim to showcase unique stories and experiences of individuals to deliver universally relatable, yet specific perspectives from different Asian cultures. Successful brands and campaigns will highlight diverse excellence without appropriating or being stereotypical.”
I'd go further and say: only use that grouping if you actually mean both communities. If you're reporting on a story or community that comprises people of Asian descent but not Pacific Islander descent, you can just say "Asian American" without "Pacific Islander." And vice versa. https://t.co/DOpOVJz4FR
— Quincy Surasmith | ควินซี่ สุรสมิทธ์ (@Quincetessence) April 24, 2021
3. Don’t just post—act
People of color are tired—and that includes Asian and Pacific Islanders. More specifically, people are tired of the hollow statements brands post as a way of celebrating racial awareness months.
“Show me some action,” says Fowler. “If you’re really committed to diversity and inclusion, tell me what you’re doing to bring in more people of color or fold in more opportunities for underrepresented people.”
Rather than just post about Asian nonprofits on your timeline, volunteer your time and resources with that organization, too. Posts championing Asians and Pacific Islanders in the workplace should definitely be reflective of equal pay and equitable growth opportunities internally.
Thank you, @TSGiles and Bloomberg @Business for encouraging big tech to do more in the fight for racial justice. Corporations have enormous power — and voicing concern for our community is just the first step.https://t.co/jRA6NBKyme
— Stop AAPI Hate (@StopAAPIHate) February 26, 2021
Representatives from Twitter Asians also emphasize the importance of brands taking action. “Show the community how you are making changes fo the better, whether it be through inclusive hiring practices, elevating and giving opportunities to underrepresented voices, donating—anything to show the community you’re invested in and actively taking steps to make meaningful change, rather than capitalizing on a trending moment.”
When brands can back up their words with action, Flory says, that’s when their support will come across as genuine. “If the brand wants to be authentic, then looking inward is a good place to start. Does this brand have Asian-identifying employees? Do they span the business and hold leadership roles? Has a brand donated money to BIPOC-organizations? These are the types of questions I want to see brands engage with if I’m to take their statement at all seriously about being an ally.”
Celebrate Asians and Pacific Islanders every day
When June 1 rolls around, it’s all too easy for brands to move on from APAHM onto the next holiday or awareness month. But your Asian and Pacific Islander employees and customers don’t have that same luxury.
Don’t wait for APAHM to question how your organization is showing up for Asian and Pacific Islanders every day. What are you doing to champion and uplift marginalized voices when the spotlight isn’t on them? Read on to learn how to integrate DEI into your social strategies and turn your awareness month celebrations into genuine action that supports marginalized communities year round.
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