Celebrating Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

May 18, 2023

The Asian American and Pacific Islander community has played a significant role in U.S. History. Today, we celebrate them, bring awareness to AAPI people with disabilities, and share resources.

History of AAPI Heritage Month

The month of May has been designated as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month since 1990, focused on celebrating the achievements and contributions of this community within United States history. 1 This community is frequently overlooked but played a key role in the Civil Rights Movement and is one of the fastest growing populations within the U.S! Today we will explore who Asian American and Pacific Islanders are, their history, the intersection of AAPI identity and disability, and mental health resources!

Who are AAPI?

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) is an umbrella term, as AAPI communities consist of approximately 50 distinct ethnic groups speaking over 100 languages, with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries.2  The U.S. Census reports that there are an estimated 24 million Asian alone or in combination residents in the U.S.3

History of AAPI

Asian immigrants first came to the U.S. in the 1850s during the California Gold Rush. Those who remained after worked as laborers, in low-paying jobs, or on railroad construction. We want to take a second to recognize the role their labor on the Transcontinental Railroad played in the physical and social landscape of the American West.1 Between 1892 to 1954, over twelve million immigrants entered the United States through Ellis Island. Between 1910 and 1940, one million immigrants entered the United States through Angel Island.1

During the 1960’s, Asian Americans joined the Civil Rights Movement after reflecting on their own experiences, both joining in on the existing efforts and speaking out for their own. Throughout time, the movement evolved for Asian Americans, transitioning from the fight to be American to the fight for rights as Americans. Even with all of these efforts, the AAPI community faced violence and discrimination throughout history and they still do to this day.

The Intersection of AAPI and Disabilities

Despite their rapidly growing population, this community has been underrepresented in research on disability.4 Current census data shows that 1 in 10 Asian and 1 in 6 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander adults in the U.S. have at least one disability.5

With all of this being said, we want to share the stories of AAPI community members who have disabilities, from the Disability Visibility Project. The original blog is linked here. Here is a quote that felt especially powerful, but we of course encourage you to review this resource. Besides sharing stories of Asian Americans with disabilities, it highlights major themes and issues, recommendations and practices for moving forward, and other resources.

“There are Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) with disabilities, we are very invisible, there is a huge cultural stigma, and taboo, that it often presents challenges to families because of fear of embarrassment or shame. The major issues related to my life that matter to me most as an Asian Pacific American with a disability is, sharing my story, so others in our community do not have to be silent, ashamed, embarrassed, or have to be invisible any longer.”

Austin Tam

A huge thank you to the Disability Visibility Project for being gracious enough to allow us to share this important content and highlight the lived experiences of AAPI people with disabilities. Disability Rights Tennessee is hard at work protecting the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities, regardless of their background or identities. If you or a loved one need help, contact us at 1-800-342-1660 or GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org

AAPI Resources

We recognize the reality of belonging to the Asian American or Pacific Islander community comes with a history and continuation of racism and violence. For this reason, we wanted to take the opportunity to share a variety of resources for those who may need them, or those who want to learn more.

We thank you for taking the time to read this blog and hope you explore not only the resources we have listed above but the resources we have found on our “Resources” page. As always, if you or a loved one need help, contact us at 1-800-342-1660 or GetHelp@DisabilityRightsTN.org.


  1. https://edsitement.neh.gov/teachers-guides/asian-american-and-pacific-islander-heritage-and-history-us
  2. https://www.nami.org/Your-Journey/Identity-and-Cultural-Dimensions/Asian-American-and-Pacific-Islander
  3. https://www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2023/asian-american-pacific-islander.html
  4. https://blog.dol.gov/2022/07/12/disability-data-snapshot-asian-americans-and-pacific-islanders