During Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month, America250 celebrates the rich history, vibrant cultures, and significant contributions that AANHPI communities bring to our nation. From Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders who have long made America their home, to Asian Americans whose immigration stories reflect the core of the American dream, AANHPI communities enrich the fabric of American society. As our nation approaches its 250th anniversary, we are committed to amplifying the contributions of AANHPI communities, celebrating the incredible diversity within these groups, and uplifting the voices, stories, and experiences of the roughly 25 million Americans who identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center and the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders unveiled their 2024 National AANHPI Heritage Month theme – “Bridging Histories, Shaping Our Future” – which invites us to explore the legacies, triumphs, and challenges that have shaped AANHPI communities and commemorates the spirit of our collective journey. In honor of the 2024 theme, I am proud to highlight AANHPI trailblazers, past and present, who have exemplified leadership and paved the way for progress across generations as we continue to write America’s story.

Trailblazers like Chien-Shiung Wu, often referred to as the “First Lady of Physics” for her work in the field of nuclear physics. Although denied recognition with the Nobel Prize for the “Wu Experiment,” which was named after her and shattered a fundamental law of physics, we honor her legacy, which continues to inspire women and other underrepresented groups to pursue STEM careers and break down barriers in the field. Duke Kahanamoku was Hawaii’s first Olympian and first Olympic champion in swimming. Known as “The Duke” and the “Father of Modern Surfing,” the five-time Olympic medalist broke through racial barriers and popularized the sport of surfing as we know it. He proudly brought attention to the island of Hawaii and embodied the spirit of Aloha, a deep love and respect for people, places, and resources. I’m inspired by Kalpana Chawla, the first woman of Indian origin to soar into space. She flew on two Space Shuttle missions, conducting experiments that advanced our understanding of space and benefited scientific research.

I think of leaders like Larry Itliong, a Filipino American labor organizer and civil rights activist, and Patsy Mink, the first woman of color and the first Asian-American woman to serve in Congress. Itliong was instrumental in bringing together Filipino and Mexican farm workers at a time when farm owners pitted both groups against each other and played a central role in the founding of the United Farm Workers Union in 1966. Mink, a true champion for equality, spearheaded critical legislation like Title IX and the Early Childhood Education Act, which have had far-reaching impacts on American society.

I’m also moved by leaders of today like Satya Nadella, whose journey from a young engineer in India to CEO of Microsoft serves as a beacon of inspiration. He has transformed the tech industry, propelling Microsoft to new heights and changing the way leaders think about empathy, inclusivity, and social responsibility. Finally, Eric S. Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, is a leader whose innovation kept millions of Americans connected during the isolating times of the pandemic. He reshaped the landscape of virtual communications with Zoom Video Communications. These leaders have paved the way for the AANHPI community and continue to foster innovation against formidable odds.

I encourage all Americans to explore and participate in recognizing the history, culture, and contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in all sectors of society where they have left their mark. The Semiquincentennial is a nationwide milestone, and it’s going to take every American from every corner of our country to commemorate and celebrate this historic moment.

This AANHPI Heritage Month, let’s continue to build bridges across generations, communities, and cultures as we celebrate the diversity that strengthens our nation and embark on an inclusive commemoration where every community is acknowledged for its part in our collective success.

Rosie Rios

Chair

United States Semiquincentennial Commission

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