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Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Honoring the contributions of Asian and Pacific Islanders

May 22, 2020

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. It is a time to honor the generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who have made important contributions to the fabric of our shared American history.

It is also a time to explore their history and stories, traditions and culture. A great way to dive in is by watching the riveting new PBS documentary series Asian Americans. The 3-part series premiered this month, and elegantly chronicles the contributions, and challenges of Asian Americans, the fastest-growing ethnic group in America.

Graphic for Asian Americans documentary series from PBS

We chatted with Marlina Gonzalez, Community Impact Manager at TPT, about her own story and her hopes for people who watch this series on PBS:

Can you share a bit about your background?
I was born in Manila, Philippines. My mother’s side of the family started immigrating to the US in the 60s, as a result of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which allowed a large number of immigration from different countries. A shortage of medical professionals after WWII encouraged a lot of Filipinx medical professionals to respond.

What could kids and families learn from watching Asian Americans?
For Asian American families: That our family histories are so connected to world affairs and that there’s a lot that American history books don’t tell us.

For Asian American kids: That as an American with Asian heritage, you can stand tall and proud that your parents, grandparents and ancestors made great contributions to shaping this country.

For New American families: That we have a lot in common with other Asian immigrant groups.

Why is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month important?
It’s a time to celebrate ourselves. Asian Americans don’t figure as prominently in mainstream American culture. By putting a spotlight on Asian American cultures, it gives everyone an opportunity to know us beyond noodles, chopsticks, kung fu and egg rolls!

How can immigrant history broaden our perspectives on the world?
It’s important to learn that Asian immigrants were a crucial part of shaping American culture. Did you know that the Dream Act, which is mainly associated with Latinx communities was actually inspired by an Asian American named Tereza Lee? Did you know that behind Cesar Chavez’s leadership of the United Farmworkers Union was a Filipino immigrant named Larry Itliong? Our paths have crossed before.

What is your favorite inspiring quote that keeps you motivated? Or your favorite saying in Tagalog?
Ang hindi lumilingon sa pinanggalingan, hindi makakarating sa pororoonan.
Your past holds the key to your future destinations. (not a literal translation)

Do you have any words of hope for those who are at home during this time (COVID-19 pandemic)?
Maybe Mother Earth is showing us how important we are to each other.


Join Marlina and TPT for the Stories of Asian America: Performances and Conversation, a virtual discussion between five Asian Minnesotan artists/artist groups about the importance of voice and self-representation.

Fri, June 5, 2020 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM CDT
For more information about the performers please check out the event site:


Asian Americans is a five-hour film series that will chronicle the contributions, and challenges of Asian Americans, the fastest-growing ethnic group in America. Personal histories and new academic research will cast a fresh lens on U.S. history and the role Asian Americans have played in it.

New immigrants from China, Japan, and beyond adapt to life in America, building railroads, impressing in Hollywood, and fighting for equality; the first generation of U.S.-born Asian Americans have their loyalties tested during World War II.
Asian Americans fight for equality in the fields, on campuses and in the culture; new immigrants and war refugees expand the definition of Asian American.

At the turn of the new millennium, the national conversation turns to immigration, race, and economic disparity. As the U.S becomes more diverse, yet more divided, a new generation of Asian Americans tackle the question, how do we as a nation move forward together?
Teachers are invited to utilize these lesson plans which are drawn from the series to explore the ways that Asian Americans have shaped our nation’s history.

Curated collection of Asian American stories from PBS:
Celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May and every day with a special PBS collection of stories that explores the history, traditions and culture of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States.


Yudong Shen infuses his Asian brush paintings with color and contrast to create landscapes that recall both China and Minnesota. Learn about this tradition, how it relates to Chinese culture and how it differs from other mediums.

Sieng Lee’s stunning site-specific installation is inspired by his immigrant experience. At the center of Becoming American, Lee combined objects from his Hmong culture with familiar American items to create a large-scale sculpture. The work is a visual reflection of the sometimes tumultuous feelings Lee had growing up as an immigrant in the United States.

Learn about the life and work of Dr. Pooja Goswami Pavan and Hindustani, North Indian classical music.

Hmong Qeej (pronounced kheng) player, Chai Lee, performs and explains the significance of this traditional wind instrument widely known as a cultural symbol of Hmong identity. Learn about the instrument and discuss the importance of art and ritual.

Yudong Shen infuses his Asian brush paintings with color and contrast to create landscapes that recall both China and Minnesota. Learn about this tradition, how it relates to Chinese culture and how it differs from other mediums.

Learn about the multifaceted career of calligrapher and urban planner Weiming Lu and explore how they complement each other.

Artists Saymoukda Vongsay (aka the Refugenius) and May Lee-Yang took the stage at Coffman Memorial at the University of Minnesota performing The Hmong-Lao Friendship Play or The Lao-Hmong Friendship Play in April of 2017. The play has since then be renamed to The Friendship Play. The play chronicles the real–life friendship between Vongsay, ethnically Lao, and Lee-Yang, ethnically Hmong. They were both born in refugee camps in Thailand and, along with their families, immigrated to the Twin Cities when they were young. The play discusses some of the similarities and differences as their families navigated a new culture, place and growing up within it.


Hmong in America Collection
Minnesota is home to more than 66,000 Hmong people, making it the largest Hmong population in the world. What led to this “Hmong Migration”? Why did the Hmong leave their native Laos and settle in Minnesota? And what exactly does it mean to be Hmong in America? These stories give a bit of insight.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2020. All rights reserved.


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