May Celebrations and Culture

In April, we took a deep dive into celebrations, specifically, cultural celebrations and why they are important to raising awareness and understanding of groups, cultures, and causes. If you missed it, you could find the post here. This month we will be further exploring some diversity awareness opportunities that are celebrated in May.  The “why” behind cultural celebrations can prove to be quite interesting. Gaining understanding of what a culture or group has experienced leads to finding a common thread. Each of the celebrations above are centered on resilience, patriotism, and contributions that move our nation forward.  

AAPI Heritage Month

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month- Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month recognizes the challenges faced by Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians and their vital contributions to the American story. The observance of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is also a month to remember the patriotism of AAPIs who have served or are currently serving our nation.  

May was chosen as the observance month to commemorate the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the transcontinental railroad completion on May 10, 1869. Most of the workers who laid the tracks of that nation-unifying railway were Chinese immigrants.  

In 1978, the AAPI recognition reached the legislative branch of the federal government and Public Law 95-419 was passed by the House and Senate, which designated the week beginning on May 4, 1979, as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1990 President George H. W. Bush extended the week-long acknowledgement to a month-long celebration, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. In 1992, President George W. Bush permanently designated the month of May as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, via Public Law 102-450. 

Haitian Heritage Month

Haitian Heritage Month is a nationally recognized month and an opportunity for individuals, including Haitians and lovers of the Haitian culture, to celebrate the rich culture, distinctive art, delicious food and learn the traditions of Haiti and its people. The Congress of Arcahaie united Black and Mulatto officers to fight together for Haiti’s independence. As a result, those officers created the Haitian Flag on the last day of the congress, on May 18, 1803. Under that flag they fought and expelled the French army, so Haiti became the first Black independent country in the world on January 1st, 1804. Haitian Heritage Month is an expansion of the Haitian Flag Day in Haiti and the Diaspora created to encourage patriotism. 

It was first celebrated in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1998. Tele Kreyol, one of the Boston Haitian Access Television programs, celebrated the whole month of May with a series of programs on Haitian history, culture, and contributions to the world. The month-long celebration has continued with such activities as parades, flag raisings, and exhibits organized by Haitian-Americans United, Inc. (H.A.U.) in collaboration with several Haitian organizations in the New England area. 

Jewish-American Heritage Month

Jewish American Heritage Month recognizes Jews in America and their contributions to American culture, history, military, science, government, and more. The initial efforts to create a Jewish American Heritage Month began in 1980. Congress passed a bill that would allow President Carter to designate a special week in either April or May for Jewish heritage celebrations. Finally, in 2006, President George W. Bush proclaimed May as Jewish American Heritage Month.  

Jewish people were also great advocates for other minorities and their rights in America. They participated in the Civil Rights Movement, making up a sizable portion of White Americans who showed up at voter registrations, rallies, sit-ins, etc.  

Mental Health Awareness Month

Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the importance of protecting the rights and dignity of individuals suffering from mental health conditions and advocates for the prevention, identity, and treatment of symptoms in the initial stages of illness. In addition, it sheds light on the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of families and communities. 

Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, established Mental Health Awareness Month in 1949 to remove the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, raise awareness to those individuals living with mental or behavioral health disorders, and celebrate recovery from mental illness. This celebration increases public knowledge that effective services and support are available. 

Better Hearing and Speech Month

Better Hearing and Speech Month provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and available treatment options that can improve the quality of life for people with hearing or speech conditions. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association established this celebration in 1927 to both raise awareness and encourage people to consider their own and their children’s speech and hearing and seek treatment if there was a problem. This celebration encourages screening, treatment, and care to support communication health. 

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo, or May 5th, commemorates the Mexican army’s victory over France at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco- Mexican War on May 5, 1862. This date celebrates the win of a single battle, not Mexican Independence Day as some may believe. That battle symbolized the victory of Indigenous Mexicans over European invaders. Within Mexico, the holiday is primarily celebrated in the state of Puebla.  Traditions include military parades and recreations of the Battle of Puebla. In the United States Cinco de Mayo has become a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. 

Awareness of the holiday was raised in the 1960s by Chicano activists. Today the celebrations are marked by parties, parades, mariachi music, Mexican folk dancing and traditional foods. Areas with large Mexican American populations such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston also host some of the nation’s largest festivals. 

Memorial Day

Memorial Day honors the individuals who died while serving in the United States military. This holiday originated shortly after the Civil War and became an official holiday in 1971.  There were reports of one of the first commemorations being organized by a group of formerly enslaved people in Charleston, South Carolina after the Confederacy surrendered in 1865, however, the federal government declared Waterloo, New York as the official birthplace of Memorial Day. The Waterloo celebration on May 5, 1866, was a community wide event where businesses closed and decorated the graves of soldiers with flags and flowers. 

What is now known as Memorial Day was initially Decoration Day. On May 5, 1868, General John A. Logan, leader of an organization for Northern Civil War veterans, called for a nationwide day of remembrance later that month. “The 30th of May 1868 is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land,” he proclaimed.  

Initially Decoration Day, which gradually became known as Memorial Day, only honored those that fought in the Civil War. After the United States became involved in World War I and eventually other major conflicts, the holiday evolved to honor military members that lost their lives in all wars. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which made Memorial Day the last Monday in May to provide federal employees with a three-day weekend. The change was effective in 1971.