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Karen Kim, MD
Asian Health Coalition Board President
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month was created in 1992 to pay tribute to the generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) who have enriched America's history and are instrumental in its future success. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States in 1843 and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 by the majority of Chinese immigrant workers who laid the tracks.
We are celebrating our heritage not as separate and apart from but as an integral part of the American heritage where our contributions to the economy, health and arts, are lived, shared, and recognized as a cohesive part of the harmonious diversity in America. I am proud to be an American born and raised on the south side in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood to Korean immigrants and I'm able to share my Korean heritage and Korean American experience with my friends and the greater society. I'm able to blend the best of both cultures and richness to help this nation become a truly unique multicultural society. AAPIs share common struggles throughout their histories in America -- including efforts to overcome racial, social, and religious discrimination. Despite these obstacles, AAPIs have persevered and flourished, achieving success in every sector of American life. They have marched with their fellow citizens during the civil rights movement; served as distinguished leaders in business, academia, military, and public service.
However we should still be reminded that many AAPI families still experience unemployment and
poverty today, as well as significant education and health disparities. The AAPI community is too often as the "model minority," a myth that has contributed to the perception that we suffer from few health issues. Considerable health disparities, however, persist as AAPIs are twice as likely to die from liver cancer as the general population, and diabetes continues to affect Pacific Islanders at increased rates. In addition, AAPIs remain the only race and ethnic group where cancer is the number one leading cause of death for both men and women. Barriers in obtaining health insurance coverage and finding culturally and linguistically appropriate health care further contribute to and intensify these disparities.
While much work is left to be done to reduce health disparities, we should also take this opportunity for AAPI Heritage Month to remember that we are not alone in this fight and we applaud the efforts of our federal, state and local city and county health departments and their efforts that highlight the value of public servants as they work tirelessly with researchers and non-profit groups to find promising and innovative solutions to address health disparities in minority communities.