There are a number of cultural observance months that are celebrated in the United States—two will be celebrated this May—Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and Jewish American Heritage Month. These commemorative observances provide a reminder to employers about the various elements of diversity that may be present within their workforces and an opportunity to celebrate the heritage, culture, and traditions of various groups.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

In 1977, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month started as a weeklong commemorative event. The week of May 4th was selected to commemorate the arrival of the first known Japanese immigrant to the United States in 1943 and to mark the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. In 1992 the event was officially expanded to a month-long observance in May, allowing additional opportunity to acknowledge the diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Native Hawaiians.

There continues to be ample confusion and misunderstanding about Asian identity in the U.S. as Pew Research recently pointed out in Asian Identity in the U.S. They note that: “Asians in the United States trace their origins to a vast continent that spans more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. This geographic diversity translates into multiple ways Asians in the U.S. personally describe their own identities.”

Taking time to focus on Asian Pacific American heritage can be a good way to raise awareness and offer the opportunity to discuss both similarities and differences within and between Asian and other cultures/ethnicities. 

Jewish American Heritage Month

Jewish American Heritage Month was first proposed in 1980 – and, in 2006, President George W. Bush established May as the month to observe this heritage. It is an opportunity to honor the history, achievements, and contributions of Jewish Americans throughout U.S. history. May was chosen as the month for this commemoration because of its significant historical milestones—including the arrival of the first Jewish immigrants to North America in 1654 and the establishment of the first Jewish congregation in 1733.

Antisemitism has, unfortunately, been on the rise again, NPR points out. They report that: “According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2021 was the highest year on record for documented reports of harassment, vandalism and violence directed against Jews.” President Biden decried these acts in a proclamation on Jewish American Heritage Month, this April. 

These types of observances offer an opportunity to highlight the diverse cultural and historical contributions of these communities to American society, to promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation, and to raise awareness of the struggles and challenges—some ongoing as we’ve seen—among these groups.

The Importance Observances of Cultural Contributions

For employers, the importance of these types of observances is twofold: to recognize the rich culture, background, and traditions that some employees share; and to leverage the observances as a platform for promoting diversity and equality.

By showcasing a commitment to celebrating and honoring these communities’ contributions, employers can attract and retain diverse talent, promoting innovation and creativity. This can be done through efforts such as:

  • Education and awareness-building through workshops, lunch-and-learn sessions, or informal gatherings where employees are invited to share personal stories and experiences.
  • Cultural celebrations that might focus on food, art, music, films, and other traditions to help raise awareness, understanding, and interest.
  • ERG-sponsored events and activities can provide a platform for networking, and build a sense of community through shared experiences and discussion.
  • Community engagement—employers can expand the focus on these commemorative events by encouraging participation and involvement in community-wide activities. 

Celebrating these types of observances can be a great way to recognize the many differences that exist among your employees. Creating a culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion can pay big dividends to both employees and your company as our research with Harvard Business Review illustrates. The report offers additional ideas and ways for your organization to celebrate employees from a wide range of backgrounds—not only during specific months, but all year round.