The woman credited with first proposing the idea of designating Asian Heritage Month in America was part of an organization that has a still-operating chapter in the Hudson Valley.
Jeanie Jew was on staff for upstate Rep. Frank Horton and pitched the idea to him in the 1970s.
Jew was concerned about the lack of awareness of the role Asians played in American history and the prejudices they faced along the way, including the hard manual labor of building the Transcontinental Railroad (1860s ), the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882) and the Japanese internment camps (1940s). ).
“Asian Americans helped make this country progress and strong long ago,” said OCA Westchester & Hudson Valley member Bob Chao.
Congress designated the month of May as Asia-Pacific American Heritage Month in 1992, thanks in part to Horton’s support.
“It took quite a bit of effort from him and other OCA members to make this happen,” Chao said.
Jew was a member of the Chinese American Organization, now known as the OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates, which has a local chapter in Westchester and the Hudson Valley.
“She’s one of the reasons I joined the OCA,” said Jaclyn Liu, executive vice president of OCA Westchester & Hudson Valley.
They continue to advocate for Asian and Pacific Islander Americans to follow in the footsteps of Jewish labor.
“She is one of the pioneers who inspires people and I also admire,” Liu said.
The group has spent the past few years battling a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
Research published earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that anti-Asian hate crimes jumped more than 300% in 2021 from the previous year.
“If we don’t speak up, people will never hear us,” Liu said.
OCA leaders say anti-Asian hate crimes are underreported in the Hudson Valley, but at least two in recent years have made national headlines.
Police arrested a homeless man for assaulting and spitting on an Asian woman in White Plains in 2021, but prosecutors dropped the case and released the suspect due to a flawed police investigation.
Earlier this year, a Filipina was badly beaten as she entered her Yonkers building. Resident Tammel Esco has been charged with attempted murder as a hate crime. His case is pending.
But to create change, the local OCA aims for the top.
“We get to see how politics is conducted in the political center of the United States,” Chao said.
They help send dozens of young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to Washington, D.C. each year to intern with politicians.
“Eventually, they will defend themselves and enter the political sphere,” Liu said.
Maybe they’ll inspire one of them to become the next Jeanie Jew.