05 Mar It’s What Month?
Margaret A.M. Heine
is the principal counsel at Heine Law Group in Fullerton, California. She is licensed in California and Washington and has authority to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States and the United States Court of International Trade.
It’s What Month?
Have you ever wondered why there is Black History Month or African-American History Month, and why not a “Month of Your Ancestry”? How do these months get recognition and how can your own ethnicity get a month of recognition?
In fact, there are many ethnicities recognized as “theme months” in the United States. In 1986, Congress passed public Law 99-244 as “National Black History Month”. The law directs the President to issue a proclamation naming February as Black History Month. The first Presidential Proclamation was by President Reagan, who issued a statement that the month is to make all Americans aware of the struggle for freedom and equal opportunity. It also stated that it was to celebrate the contribution of African Americans to American life and science. Each year, there is some type of theme which is announced within the proclamation and what particular emphasis will be focused on in that year. President Donald Trump’s 2020 proclamation observes the 150th anniversary of the 15th amendment, giving African American men the right to vote. He also noted that this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the first African American to serve in Congress, Hiram Revels, a Mississippi republican served in the Senate. He also states in the proclamation that “Our great Nation is strengthened and enriched by citizens of every race, religion, color, and creed.”
Are you surprised that March is Irish-American Heritage Month? It was established by Public Law 101-418, which established March 1991 as “Irish American Heritage Month.” The President, once again, has the power to issue a proclamation every year designating the month of March as Irish American Heritage Month. Every March, a Shamrock Ceremony takes place at the White House. There is typically a reception and luncheon on the same date as the Shamrock Ceremony. It celebrates the large Irish populations of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Irish soldiers first worked protecting the Colonies during the French and Indian Wars. John F. Kennedy was the first Irish American President.
March also sets the stage for Women’s History Month which was begun in 1911. It, like many others, started as simply a History Week, but was expanded to include the entire month. Public Law 97-28 was passed in 1981 setting up March as Women’s History Week, and then Women’s History Month came with the passage of the 1987 legislation, Public Law 100-9 setting march as Women’s History Month. The month celebrates the 27th Amendment, Equality of Rights, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the contributions of women in this country for education, leadership, courage, and medical achievements.
April is Jewish American Heritage Month. It is a relative late-comer to the heritage months as it was first proclaimed by President George W. Bush in 2006. Sen. Arlen Specter along with the Jewish Museum of Florida and South Florida were the flagbearers for the designation celebrating the contribution of the large Jewish population of the United States to the economic and scientific development of the United States.
April is also Arab American Heritage Month. It is also a late comer to the heritage months as it did not begin until 2017 with a national initiative. A 2017 congressional resolution set the stage for this April recognition and to pay tribute to the contributions of Arab Americans as well as provide education and informational programs to share and embrace Arab culture and dispel stereotypes.
Public Law 95-419 set the stage for June to dedicate 10 days to Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. The resolution was made in 1977 to commemorate the immigration of the Japanese to the United States in 1843, for the contributions of the Chinese for the completion of the Transcontinental railroad in 1869. In 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed a bill to extend Asian-American Heritage Week to a month.
President George H.W. Bush also designated August as National American Indian Heritage Month. The month is to honor America’s Tribal people including their culture, traditions, crafts, music, dance, and to provide educational programs regarding Native American history.
In 1968, Hispanic Heritage Week was established in September to celebrate a week of activities honoring the contribution of Hispanics in building the nation. In 1988, President Reagan signed into law a change to make it Hispanic Heritage Month from mid September to mid October. All branches of the military have some type of observance and celebration of all Hispanic Americans on active duty and those who have served in our armed forces. In 2016, 13.7 percent of those serving in the U.S. Army are Hispanic Americans. The month is typically a celebration of culture, film making, artisan works, and many parades celebrating this important component of our mixing pot.
October also ushers in LGBT History Month. It was established in 1994 to bring acceptance and recognition to related civil rights movements affecting the LGBT community. The U.S., Canada, and Australia all celebrate this month in October.
There are several other Heritage Months, many of which are still “unofficial”. Want to see the list expanded? Find congressional or senate personnel to take your message to Washington D.C. and ask them to propose a resolution acknowledging your particular heritage and why it is worthy of having a month or a week dedicated to it’s recognition. You never know unless you try.
Heritage months encourage the retention of traditional and heritage specific traditions while still maintaining that understanding and acceptance and assimilation in American culture has created a diverse and effective diversity in America.