Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month

Japanese Citizenship Class in Longmont 1953
In 1953, several members of Longmont’s first generation of Japanese immigrants became American citizens. Yukino Mayeda is pictured in the front row, far left. Photo courtesy Longmont Museum.
Chiyo Kanemoto sitting on a tractor, wearing a sunbonnet, ca. 1940s.
Chiyo Kanemoto worked with her family on their Boulder County farm and was active in the Buddhist Temple and the Rotary Club. The family later donated land that became Longmont’s Kanemoto Park. Photo courtesy Longmont Museum.
Tower of Compassion in Kanemoto Park, Longmont
The Kanemoto family donated the Tower of Compassion to the City of Longmont in 1972. Built in the style of a Japanese temple, the tower has five levels representing virtues that define compassion: love, empathy, understanding, gratitude, and selfless giving. Photo by Sherri O’Hara for Visit Longmont.

Building a Better Community

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to pause and reflect on the AAPI experience in the U.S., past and present, and to recognize the contributions AAPI women have made to Boulder County.

Fostering Community

Early settlers of Japanese ancestry came to Boulder County to establish farms, particularly in the St. Vrain Valley. In 1915, Yukino Mayeda emigrated with her husband from Japan to rural Longmont. In 1925, the Mayedas hosted the first meeting of what would become the Longmont Buddhist Temple. The founding members built a meeting hall north of Lafayette on Isabelle Road, west of Highway 287, which became a focal point for a growing community of Japanese immigrants. Later, the temple moved to its current location at Highway 287 and Pike Road in Longmont.

Following the outbreak of war between the United States and Japan in 1941, the U.S. government forced thousands of people of Japanese ancestry, including American citizens, into internment camps. The Mayedas provided refuge on their farm for their relatives, the Nishidas, who were driven from their home on the West Coast. After the war, other refugees settled in the area following their release from internment camps such as Amache in southeastern Colorado. Women played an important role in welcoming these newcomers and supporting crucial community institutions like the Buddhist Temple.

As Boulder County’s economy expanded beyond its agricultural roots, Asian-American women and their families established and ran businesses and were active in civic affairs. Sisters Chiyo and Jane Miyasaki were born in the 1920s near Lafayette. Chiyo married Jim Kanemoto in 1944, and Jane married Jim’s brother, George, four years later. The two couples worked together to run a vegetable farm and roadside market, build a manufacturing and supply company, develop (and donate) real estate, and serve on the boards of many local organizations. Chiyo and Jane Kanemoto helped build a legacy of public service commemorated by the Tower of Compassion in Longmont’s Kanemoto Park.

Fighting for a Better Society

Building upon this heritage, today’s AAPI women in Boulder County are taking action to improve their communities by fighting for racial justice and equity:

  • In 2017, CU Boulder Professor Tiara Na’puti testified before the United Nations as member of a delegation of indigenous Chamorro people of Guam. Dr. Na’puti emphasized the need for UN support for decolonization of this U.S. Pacific territory, where indigenous peoples continue to fight for self-determination.
  • Jennifer Ho, director of the Center for Humanities & the Arts at CU Boulder, teaches an anti-racism course through Coursera. She wrote a searing op-ed for CNN, “To be an Asian woman in America,” in the wake of the killing of six Asian American women in Atlanta in March 2021.
  • In response to the rise in AAPI xenophobia and racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, several CU engineering students created #UnmaskTheRacism, a social media campaign to raise awareness and spur action. Their campaign has worked with local AAPI-owned restaurants to provide meals to healthcare workers and emergency responders.

YWCA Boulder County and YWCA USA support efforts to combat racism and violence directed toward AAPI communities, including advocating for the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act that was signed into law in May 2021.  To join the fight, visit YWCA USA’s Advocacy site.