Recently, Dana-Farber’s Ian Matthew-Clayton, vice president and chief Inclusion, Diversity & Equity officer, wrote an honest and informative letter to employees of Dana-Farber honoring Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. His message provides historical context, points out how we can learn from our AAPI colleagues, and acknowledges what Dana-Farber is doing to eradicate the burden of cancer for the AAPI community.
May marks the beginning of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. While it is important to honor the contributions of our AAPI colleagues throughout the year, the May observance commemorates two points in history. The first Japanese immigrants arrived in the United States on May 7, 1843. And the transcontinental railroad was completed on May 10, 1869, with the majority of track work laid by Chinese immigrants, who were not credited for this arduous work. Those two dates seem recent when you note that the first Asians migrated to what is now North America more than 15,000 years ago.
At Dana-Farber, we are proud to have colleagues who are Asian American as well as co-workers who immigrated from Asian and Pacific Island countries. The AAPI community encompasses many cultures, including those from the continent of Asia as well as the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. We recognize the AAPI community shares common threads as well as unique differences.
We also acknowledge the history of discrimination and racism against AAPI communities that has existed in the United States, including violence exacerbated by anti-AAPI rhetoric related to COVID. And while the month of May honors AAPI heritage, it also marks a painful time in history when the Chinese Exclusion Act was signed into law on May 6, 1882. This month offers the opportunity to hear from our AAPI colleagues about their lived experiences. Through genuine curiosity, empathy, and respectful awareness, our interactions with each other will deepen and grow.
Parallel to our mission of inclusion and diversity is our goal to ease and eradicate the burden of cancer. Dana-Farber’s 2022 Cancer-Focused Community Health Needs Assessment revealed that Boston’s Asian residents have the lowest incidence of overall cancers. However, the AAPI community has significantly higher liver cancer mortality rates compared to white residents. Asian men have significantly higher lung cancer mortality rates compared to white residents. Asian women have lower rates of cervical cancer screening, and Asian adults have lower rates of colorectal cancer screening when compared to Black, Latina, and white communities.
In response to these findings, Dana-Farber’s Community Benefits Department has recently hired a new bilingual Outreach Specialist to specifically address the needs of our local Asian American and Pacific Islander residents. In addition to providing tailored, culturally relevant cancer education, our new Outreach Specialist also works directly with community partners to increase access to our evidence-based programs and break down barriers that many historically marginalized communities face.
Throughout the month of May, we invite you to reflect on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Think about the role we all play in fostering a sense of belonging at work and in our communities. Thank you for your commitment to our mission and our Dana-Farber family.
Vice President and Chief Inclusion, Diversity, and Equity (ID&E) Officer