AAPI Heritage Month: Celebrating Central Florida’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community

News 6′s AAPI Heritage Month project introduces, highlights local AAPI stories, culture

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

ORLANDO, Fla. – Traces of Central Florida’s great and diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander population can be found everywhere—in our restaurants, businesses, college campuses and government offices.

From U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, the first Vietnamese American elected to Congress, to JEFRË, a Filipino American artist crafting award-winning pieces in Orlando, to Johnny Nguyen, a Kennedy Space Center lunar station engineer born to Vietnamese refugees, there is no shortage of Asian American and Pacific Islander stories our community can tell.

May marks the start of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to honor those living in the U.S. who identify as Asian and Pacific Islander. News 6 aims to celebrate and amplify our own Asian American and Pacific Islander voices—the movers, shakers and everyone in between—that make Central Florida what it is.

Many collections of countries and cultures, spanning from the Middle East to the Pacific Islands, fall under the label of Asian American. They are a proud and sundry group that proves to be anything but a monolith. The largest Asian American and Pacific Islander ethnic groups in Florida include Indian, Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese, according to a 2018 report conducted by AAPI Data.

Orange County has the second largest Asian American and Pacific Islander population in Florida, according to AAPI Data. Furthermore, 2019 U.S. Census Bureau statistics show about 5% of Asian American residents call Central Florida home and represent nearly double the state’s total Asian American and Pacific Islander population.

Orange County has the second highest population of Asian Americans in Florida. (AAPI Data)

That influence is written all over the Mills 50 District, nicknamed Little Saigon for the bevy of Vietnamese shops and restaurants built and run by Asian American refugees and immigrants as far back as the 1970s.

Along the same street, Orlando residents can pop into the Asia Trend Community Learning Center and explore Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage by banging the Japanese Taiko drum, stepping along to traditional Vietnamese dances, and sharpening their Asian language skills.

Many authentic Asian American dishes and flavors can be found in the Mills 50 District. (Mills 50 District Facebook) (Mills 50 District Facebook)

Tucked away on Colonial Drive a few miles down the road, you’ll find Orlando’s Chinatown, a haven of authentic Chinese American supermarkets and food stops.

Look on the horizon of Central Florida’s famous lakes and perhaps you’ll glimpse the C.H.A.R.G.E. Dragon Boat team gliding through the waters, paddling against their previous records.

The future of the area’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community can be found on our college campuses. Groups like the University of Central Florida’s Asian Pacific American Coalition organize events and discussions to raise awareness about Asian American narratives and perspectives.

Since the pandemic, APAC at UCF, and other local Asian American and Pacific Islander groups, have rallied residents to call for an end to Asian hate as violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander citizens surges. Their members hosted a vigil in the wake of the March 17 Atlanta shootings, where eight people, including four Korean women, were killed.

And whether drawing attention to current events impacting Asian Americans or influencing our community in various fields, these local spots and groups are just a few hallmarks of Central Florida’s vast and multifaceted Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

We wouldn’t be who we are today without the Asian American traditions we inherited, ushered in by Asian American and Pacific Islander immigrants, leaders and heroes. It’s a culture embedded in Central Florida’s way of life. And it deserves to be celebrated.

So, starting May 1 through May 31, follow our team as we give voice to Central Florida’s own Asian American and Pacific Islander community on the web at ClickOrlando.com/AAPI and on the air during select newscasts.

About the Author:

Samantha started at WKMG-TV in September 2020. Before joining the News 6 team, Samantha was a political reporter for The Villages Daily Sun and has had freelance work featured in the Evansville Courier-Press and The Community Paper. When not writing, she enjoys travelling and performing improv comedy.