PUBLISHED:May 01, 2023

AAPI Heritage Month: APALSA, SALSA celebrate solidarity and inclusivity across communities


Students honor the trailblazers and tragedy that built bridges across America’s diverse AAPI communities and inspire unity and excellence within them.

For 45 years, America has designated May as a time to celebrate the historical and cultural contributions made by people of Asian American Pacific Islander, or AAPI, descent to the United States. The national observance began in 1978 when Congress passed a joint resolution setting Asian Pacific American Heritage Week during the first week of May. The observance was expanded to the entire month in 1992.

May was chosen to honor the first Japanese people who immigrated to the United States, on May 7, 1843, and in recognition of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, on which the largest group of workers had been Chinese immigrants.

AAPI communities consist of about 50 distinct ethnic groups speaking more than 100 languages, with connections to Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Korean, Hawaiian, and other Asian and Pacific Islander ancestries. Today, more than 20 million people in the U.S., or just over 6% of the population, identify as Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, according to the Census. Bureau.

Asians account for about 2% of lawyers in America, according to the American Bar Association’s 2020 Profile of the Legal Profession, a slight increase from 1.6% in 2010. The 2022 A Portrait of Asian Americans in the Law 2.0 report showed 45 AAPI general counsel employed at Fortune 1000 companies, up from 19 in 2009. The report also showed an increase in Asian American federal judges over the past five years, from 3.4% in 2016 percent to 6%.

Duke Asian Pacific American Law Students Association
Duke Asian Pacific American Law Students Association
SALSA group 2023
Duke South Asian Law Students Association

Here at Duke Law School, students of AAPI descent connect over shared cultural backgrounds and personal experiences. The Asian Pacific American Law Students Association (APALSA) and South Asian Law Students Association (SALSA) provide students with a welcoming and supportive community while navigating law school. Each semester, both groups hold social and cultural events, alumni networking opportunities, and offer 1L mentorship.

APALSA started in 1995 and is well-known for its ‘Big Law in a Bite’ series of lunchtime events featuring AAPI alumni from U.S. and international legal markets. This year the group received the D.O.N.E. Award for Greatest Role in Building Relationships from the Duke Bar Association. A more recent addition to the student organizations at Duke Law, SALSA provides members with social mixers, resources for academic and career planning, and mentorship.

Below, APALSA and SALSA members share their thoughts on AAPI Heritage month, the AAPI figures who inspire them, and what it means to be an aspiring AAPI lawyer.