Obama, Members of Congress Proclaim APA Heritage Month

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WASHINGTON — President Obama, members of Congress, and other officials have proclaimed May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

The White House issued the following statement:

“During Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and we reflect on the many ways they have enriched our nation. Like America itself, the AAPI community draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures — each with vibrant histories and unique perspectives to bring to our national life.

“Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have helped build, defend, and strengthen our nation — as farm workers and railroad laborers; as entrepreneurs and scientists; as artists, activists, and leaders of government. They have gone beyond, embodying the soaring aspirations of the American spirit.

“This month marks 145 years since the final spike was hammered into the transcontinental railroad, an achievement made possible by Chinese laborers, who did the majority of this backbreaking and dangerous work. This May, they will receive long-overdue recognition as they are inducted into the Labor Hall of Honor.

“Generations of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have helped make this country what it is today. Yet they have also faced a long history of injustice — from the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii and its devastating impact on the history, language, and culture of Native Hawaiians; to opportunity-limiting laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924; to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Even today, South Asian Americans, especially those who are Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh, are targets of suspicion and violence.

“With courage, grit, and an abiding belief in American ideals, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders have challenged our nation to be better, and my administration remains committed to doing its part. Nearly five years ago, I re-established the White House Initiative on AAPIs. The initiative addresses disparities in health care, education, and economic opportunity by ensuring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders receive equal access to government programs and services.

“We are also determined to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would modernize our legal immigration system, create a pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants, hold employers accountable, and strengthen our border security. These common-sense measures would bring relief to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have experienced this broken system first-hand, and they would allow our country to welcome more highly skilled workers eager to contribute to America’s success.

“This month, as we recall our hard-fought progress, let us resolve to continue moving forward. Together, let us ensure the laws respect everyone, civil rights apply to everyone, and everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to get ahead …

“I call upon all Americans to visit www.WhiteHouse.gov/AAPI to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.”

Following are excerpts from statements by some members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus:

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena): “As chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, I am particularly excited this May to celebrate the 20th anniversary of CAPAC’s founding. On this historic milestone, we honor the legacy bestowed by past generations and proudly carry it forward for the AAPI community and all Americans.”

Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), CAPAC vice chair: “As a representative of one of our country’s most diverse districts, I have witnessed the many contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made in Guam and throughout the nation. AAPIs have shown their perseverance and resiliency throughout history, and have played an integral role in improving our country.”

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside): “In every sector of society, our community has made valuable contributions and it is important to acknowledge and value our steadfast effort. Asian Americans have brought out the best in our communities, and helped to enrich them through exceptional achievements and treasured culture. As CAPAC whip, I strive to promote the prosperity of Asian American and Pacific Islanders, and am proud to celebrate our vibrant history and spirit.”

Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose): “APA Heritage Month is … a time to reflect upon the sacrifices and influences AAPIs have made in shaping civil rights, social justice, health and medicine, business practices and educational opportunities. It is incumbent on us to recognize the work of those who came before us and continue to lead the ongoing efforts for equality and push on issues such as small business growth, immigration, voting rights, health disparity treatment, promoting workforce diversity and countless other areas.

“As chair emeritus, Immigration Task Force co-chair and Appropriations Task Force chair of CAPAC, and as the representative of California’s 17th District, the first majority AAPI district in the continental U.S., I am especially honored to join my fellow Americans as we honor heroes past and present who have helped to make our nation stronger.”

Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii): “The broader AAPI community has been an integral part of Hawaii and our country’s rich cultural fabric, rooted in history from Native Hawaiians to the Asian immigrant workers who connected the West by rail and built Hawaii’s sugar plantations. The state of Hawaii was also home to many trailblazers in the AAPI community. Sens. (Daniel) Inouye and (Daniel) Akaka and Congresswoman (Patsy) Mink were leaders who helped build a stronger, better country. Today, the product of this vibrant history can be seen clearly in the melting pot that is Hawaii’s rich island culture.

“AAPI families not only contribute economically and culturally, but also help connect our nation to the broader international community. After Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines last November, the AAPI community was one of the first to spring into action to help the Philippines recover. Months later as donations tapered off, President Obama signed my Philippines Charitable Giving Assistance Act into law and Filipino American community groups and families in Hawaii again stepped up to support ongoing relief efforts. This month, let us also recognize and celebrate these personal ties that bind the United States to allies around the world as a truly global nation.”

Rep. Ami Bera (D-Rancho Cordova): “From the entrepreneurs and small business owners who drive our economy, to those who have served in our country’s armed forces or have dedicated their lives to public service, Asian Pacific Americans have had an important and lasting impact on our nation. As the only Indian American and South Asian American in Congress, I’m proud to both honor those who have led the way in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, and to encourage new generations to become leaders who will continue to enhance the American story and strengthen our great country.”

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.): “Asian Americans helped build this country by constructing the railroads that connected this country from East to West. Despite facing injustices such as the internment camps during World War II, many served our country to defend democracy and freedom around the world. Now, we are serving in the Cabinet, Congress, and running Fortune 500 companies in greater numbers than ever. Still, we have more work to do to make sure that all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are able to achieve the American Dream. On issues especially important to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, such as preserving family co-sponsorship as part of immigration reform, I look forward to making sure that our voices are heard.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii): “While celebrating my own Pacific Island heritage, I am proud to honor the unique culture and rich tradition of all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Throughout our nation’s history, AAPIs have made tremendous contributions to our communities as leaders at every level. Leaders like Hawaii’s Sen. Daniel Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka have broken through barriers, leading the way for generations to follow. Our own Congresswoman Patsy Takemoto Mink was a champion for women and equal treatment throughout her life. Because of these leaders, our communities and our nation are stronger, and our future is brighter.”

Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii): “Having grown up as a fourth-generation Japanese American, and in a community with the highest percentage of Native Hawaiians in my home state, I look with pride on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and reflect on all that we have accomplished. Asian and Pacific Islander culture is at the very core of Hawaii’s values, reflecting both the richness that arises from the integration of many currents, and the power that grows when we embrace diversity as a way of life. There is still more for the AAPI community to offer in the future, and it is up to each and every one of us to continue to provide leadership in building on our success.”

Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-Sacramento): “Each May, we celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and pay tribute to the large role Asian Pacific Americans play in our society. The Asian Pacific American community is woven into the fabric of our country, and there is no question that our nation is as strong as it is today thanks to our diversity. As one who represents the historically diverse city of Sacramento, I am honored to join my colleagues and all of America in celebrating the achievements of Asian and Pacific Americans in our communities.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.): “It is a great pleasure to join my constituents in New York and all those across the country in celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month … Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to enrich our nation and make tremendous contributions to virtually every facet of our society – everything from government, business and the arts to science, education and sports. These achievements, and the outstanding vibrancy of the AAPI community, will continue to make America prosper for many years to come.”

The annual observance began as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week, which was established through a joint congressional resolution in 1978. The month of May was chosen due to two milestones in Asian Pacific American history: May 7, 1843, when the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the U.S., and May 10, 1869, when the first transcontinental railroad was completed with substantial contributions from Chinese immigrant workers.

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