ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN HERITAGE MONTH -- (Senate - May 12, 2005)
Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to say a few words in honor of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities of the United States. As my colleagues know, May marks Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. Throughout this month, the United States celebrates the history, culture, and traditions of Asian and Pacific Islanders, and recognizes their unique contributions to the United States.
First proposed as a 1-week celebration in 1977, the occasion was expanded into a month-long event in 1990. May was chosen because of its unique significance to the history of Asian Americans. May 7, 1843 marked the first recorded immigration of Japanese to the United States, while May 10, 1869 marked the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which would not have happened when it did without the labor of Chinese immigrants.
The Asian and Pacific Islander population has a rich history in this country, especially in the Pacific Northwest. In my home State, records show the arrival of Asian immigrants as early as the 1860s, while some scholars even speculate that Chinese explorers sailed down the Alaskan coast to what is now Washington State centuries before. Today, there are nearly 13 million Asians and Pacific Islanders living in the United States, representing 4.4 percent of the population. In Washington, they make up nearly 6 percent of the citizenry.
Over the past century and a half, Asian and Pacific Islander communities have contributed significantly to the cultural vibrancy of Washington State. Individuals within Washington's Asian and Pacific Islander communities have also worked to stand up for justice and make our country a better place. In 1944, Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese-American student at the University of Washington in Seattle, took a stand against the unfair treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II when he refused to obey discriminatory curfew orders. In taking his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, he left a lasting reminder of the importance of standing up for civil rights.
America is a land of immigrants and our history demonstrates that we are stronger because of our diversity, not in spite of it. However, we can only live up to the promise of our diversity if we recognize the mistakes of our past and give all groups a voice in public discourse. Asian Americans have a powerful history in the Pacific Northwest, and I believe we cannot ignore its darkest period. For this reason, I was pleased to work with Senator PATTY MURRAY to secure Federal funding for a study of the Eagledale Ferry Dock site on Bainbridge Island, which served as a point of departure for members of the Japanese-American community on their way to internment camps during World War II. These funds are a critical step toward commemorating the sacrifices and the strength of the Japanese-American community, and to recognizing an important chapter in the history of Bainbridge Island, my State, and our Nation.
I am proud to represent a State with a history of electing a diverse group of citizens to public office. In 1993, Filipina-American Velma Veloria became the first Asian-American woman to serve in the Washington State Legislature. Over the past decade, her work to fight human trafficking and promote peace and social justice has truly made my State a better place. Since then, Washington State has also seen the service of Gary Locke, Washington's first Asian-American Governor, and Paul Shin, the first Asian American to serve in the State senate. In fact, the rich history of Asians and Pacific Islanders holding elected office in Washington State dates back to 1962, when Wing Luke, a decorated World War II veteran and former Assistant Attorney General of the State of Washington, won a seat on Seattle's city council. Today, his legacy is commemorated in Seattle's Wing Luke Asian Museum, along with the stories of thousands of other Asian immigrants. I am personally honored to be involved in renovating the museum's East Kong Yick building, one of the first two buildings in Seattle owned by nonwhites. The museum is both a local and national treasure, respected as a Smithsonian affiliate and honored at the White House 10 years ago with the National Award for Museum Services.
As this year's Asian Pacific American Heritage month begins, I believe it is important to preserve the lessons of the past, while recognizing the immense benefit we all receive from living in a diverse country built on the contributions of immigrants from around the globe. Diversity, and the exposure to other customs and ideas that it involves, leads to opportunity and gives the United States much of its strength. In celebrating the rich history, culture, and traditions of Asian and Pacific Islanders this May, we recognize their important contributions to the strength and diversity of our country, and to the bright future that lies ahead.