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Remarks at the Vietnamese American National Gala (VANG)

Location: Washington, DC

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
Vietnamese American National Gala (VANG)
Washington , D.C.
Monday, May 2, 2005

Thank you, Frank [Jao, Co-Founder and National Co-Chair, VANG and member of the Vietnam Education Foundation], for that introduction.

Thank you all for inviting me to join you on this 30th anniversary celebration of Vietnamese Americans and their accomplishments. I hope you are all having a very good time.

It's good to see here tonight:

Congressman Ed Royce;

Congressman Mike Honda;

Dr. Ngai Xuan Nguyen, Chair for the Gala and member of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Advisory Council, HHS;

Dr. Charles Cuong, Dean of School of Engineering, Catholic University, and member of the Vietnam Education Foundation;

Mr. Chieu Le, Co-Founder of Lee's Sandwiches;

Mr. Henry Le, Co-Founder of Lee's Sandwiches and President of the Viet Heritage Society;

Mr. Chau Nguyen, founder and CEO of WinMagic;

Dr. Nguyen Van Hahn, Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement/Administration for Children & Families, U.S. Department of State; and

2004 honoree Dat Nguyen, Linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys.

And also, I want to recognize the Bush Administration appointees who came out tonight to help celebrate the accomplishments of the Vietnamese community tonight, including:

Ed Moy, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Presidential Personnel Office;

Ambassador Sichan Siv, U.S. Representative to the UN Economic and Social Council;

David Cohen, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Insular Affairs;

Benjamin Wu, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Technology Policy; and

Chiling Tong, Associate Director of the Minority Business Development Council, U.S. Department of Commerce.

And, of course, congratulations to all of tonight's honorees!

Thanks also go to the Viet Heritage Society, the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans, and the host committee for tonight's gala. They have all worked so hard to make this event a success.

In addition to celebrating the awardees we honor tonight, we also remember that day in 1975—30 years ago—when the world changed in a very personal way for the nearly 700,000 Vietnamese. They were forced to leave their native land to find freedom and opportunity.

Risking everything they had, the lucky ones were able to resettle as refugees in the United States and other free countries. It was one of the largest, single mass migrations in American history. In their struggle and haste to leave, many refugees fled with little more than the clothes on their back. Indeed, others left behind family and friends. Aging parents and young children were lost in the chaotic and frantic stampede to find safety and security.

Once in America, these new immigrants faced many of the challenges that other previous waves of immigrants had faced—a new language, an unfamiliar culture and country, and the prospect of starting over. Amidst this struggle to assimilate, Vietnamese Americans witnessed the tragic loss of their country to the tyranny of communism. The families and friends they left behind were persecuted. Some died. And the rest were condemned to years of reduced standards of living, poverty and lack of economic advancement.

Subsequent waves of refugees risked death over the years to leave—many in small boats on the open sea to try reach freedom and their loved ones. Many more were trapped in the purgatory of refugee camps, without status for years, awaiting relief.

Three decades later, a different world exists. The Iron Curtain has fallen. The former Soviet Union no longer exists. Vietnamese Americans have settled into this country and become a part of the rich fabric of American society. Through years of sacrifice, the Vietnamese American community has worked hard, prospered and is claiming its place in mainstream America.

Vietnamese American entrepreneurs—like Mr. Frank Jao have built vibrant communities in California and throughout our country. Vietnamese Americans have become astronauts and astronomers—helping us unlock the secrets of the universe. And Vietnamese Americans such as our mistress of ceremonies, Betty Nguyen, are anchoring the news on television and excelling in the arts. Vietnamese Americans are also top athletes—becoming National Football League stars and future Olympians.

And the Vietnamese American community's special appreciation of democracy has nurtured many who are ready to serve and defend it. Our master of ceremonies this evening, Quang Pham, followed in his father's footsteps to become the first Vietnamese American Naval aviator. He served with valor in Operation Desert Storm and other fields of honor. And let us not forget the Vietnamese Americans who are currently serving in Iraq—especially Lance Corporal Andrew Dang, who gave his life so that others will live in freedom.

In recognition of their talent and contributions to our country, President Bush has tapped Vietnamese Americans to serve in the highest positions in his Administration. In addition to the distinguished appointees I mentioned earlier, the President tapped Viet Dihn to be Assistant Attorney General and chief architect of the Patriot Act. An immigrant himself, Viet Dihn worked to craft the law that protects millions of Americans from terrorism. John Duong served as Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific islanders. And Mina Nguyen has worked at the Department of Labor, the Bush-Cheney Campaign and is now in a top position at the Republican National Committee.

The success of the Vietnamese American community is a tribute to its sacrifice, hard work, talent, determination and perseverance.

And we have a President—George W. Bush—who has reached out to the Asian Pacific American Community in so many ways. He has appointed two Asian Pacific Americans to his cabinet—a historic first in America. And he has appointed 289 Asian Pacific Americans to the highest levels of our government, including 94 Presidential appointees requiring Senate confirmation. That's more than any other president. And the U.S. Department of Labor has the largest number of Asian Pacific American appointees in the federal government.

President Bush is a leader who understands the universal human yearning for freedom and liberty. He appreciates the desire of every parent to see their children have access to the full array of opportunities that a free society offers. As he has said: "The liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world; it is God's gift to humanity."

30 years later, the Vietnamese American community has helped enrich our country in so many ways. Your accomplishments are an inspiration to us all. Most of all, your faith in the freedoms and opportunities of this country and your willingness to pursue it with determination has deepened your fellow citizens' appreciation for these values as well.

The future holds even greater promise for the Vietnamese American community. Our country needs your continued participation, contributions, and engagement.

I am confident that in the coming years we will see more Vietnamese American leaders, including many in this room, take their place across all spectrums of our society.

Thank you for the opportunity to join you tonight. And thank you for everything you have done to strengthen our country and to help others appreciate the precious gift of freedom. Enjoy your evening!

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