Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Floor Speech

By:  Judy Chu
Date: May 19, 2010
Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CHU. Thank you, Chairman HONDA, for convening this Special Order hour on APA Heritage Month.

I stand proud this evening with Chairman HONDA to commemorate the month of May as Asian Pacific Heritage Month. As the first Chinese American Congresswoman, it has been an honor and a privilege to be a representative and work on behalf of Asian Americans, and all Americans, on such critical issues affecting our Nation, like economic recovery, immigration, and, of course, the passage of health care reform.

Though Asian Americans have been here in this country for 160 years, it was not until 1992 when the designation of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was signed into law. It was because of Asian American leaders like Secretary Mineta, then a Congressman, and Senators DANIEL INOUYE and Spark Matsunaga who introduced the legislation. They designated this month of May, the very month when Japanese immigrants first set foot on U.S. soil and when Chinese immigrants worked tirelessly to complete the first transcontinental railroad, to celebrate the contributions of APIs to this country.

For far too long, Asian Americans have not been at the table where important decisions were being made. This is despite the fact that we were here for 160 years, and yet we were nearly invisible in State and Federal Government. But in recent years, we have broken the glass ceiling and have ushered in an era of change. Asian Americans are at a historic high in leadership positions in so many different arenas: in politics, in law firms, and in the judicial arena.

In my home State of California, not only do we have three Asian Americans who are statewide-elected constitutional officers, such as State Controller John Chung, we have 11 Asian Americans in the California State Legislature.

And, on the Federal level, it is astounding that out of President Obama's 19 Cabinet members, three are Asian Americans: General Eric Shinseki, Steven Chu, and Gary Locke. And recently, four Federal judges were appointed: Dolly Gee, Jacqueline Nguyen, Denny Chin, and most recently, Goodwin Liu, the first Asian American to the U.S. Court of Appeals. It is the greatest number of Asian Pacific Islanders in State and Federal office in history.

And we've all stood on the shoulders of Asian American leaders like Former Secretary Norman Yoshio Mineta, who was a leader and a role model ahead of his time. It was because of Secretary Mineta that the invaluable contributions of Asian Americans were memorialized and recognized this month. It was Secretary Mineta who spearheaded the long and hard push to get final passage because of the Japanese American reparations bill, because his entire family, along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans, were interned for 2 years during World War II. And it was Secretary Mineta who cofounded and once cochaired the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus so that today our caucus, which has grown in number and blossomed, has a unified voice and advocates for issues that are unique to the Asian American community.

That is why Chairman MIKE HONDA and I feel so strongly about introducing legislation to honor the legacy of Norman Mineta, who made history and still is an inspiration to many. We hope that our House colleagues will join us in honoring this veteran, public servant, and great American.

Secretary Mineta, we pay homage to you for all of your service to Asian Americans and all Americans. You are a pioneer, a visionary, and a leader who embodies the true meaning of service.

Of course, we still have much work to do. We must continue to advocate for greater diversity at all levels where important decisions are being made. And, in fact, here in the very Halls of Congress we have seen what diverse and fruitful coalitions are capable of accomplishing when we work together to advance our issues.

When the congressional Asian, Hispanic, and Black caucuses unite as one, we are a strong voice and no longer an invisible minority, but a majority that can advocate effectively for Asian, Latino, and African Americans and, for that matter, all Americans. As a united coalition, we can make a difference on problems that impact us today.

For instance, we can reform our broken immigration system, which has kept families apart for far too long. Today, 12 million people live in the shadows with no hope or path to legalization. Today, young people who are valedictorians and student body presidents are prevented from completing a college education. And today, States

like Arizona can pass laws that are discriminatory, anti-immigrant, and, frankly, un-American, when all immigrants want to do is to be productive, contributing citizens and provide for their family and loved ones.

We know immigrants are indispensable to our Nation's economy. In California alone, businesses owned by Latinos and Asians make up more than one quarter of all businesses and contributed $183 billion to the State. And that's according to the 2000 census figures, which we know is much undercounted by now, certainly.

We can foster the economic strength and level the playing field for Asian Americans and minority-owned businesses. Today, API and minority businesses still face great obstacles in getting lending and access to capital. When minority-owned firms do receive financing, it is for less money and at a higher interest rate than nonminority-owned firms, regardless of the size of the firm.

Despite the fact that Asian Pacific Islanders are 5 percent of the U.S. population, they only account for 1.9 percent of total Federal contracting dollars, which was worth $535 billion last year. API and other minority businesses face discrimination by prime contractors and contracting officers in the Federal Government, leaving these businesses very little opportunity to compete for contracts. And this must change.

And, we can make sure that we are counted in the census so that the particular needs of the API and other minority populations can be addressed. Today, we still do not have the proper and disaggregated data to sufficiently address the specific needs of the API and other minority communities. Segments of our API community continue to suffer from a ``model minority'' myth, and those in our population with the greatest needs continue to go underserved.

And today, we continue to have problems with language accessibility and cultural sensitivity in the current census, even though the language capability is out there to assist in a very, very accurate census. These things, of course, have to change. I truly believe that when the leadership of this country begins to look like the people who live in it, our country will finally reflect the issues and concerns of all its people and we will see the change that we desire.

As I reflect upon the journey and struggles of Asian Americans in this country, I am reminded of the day when I was sworn in. As I stood on the floor of Congress and raised my right hand, I thought about the fact that my grandfather came to this country with nothing. In fact, he faced the hostile laws of the time, the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited him from becoming a naturalized citizen, and the California laws that prevented Asian Americans from owning land and from being hired in any corporation. But he decided to make something of his life anyway and worked day and night and night and day to make ends meet. And now, two generations later, his granddaughter can be a Member of Congress. That is what America is all about, the land of hopes, dreams, and opportunity.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


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