Remarks on Signing the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week Proclamation

 

May 3, 1988

 

Please be seated, and thank you and welcome, Members of the Congress, honored guests, and ladies and gentlemen. I am delighted to join you today in celebrating the great contributions made to the United States by citizens of Asian and Pacific island heritage. As you all know, next week marks the 10th Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week. And this occasion is being celebrated throughout the country. One of the events is a nationwide poster contest. And the picture is right here, and we're pleased to have the winning artist here with us today. She is a high school senior from Potomac, Maryland, Serena Lin. Congratulations, Serena.

 

Our country draws special strength from our rich cultural heritage and the shared values that unite America. Asian-Pacific Americans represent the full breadth of the American experience. For some, their family roots reach deep into American history and the building of this nation. Even before the American Revolution, the first sailors from the Philippines were settled here. Other citizens have only recently come to our shores. They're among our newest Americans -- who, like immigrants before them, have a unique appreciation for the freedom and opportunity this country offers.

 

Citizens of Asian and Pacific heritage have enriched America in irreplaceable ways, but at the same time each person's story is distinctly American, each is a reaffirmation of the kind of country we are and the values that make us strong and free. I think of Wendy Gramm, whose grandfather came from Korea as a contract laborer to cut sugarcane in Hawaii. Wendy's father went on to become vice president of the same sugar company that her grandfather had worked for in the fields. And last February, Wendy was confirmed by the Senate as Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and I can't help but note that one of the commodity futures she now oversees is cane sugar. [Laughter]

 

I think of Hoang Nhu Tran, who as a child saw Americans in uniform defending his native country of South Vietnam from Communist aggression. And when North Vietnam violated the Paris peace accords and Saigon fell, Hoang and his family were forced to flee. And they came to America. Last year, Hoang graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, and he was valedictorian of his class.

 

I think of Sam Hayakawa. Born in Canada to Japanese immigrant parents, he came to the United States as a graduate student and never left. He once wrote: ``I was advised in my youth that there were many jobs and careers I could not hope to aspire to because of my race.'' Well, he became a noted expert on semantics, president of San Francisco State University. And at the age of 70 -- the same year he took up scuba diving -- [laughter] -- he was elected to the United States Senate from California.

 

I think of Elaine Chao, whose father came here from Taiwan with just about $800. He worked hard and saved for 3 years to bring the rest of his family over. Elaine was eight when she boarded a freighter and made the long, slow journey across the Pacific to Los Angeles, then down through the Panama Canal, then up to New York Harbor, where a little girl saw the Statue of Liberty for the first time. She became a banker, did multimillion-dollar ship financing, then was named a White House Fellow. On Friday, Elaine was confirmed as Chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission, the first American of Asian-Pacific heritage ever to hold this position.

 

Well, for many groups, education has been a key ingredient in realizing the American dream. And one area in which Asian-Pacific Americans have particularly excelled is in education. Their accomplishments are proof that respect for learning, family encouragement -- plus a whole lot of hard work and diligent study -- pays off with high grades, advanced degrees, and successful careers. I know there's a growing concern that some universities may be discriminating against citizens of Asian and Pacific heritage, accepting a lower percentage of these applicants than get admitted from other groups, despite their academic qualifications. Well, to deny any individual access to higher education when it has been won on the basis of merit is a repudiation of everything America stands for.

 

Let everyone be clear, especially all recipients of Federal education funds, that the use of informal exclusionary racial quotas, or any practice of racial discrimination against any individual violates the law, is morally wrong and will not be tolerated. The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has noted the problem of racially-motivated violence and harassment directed at Asian-Pacific Americans. And in this regard, I have something to say about the hostile racial undercurrent that sometimes accompanies the agitation for protectionism. A few years ago, in Detroit, Vincent Chin, a citizen of Chinese-American heritage, was beaten to death by two men enraged over car imports from Japan. The point is this: Political differences over trade policy are one thing, and we can debate them, but racially-tainted appeals cross a very dangerous line. They're an affront to this country, and they threaten the tranquility and safety of all of us here at home.

 

Americans of Asian and Pacific heritage are one of the most successful groups in this country. What they've achieved is a great reaffirmation of the American values of work, education, family, and community. They've made this country the land of opportunity. They've distinguished themselves in many fields, from science and medicine to agriculture and commerce. They've contributed to our public life through the arts and literature, and also in government. Asian-Pacific Americans are part of the rich tapestry of American life. It's a tribute to the unifying power of America that such a diverse group whose members often have different national heritages, religious faiths, and historical experiences all come together to celebrate this occasion and to reaffirm our common bond as citizens of the United States. Let me give special praise to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Council, whose help brings people together -- or, whose work, I should say, helps bring people together, and makes this special week of celebration a reality.

 

And now it is my Irish-English -- [laughter] -- privilege to sign the proclamation.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:40 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.