May 24, 2019

Cardin Statement on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued the following statement recognizing May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“Each year during the month of May, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month calls us to celebrate and reflect on the rich history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  These communities draw from an incredibly diverse range of cultures, languages, and religions that all come together to make the United States a more vibrant Nation.  Whether as natives or as immigrants, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long played a pivotal role in the history of the United States since even before its founding.

“Congress first recognized the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders with the introduction of a resolution in 1977 by Representatives Frank Horton of New York and Norman Mineta of California, and later Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, both of Hawaii.  This resolution proclaimed the first ten days of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week.  It took Representative Horton’s reintroduction of a modified resolution in 1978 for Congress to pass it and for President Jimmy Carter to sign it.  Presidents would then go on to issue annual proclamations for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week until 1990, when Congress expanded Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week to the entire month, and President George H. W. Bush designated May 1990 as the first Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. In 1992, Congressional passage of a final resolution permanently designated the month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“Since the beginning, the choice of the first several days and later, the month of May, served to honor the memory of the arrival of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843 as well as the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad on May 10, 1869.

“The Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 20 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently residing in the United States, and by many accounts, they represent one of the fastest growing minority groups.  Almost 7 percent of Marylanders, more than 400,000 people, identify as Asian American and Pacific Islander.  Particularly in the counties surrounding Washington DC, Maryland has increasingly become home to communities of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Vietnamese, and Indian Americans.  Over the years, they have contributed substantially to making Maryland a thriving State recognized for its leadership in business, education, culture, and many other fields.  Asian Pacific Americans have been and always will be an integral part of our community.

“Archeological evidence indicates that humans first began to settle in the Pacific Islands, including those of Hawaii, Samoa and Guam, which would later become part of the United States, thousands of years ago.  In what was one of the first crossings of the Pacific Ocean from Asia to the Americas, Filipinos were aboard a Spanish galleon that landed in California in 1587.  In the 17th century, the British East India Company brought the first South Asian Indians to the country as indentured servants.  In time, the colonies and later the United States would see continued influxes of immigrants from Asia and the Pacific, in addition to the arrival of the first men and women coming from China, Korea, and Japan in the 19th century.  Many came as contract labor for plantations, factories, and famously, the California Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad.  In the 20th century, immigration reforms coincided with the Cold War and a new wave of globalization to spur an unprecedented boom in arrivals from these countries and elsewhere in the region.  As these populations continue to grow, it is crucial to recognize that Asian Pacific Americans have been in the United States for centuries.  Their stories are a testament to how our Nation is one of immigrants that is made stronger, not weaker, through its diversity.

“Today, many of the iconic buildings we take for granted originate in the work of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Here in Washington DC, many might walk beside the majestic East Building of the National Gallery of Art without recognizing it to be the work of the famous architect, I. M. Pei, who passed away on May 16, 2019 at the venerable age of 102.  Beginning with the Mesa Laboratory for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, Pei built a distinguished career over several decades as an eager and groundbreaking artist.  In addition to these buildings, Pei would also design the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Massachusetts, the Dallas City Hall, and countless other projects here and abroad, such as the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, France.

“Throughout their history, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been and continue to be leaders.  Indeed, one of the best demonstrations of this is the pivotal role Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders played in the Civil Rights era.  Contemporaneous with the movements of the 1950s and 1960s, numerous Asian American and Pacific Islander activists and organizations advocated for the equality of all races and social and economic justice.  In 1969, it was Yuji Ichioka who first coined the term “Asian American” and later taught the first course on Asian American Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, in addition to founding the major advocacy group, the Asian American Political Alliance.  Larry Itliong was a major figure in the American labor movement when he helped organize agricultural workers in the western United States to form the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, which would later merge with César Chávez’s organization to create the United Farm Workers.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have committed themselves to serving their communities and the United States.  For centuries, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have participated in almost every war the United States has fought.  Although often serving in segregated units, these men and women enthusiastically fought for what had long been their country, serving as early as the War of 1812.  In recent years, Asian American and Pacific Islander soldiers and support personnel have proved essential in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Their sacrifices have been great; we should never forget them.  For that reason, the President of the United States has awarded the Medal of Honor to numerous brave Asian American and Pacific Islander warriors.

“Many also have gone on to serve as dedicated public servants.  Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have held elected offices at the local, state, and national levels for over a century.  Leaders such as Senator Hiram Fong and Senator Daniel Akaka made history when they became the first Asian American and Native Hawaiian, respectively, to serve in the United States Senate.  I was honored to serve alongside Senator Daniel Inouye, who became the highest-ranking Asian American politician in our Nation’s history when he became the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.  Beyond elected office, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders constitute an indispensable portion of the civil service at all levels of government.  There, too, they have clearly demonstrated the commitment they have to their community.

“In addition to the many contributions made by individuals, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have also imprinted onto our society the marks of distinctive cultures.  Though perhaps taken for granted today, many ubiquitous aspects of American life and identity ultimately derive from the men and women who brought pieces of their home countries with them when they came to the United States.  From philosophy to religion and entertainment to cuisine, Asian and Pacific Islander cultures have helped influence and form the American way of life as we know it today.

“As minorities, many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured persistent forms of systemic racism that still have yet to be eradicated.  Historically, countless individuals were denied the same rights as other Americans and were even excluded from citizenship.  Laws barred many from working in certain fields and codified school segregation and prohibitions on property and business ownership.  Immigration itself became a target of exclusionary policies that prohibited immigrants of certain ethnicities from coming to the United States.  Widespread xenophobia, captured best by the “Yellow Peril,” dehumanized entire communities and instilled prejudice in the hearts of many Americans.  This discrimination reached a peak when President Roosevelt ordered the incarceration of over 100,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps as war began with the Empire of Japan in World War II.

“Although we have made much progress in recent decades, we still face persistent issues of xenophobia, underrepresentation, and discrimination.  Opportunities such as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month allow us to educate all Americans and spread the stories and perspectives unique to this community.  We must do all that we can to bridge the divide by supporting policies and ideas of acceptance and equality.  There is still much work to be done, but with the effort of all of our community acting together, I believe we can reach our goal.

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent more than just a demographic category.   They are our neighbors and coworkers, our friends and family.  They are small business owners and entrepreneurs who have helped transform our economy for the better.  They are prize-winning scientists and researchers who have made countless discoveries that have advanced our knowledge.  They are creative artists and performers who have captured our emotions and introduced us to innovative concepts.  In short, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders represent an essential pillar of the United States.  Their story in this country reaches back to its very founding, and it will only continue to shine on for the entire world to see, for they are – above all – Americans.”

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