Public Papers

Remarks on Signing the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month Proclamation


First, let me just express a warm White House welcome to Prime Minister Namaliu from Papua New Guinea. I just wanted to walk out with him, show him a little hospitality. I look forward, sir, to visiting with you this afternoon.

To Senators Inouye and Phil Gramm, welcome. To Representative Pat Saiki, my old friend, welcome back to the White House. And [Representatives] Norm Mineta; Ben Blaz; of course, Bill Broomfield; and Eni Faleomavaega -- [laughter] -- Eni, tough on your name, but I got close, didn't I? Okay. And all the Members of Congress who are with us here today, and a special welcome to Frank Horton. My heavens, Frank, because of your diligence in working with so many of your colleagues in the Congress in the support of Jeanie Jew and Ruby Moy, we established Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week.

Now, I'm proud to take one more step and proclaim this May to be the first Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. First, let me acknowledge with respect the gentleman in the Senate who was Frank's cosponsor -- someone who has left us -- a great man, a great friend who wrote both haiku and lasting legislation with that same graceful fluency. And I, of course, am talking about our beloved friend, the late Senator Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii. I think this ought to be his day.

We also have with us a number of Asian and Pacific American leaders from many walks of life: Virginia Cha, I.M. Pei, Dr. Taylor Wang, Nancy Kwan, Dr. Samuel Lee, Dr. T.D. Lee. And with us, also, some distinguished Ambassadors. I also especially want to single out Governor Peter Coleman, of American Samoa, and Lieutenant Governor Benjamin Manglona, of the Northern Mariana Islands, and every member of their very distinguished delegations. Thank you all for being with us. You've come so far, and your presence is most welcome and deeply appreciated.

As I said, we're here in large measure because of the vision of Frank Horton and Spark Matsunaga. Spark's brilliant career was the culmination of a history that began 146 years ago with the arrival of Nisei, the first Japanese Americans to land on these shores. And now, people from Asia and the Pacific, from dozens of lands across a broad swath of the world that spans from the Middle East to the Philippines, have found this new homeland called America. They represent the whole range of religions -- Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. They're Arab, Iranian, Indian, Korean, Thai descent. But they will tell you that they are Americans first.

Look at the scope of America's demographic change. Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese neighborhoods flourish just across the Potomac River. The minaret of a mosque rises over the skyline of a Dallas suburb. The student body of a school in southern California is made up almost entirely of Hmong children. Pacific islanders have enriched the culture and heritage of Orange County. Filipinos have called America home since the first son of the Philippines arrived on these shores in 1763. All of these are subtle signs that Asian and Pacific Americans are our fastest-growing minority population. They're changing America, and they are changing America for the better.

Some Asian and Pacific Americans come from families that have lived in America for more than a century. And others have literally just arrived, by boat or jumbo jet. But all can rely on strong communities, networks of family and friends, often with the support of a church, synagogue, mosque or temple. So, whatever their background, all enjoy strong communities -- a great sense of community, too. These 7 million Americans show us an example of how strong families can instill an abiding respect for the law, tenacity in the endeavor of life and work, and most of all, excellence in education.

Consider this: The last U.S. Census showed that 75 percent of Asian Americans age 25 and over had at least a high school degree -- well above the national average of 66 percent. This nation is incomparably richer because of great scientists like Nobel Prize winner Dr. Yuan Lee and the late An Wang. We are richer because of the talent of Michael Chang and the courage of the late Ellison Onizuka. And we are richer because of Asian Pacific American leaders, many of them with us here today.

Count among them Elaine Chao, number two in this enormous Department of Transportation of ours; Wendy Gramm, Chairman of the Federal Commission on Commodity Future Trading; Cindy Daub, Commissioner of the Copyright Royalty Tribunal; Kyo Jhin, who will be named shortly to a senior position at the Department of Veteran Affairs; my own -- I say my own -- our own Sichan Siv, on the White House staff, who fled the killing fields and is now doing an outstanding job for the White House in every way; and Julia Chang Bloch, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, our first Asian-American Ambassador.

As shown by public-spirited leaders like Spark Matsunaga and those here today, Asian Pacific Americans are beginning to excel in the field of politics, just as they have excelled in every other field. While politics is often a second-, third-, or fourth-generation profession, the time is coming when more and more Asian and Pacific Americans will seek office to lead our cities, our States, and our nation. As America looks toward the Pacific in the century ahead, we will need your insights and your leadership as never before.

You know that the future of Europe has been very much on my mind of late -- I think, on the mind of all Americans. But America's destiny is also tied to the Pacific Rim. And I've lived in Asia, and I know that the fate of Asia and the Pacific is no less important to America than the future of Europe. We are encouraged by the changes in Eastern Europe and by the rise of democracy to our south right here in our own hemisphere. Make no mistake about that. But we will not neglect Asia and the Pacific. My administration is committed to promoting open trade and fighting protectionism so that the economic ties between the United States and Asia can continue to grow. Like Asian and Pacific Americans in the United States, these nations are a testament to the power of self-initiative. With time, we will create a true community of nations surrounding the Pacific Rim, bound together by commerce, a shared commitment to democracy, and an abiding friendship.

And that's why we support the emerging Asian and Pacific democracies. And that's why we advocate peaceful change, why we will remain in solidarity with the aspirations of the peoples of these many lands. And that is why America must stand for more than mere material success. America must remain the beacon of liberty, a light of hope for the troubled, the oppressed, the downtrodden. The people of this land know that it is not enough to let a man purchase what he wants. He must be allowed to say what he believes. He must be allowed to go where he wants. He must be allowed to choose his government. Economic freedom alone will not provide sufficient room for the restlessness of the human spirit.

Let us, as we celebrate the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to our precious freedoms, remember the restless millions who remain behind. In looking for inspiration they need look no further than the success of their grandchildren, their children, their brothers, sisters, and cousins who found freedom in America. And so, it is in your honor that I sign this measure proclaiming this to be Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month.

Thank you all. May God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America.

Note: The President spoke at 11:36 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to the following individuals: Jeanie Jew, lecturer and consultant on Asian Pacific American issues; Ruby Moy, chairperson of the Congressional Asian/Pacific Staff Caucus; Virginia Cha, Miss Maryland 1989; I.M. Pei, architect; Taylor Wang, payload specialist for the May 1985 ``Skylab I'' mission; Nancy Kwan, actress; Samuel Lee, Olympic gold medalist; T.D. Lee, 1957 Nobel Prize winner for physics; Yuan T. Lee, 1986 Nobel Prize winner for chemistry; An Wang, founder of Wang Laboratories, Inc.; Michael Chang, professional tennis player; and Ellison S. Onizuka, crewmember of the space shuttle ``Challenger'' who was killed in the explosion of January 28, 1986. The proclamation is listed in Appendix E at the end of this volume.