Remarks on Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
The East Room
The White House
May 17, 2002
3:23 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Elaine, thank you very much. Welcome to your house -- (laughter)
-- the White House. I want you to know, Norm, I welcome Republicans, Democrats
-- (laughter) -- people who don't care -- (laughter) -- all Americans. You're
welcome here. I am honored to welcome you. I didn't realize you sponsored the
legislation that my Dad -- we call him Number 41 -- signed, which permanently
made the celebration of Asian and Pacific American culture a month-long event.
And that's what we're honoring today.
I'm so proud to be the President of a diverse nation, a nation with 13 million
Americans of Asian or Pacific Island heritage. What a great country, to welcome
such diversity. Whether you're here by birth, or whether you're in America by
choice, you contribute to the vitality of our life. And for that, we are grateful.
I also appreciate service to our government, and our country. I picked two fabulous
members of my Cabinet from Asian-Pacific backgrounds. You've seen them both.
One lady who wasn't born in America, yet because of the dreams of her mother
and father, and because our country can be a welcoming country, was able to
get a good education, and here she sits in the Cabinet of the President of the
Another man, a man not of the same political party as I am, but a man who loves
his country just as much as I do; a person who, as a young boy, was interned
in a camp for Japanese Americans on our own soil -- a moment that is not a good
chapter in our history -- and yet had the courage to fight for change and for
the dignity of every American, and now sits in the Cabinet of the President
of the United States. (Applause.) I am fortunate to have them in my Cabinet.
I appreciate their advice, and I appreciate the great job they're doing on behalf
of all Americans. All Americans.
I want to thank Senator Inouye for being here. He's one of the fine distinguished
members of the United States Senate. (Applause.) He's an ally when it comes
to defending our nation. He understands what it means to serve your country
and be prepared for the defense of America. Senator, you're doing a great job.
Thank you for coming. I also want to thank Congressman David Wu from Oregon
for being here, as well.
I want to thank Delegate Faleomavaega. (Laughter.) Did I even come close? (Laughter.)
Well, at least I gave it my best shot, Eni. (Laughter.) How about just Eni?
Thank you for coming from the American Samoa. (Applause.)
We've got friends of ours from Guam, the Guam Senate -- Senate Leader Edward
Calvo and the House Speaker, Tony Unpingco. Thank you all for coming. I'm honored
you both are here. (Applause.) You are welcome.
I want to thank Susan Allen, the President of the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber
of Commerce. Thank you, Susan, it's great to see you again. (Applause.)
Richard, I want to thank you for filling this room and the whole house with
incredible music. Man, what a talent. And I appreciate you sharing it with us.
You help make a special day more special. And Lisa, thank you for bringing your
beauty here. (Laughter and applause.)
I'm looking around for Dat Nguyen. Is he here? He's supposed to be here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he's a Texan. (Laughter.) He's a mighty Texas A&M Aggie,
middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, came from a Vietnamese family. He's
a great story. And I just wish they'd win a couple more games. (Laughter.)
I want to thank John Tsu, the Chairman of the White House Initiative on Asian
Americans and Pacific Islanders. John, thank you very much. And Russell Wong,
a great actor, for being here as well. And welcome to you all.
The history of Asian Pacific Americans is really a history of great patriotism,
people who were willing to sacrifice. Incredibly enough, Asian Pacific Americans
fought in the Civil War, and, of course, World War II and the war on terror.
It's a story of hard work. Many of you have had relatives who came here early,
early on in our country, that worked the railroad, helped build the infrastructure
necessary for America to grow. It's a story of great achievement and great success
-- I mean, look at our Olympic teams; Asian Americans on our Olympic teams,
helping a unified country achieve in sports. It's a story of great business
success, great cultural success.
It's a story of influence on our society -- scientific influence, architectural
influence, music, art, significant contribution to our country. And for that,
all of us are grateful.
Sadly, one of the greatest contributions, Asian contributions to our nation
was destroyed on September 11th. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were
designed by Seattle architect, Noro Yamasaki. He and his partners designed the
Towers. For 30 years, they stood as a testament to American ingenuity and prosperity.
They served as a symbol -- now, perhaps, as a symbol of a more innocent time.
But for me, I can assure you, it's a reminder, a symbol, that we must never
forget there are people in the world who hate what we stand for. People who
can't stand the thought that a diverse nation can be a free nation. People who
hate freedom -- freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of press. They
can't stand it. And I can't stand the thought that they hate us. And we're going
to run them down, one by one, to protect our homeland. (Applause.)
They don't understand us. Mr. Senator, they just didn't understand us. They
thought we were so weak and materialistic, we must not have believed in much;
that all we'd do is kind of roll over and say, well, that's just what happens,
you know, and go about our business. But that's not America. See, we defend
our values and our freedom.
We fight for peace -- and I want you to know I long for peace -- that's my dream,
for peace. But we also fight for values that we hold dear. We believe strongly
in America that each person needs to be judged on his or her individual values,
abilities, and talents; that each life has dignity, has dignity; each individual
matters, no matter where you're from, no matter how you were raised. That's
what we fight for.
And as we fight for a safer world, and a peaceful world, we've got to work for
a better world here in America. One of the great traditions in our Asian communities
is the understanding and love for education. It's amazing how well and how hard
Asian youth work in school to get ahead. It is an unbelievably good example
for all of us. Educational excellence must be the standard for every child in
America. Access to good education must be the goal for every single child. In
order to have a better tomorrow, we've got to continually work to make sure
that every child gets educated. I mean every child. (Applause.)
In order to make sure there is a better tomorrow, we've got to make sure the
entrepreneurial flame continues to shine brightly in America, that we're known
as entrepreneurial heaven.
I was pleased to see that there are nearly a million small businesses in America
owned by Asian Pacific Americans. That's a lot. That's good news for our country.
It means that people are willing to take risk and own their own business, which
is a powerful part of the American experience. The role of government's never
to create wealth; it's to create an environment in which anybody, from any background,
who's got a good idea can work and achieve the dream of owning your own business
-- and therefore, by the way, employing more people.
Talked about the tax cuts, Elaine talked about the tax relief. I viewed the
tax relief that we passed as an incredibly important part of small business
formation. Most small businesses are not incorporated; they pay income tax at
the personal tax level. And therefore, when you reduce the personal income taxes,
you help small businesses all across America.
As you know, we're working hard to make sure our homeland is more secure. The
best way to make -- the best defense is a good offense, no question about that.
But you need to also understand that I'm mindful of American traditions, and
as we work to make our borders more secure, for example, people will be treated
fairly. Our INS must do a much better job of identifying who's coming into our
country and why, but they've also got to do a better job of processing paperwork.
It's inexcusable, the endless delays of paperwork that really do make it hard
for families to function and to stay together.
I'm a strong believer that our nation must pass what they call 245(i), immigration
reform, which will allow families to stay together. People who are here and
applying for different paper shouldn't have to go back to their country and
then come back if one of the members is here legally with cards. It just doesn't
make any sense. We need to be mindful of the dignity of each person in our country.
And I know we can achieve that goal -- good homeland security, better border
control, and at the same time treating people with respect who are here in our
I also very much appreciate the bridge that our Asian Pacific community provides
America to an incredibly important part of the world. And those are the nations
of the Pacific. I spent some time there, and I gave a speech in China and Japan
and South Korea, where I said, this is going to be Pacific century. And I believe
that. We are a Pacific nation, America. We've got a lot of incredibly important
ties with China and Japan, Korea, the Philippines -- all the nations represented
in this room are an incredibly important part of our future.
We've got to work on trade issues, issues that open up trade between our respective
nations, so that we're able to better exchange goods and services. That's to
the benefit of not only workers here in America, of course, it's also to the
benefit of workers in countries with whom we trade. We've got to continue dialogue,
we've got to make sure that we work closely together to promote peace, to fight
off this scourge called terror.
And the Asian Pacific Americans of our country make those ties incredibly important.
Not only do you help Americans understand the cultures in the countries, you,
yourself, by your presence, export American values so that those countries understand
us better. (Applause.)
And so it's my honor to welcome you all to this magnificent house, to welcome
your contributions to the greatest land on the face of the Earth. To tell you
how proud I am to be the President of a diverse nation in which people make
contributions, all kinds of fantastic contributions. To let you know that as
we fight, we do so with peace in our mind, and that we do so to make the world
a better place here at home.
I often say that if you want to join in the war against terror, do some good.
If you want to fight evil, love your neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.
That's a universal call. That's a call that is exhibited in neighborhoods all
throughout America. See, the great strength of our country really isn't in the
halls of government, senator and congressmen, it's in the hearts and souls of
our citizens. That's what makes the country unique and strong and vibrant --
is the great citizens of America.
And it's my honor to welcome such citizens to the White House. May God bless
you all. And may God bless our country. (Applause.)