Remarks at an Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Reception
Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Thank you, Ambassador Tai. It is true, there is something we all know: that we must always honor the mothers, the aunties, the chithis, all of them. [Laughter] And of course, the husbands and the fathers and the grandfathers. [Laughter]
It is good to be with everyone. I think this is, Mr. President, one of the biggest groups that we've had since we've been in office, and it's quite a beautiful sight to see. So good afternoon to everyone. [Applause] Good afternoon.
And as you all know, my mother arrived in the United States at the age of 19, from India. And when I think about the work that we are all doing, the work we are doing as an administration, led by our President, in terms of not only living the values but standing on the shoulders of so many who imagined that we would all be here and who know that when we talk about the beauty of who we are as a nation, as the United States of America, it is represented by all of the people who are here today and all those who are proud that we stand here today together.
President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, Mr. Second Gentleman—[laughter]—and members of our Cabinet, it is good again to be gathered with all of you today and to be joined by the members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
As a former member of the caucus, I will take a few moments to talk about a friend to so many of us, a mentor to so many of us, one who helped found CAPAC and became its first chair. And of course, I am talking about the amazing Secretary Norman Mineta, who devoted his career to public service.
For all of those who knew Norm, he worked tirelessly to make our Nation stronger, safer, and more just. And in so doing, he inspired a generation of leaders, including me. Secretary Mineta's family is here with us today. And from my family to yours, please know that he is deeply missed.
Today, yes, it is a great celebration for so many reasons of so many things. But it is also impossible to ignore that we gather mere days after a horrific act of hate in Buffalo, New York, targeting Black Americans.
And you know, it was only last year, as the Ambassador said—only last year that we—that I was with the President in Atlanta, mourning the murder of eight people, including six who were Asian American women. And sadly, what I said then remains true now: Racism is real in America. It has always been. Xenophobia is real in America. It has always been. Sexism too.
I said last year and I sadly say again today: We have had people in positions of incredible power in our country scapegoating, people with the biggest pulpits spreading this kind of hate. This requires—these moments, sadly, tragically, require—us to ask: "Who are we as a nation? And what do we stand for?"
It is yet again a moment to remember and talk about and reflect on how we treat people and do we live to the greatest and best of our ideals, which means treating people—all people—with dignity and respect, remembering the history of our Nation and who built our Nation and honoring the diversity of all who have contributed to who we are today.
And of course, that is what this month requires us to do. And I know, looking around at the leaders here, we remember it every day of the year. And we also know in tragic moments like this that we are committed collectively to saying: A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us, and it is all harm against our Nation.
And the President and I, and all of us as leaders, will not be silent. We will not stand by. We must always speak out against violence, against hate crime and discrimination, whenever and wherever it occurs. And we must do everything in our power to end this epidemic of hate.
We feel great pride, based on good reason and fact and history, in what we celebrate today. And we know that those who allowed us to be here, and paved the path for us to be present at this moment, expect great things from us, including that we are not only clear eyed, but that we are optimistic about our future—collectively about our future as a nation; that we remain committed to the ideals that make this Nation great; that we remain committed to the notion that a harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us.
But that is an extension of a most profound belief, which is that we are in this together as one Nation undivided. So today we celebrate all those ideals when we celebrate the great people of this Nation who have paved a path for so many of us to be where we are today.
And finally, to quote, then, a great American, Norm Mineta—I quote: "If we will act together, then we are strong enough to withstand any evil, internal or external, that threatens to unravel"—and this is key—"this beautiful tapestry that is America."
And now it is my great honor to introduce a man who ran for President because he knows that no one should be in this fight alone, President Joe Biden.
The President. You've got to admit, I have got good taste in picking people, don't you? [Laughter] Way above my pay grade.
Kamala, thank you, and Ambassador Tai; and Doug, the Second Gentleman, out there hiding behind everybody out there, I know. [Laughter].
And you know, Jill and I are honored to welcome all of you here to celebrate the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month here in the Rose Garden.
You know, it's wonderful to see so many friends: U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono. Where—where's Mazie? I see—was told she's here. I'm looking. Mazie, wherever you are, you're the best.
And Tammy Duckworth. Tammy—Tammy is here, I'm told. Or—going to be here. No? At any rate—and the chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, Representative Judy Chu, is here as well. And there's several other representatives here today who represent the community in Congress that is growing each election.
As Katherine mentioned, I'm proud to have reestablished the White House Initiative on Asian American, Native American—Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders. Several members are here today along with members of the community across the administration at every level.
Also joining are mayors and local leaders and leaders of business and philanthropy, leaders of civil rights, the arts, the fashions and culture.
And this is a reception that follows on the—the great honor Jill and I, Kamala and Doug had in hosting Team U.S.A., including the American—the Asian American athletes who so honorably represented America in the Olympics.
Not too long ago, that included one of the most decorated—the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history—and also worked on my campaign—also worked on my campaign and is now my nominee to be Ambassador to Belize: Michelle Kwan. Michelle, you're the best, kid. You're the best. You do things backward better than most people can do them forward. [Laughter]
And you represent a simple truth: There is no single Asian—as Jill pointed out much more articulately than I have—there is no single Asian American, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander identity. It doesn't exist. The diversity of cultures, the breadth and achievement that has shaded and shaped so many, strengthened the fabric of this country in ways that you can't measure. I don't think—I don't know how you can measure it.
The fastest growing demographic in the United States that has also gotten us through the pandemic as frontline and essential workers. And you've powered our economic recovery: An unemployment rate in a community that's fallen from 6.6 percent since we got in office to 3.1 percent—for Asian Americans. Entrepreneurship in the community has risen—with you all, it's risen the fastest rate in over a decade. Where members of the community were once tokenized as villains on the movie screens, you now light them up as superheroes.
And today I'll be traveling—on Thursday, excuse me, I'll be traveling to the Republic of Korea and Japan to affirm the importance of our Indo-Pacific alliances. Folks—and to celebrate the indispensable partnerships that are strengthening by the deep family ties and heritage and the values reflected in the AAN—NH—PI—aye, aye, aye, aye, aye—[laughter]—community here in the United States. As they say in Claymont, Delaware, "All yous guys." [Laughter]
But look, we know that for the generations of progress, racism, harassment, and hate crimes persist, as was pointed out by my friends behind me. And today we know that maybe you are one of them who don't feel safe walking American streets.
A shooting near Atlanta a year ago is still fresh, as been mentioned, in the hearts of so many. And Kamala and I went to visit—down to visit. Just as we've seen hate crime shootings in Orange County, California; Dallas, Texas, just last week. Jill and I just got back from Buffalo—Buffalo, New York—where another lone gunman with a hate-filled soul shot and killed Black people at a grocery store on a Saturday afternoon.
You know, I probably shouldn't be saying this now, but I'm going to say it anyway: We have to not only talk about how we're going to end the hate, but who's responsible for generating it. Who is responsible for generating it.
Look, I've said many times: Hate can have no safe harbor in America. And every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. But you know, you have folks on television stations talking about the "replacement theory," scaring the living hell out of people who don't have a whole lot of emotional stability, taking advantage of—on the internet and other means by talking about how we're going to be "overtaken."
That's why, 1 year ago, with the help of many of you, I signed into law the bipartisan COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. And with your continued help—[applause]—no, with your continued help—our commitment to advance equality across the board in everything from health care, to education, to housing, to LGBTQ rights.
Look, we're working to fix our immigration system to reflect our values and the truth that legal immigration defines who we are as a nation—who we are as a nation. That's why we're so darn strong.
Bottom line is, we're doing the work to make real the promise of America for every American, a promise that holds that every person is created equal and deserves to be treated equally throughout their lives.
We've never fully lived up to that promise, but we've never, ever before walked away from it. We've never walked away from it. And that's what we acknowledge during this month: building a legacy of strength and resilience for people like you and almost all of our forebears.
You know, you were telling the story—Jill is going to get mad at me for—it reminded me. I happen to be Irish. [Laughter] That's the problem sometimes with Jill. But anyway, I'm only joking.
The First Lady. That's not true. [Laughter]
The President. No, I'm teasing. But my mother used to always say on birthdays, "The mother should get the gift, not the child." So I didn't realize it was both Asian and Irish, but—[laughter]—at least in my house.
And speaking of friends, the late Norm Mineta, whom Kamala just spoke about, was one of my close friends, for real. As you all know, Norm was born in 1931 in San Jose, California, an immigrant—to immigrant parents from Japan. As an 11-year-old, he spent 3 years in an incarceration camp, among 120,000 Japanese Americans across the country. But with every reason to be angry and resentful—every reason to be angry and resentful—Norm chose to believe in himself, to believe in America, and to believe in his country.
He served in the United States Army, elected the first Asian American mayor of a major city in his hometown, San Jose. Elected and served two decades as a Congressman. We were—we spent a lot of time together and traveled together, serving with pioneers and dear friends like Danny Inouye and Danny Akaka. They both taught me, by the way, not only about Asian Americans, they taught me that it is "Native Americans," not "Indian Tribes." "Native Americans."
And Danny was the first guy—I don't want to ruin his reputation, God bless his soul—but Danny was the first guy to convince me to run for President and be my national campaign chairman.
Then Norm became the first American of Asian descent to serve as a Cabinet Secretary. Norm passed away earlier this month, as we all know. Days after, I signed a bill into law naming the U.S. Department of Transportation headquarters in his honor. Today we're honored to be joined by two of his sons, David and Bob. Where are you guys? Come up here.
You're a good man—you're both good men. Thank you very, very much. And I want to tell you, he was one of hell of a man. So let's all follow in the power of Norm's example.
I thank you all for being here, and I want you to enjoy the rest of the reception. Remember, though: This fight that we're—for equality, we're just starting here. It's not just the wackos who go out there with those guns and get talked into doing something, it's the people who fill their brains with false ideas. It's the people who make them—convince them, for their power and their prestige and their money—to be able to go out and do these terrible things.
That's not who we are. That's not who we are. And I'll be darned, as long as I'm President of the United States, I'm going to fight like hell, and we're going to expose everybody. We've got to make sure that this—and my—you know, there's a—there's a hymn in my—based on the 91st Psalm, and it says—in my church—"May He raise you up on eagle's wings and bear you on the breath of dawn, and let the sun shine upon you until"—and then he goes on to talk about that we all—all—that God will hold you in the palm of his hand.
That's how we've got to think about our fellow Americans. The reason we are strong, the reason we're who we are is because we're diverse, with so many talents. So many.
I know this group will never forget it. But I'm going to spend the rest of my term and as long I'm in office reminding the rest of America they should understand it too.
God bless you all, and enjoy the night, today. And thank you for being here.
NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 4:30 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine C. Tai; Douglas C. Emhoff, husband of Vice President Harris; Sen. L. Tammy Duckworth; Payton S. Gendron, suspected gunman in the shooting at a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store in Buffalo, NY, on May 14; and David Mineta and Robert Brantner, sons of former Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at an Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Reception Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355962