Remarks at a Diwali Celebration
The First Lady. Thank you, and welcome to Diwali at the White House. It's wonderful to be here with so many friends.
Why celebrate light on the darkest night when the Moon is hardest to find? Because that's when we need it most, when we realize that even the smallest flame can illuminate our path home, that the sweetest delicacies are made with love, that the most rewarding gifts are those we give to others, and that simple clay lamps, burning together, can outshine any Moon.
All of us will face darkness at some point, but we are never alone. And as we chart our path toward the future, this community helps light our way forward, with courage and kindness, with persistence and faith, with love. I'm grateful that, today, these diyas have guided you to this home, a home that belongs to all of you, the White House.
The Nobel Prize-winning poet Tagore once wrote: "The sky is flushed with the dawn and my path lies beautiful. Ask not what I have with me to take there. I start on my journey with empty hands and [an] expectant heart."
Today we come here with empty hands and expectant hearts, surrounded by each other's light. And though at times we will travel through the darkness, we never walk alone. Our paths are bright and glorious as we shine together.
Now I'm grateful to introduce a friend who has become a light to both Joe and to me. Kamala, your—[applause]—your warmth, wisdom, and strength are a beacon to us all.
Everyone, please join me in welcoming the Vice President, Kamala Harris.
Vice President Kamala D. Harris. Happy Diwali, everyone. [Laughter]
I want to thank the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, for always being such a light within our administration and a dear friend.
The First Lady. Thank you.
Vice President Harris. Thank you for that beautiful introduction. Thank you.
And to our incredible President, Joe Biden—you know, the White House is the "people's house," and together, these two—our President and First Lady—have once again made this place a place where every American can celebrate and honor their traditions. And we know and understand the significance of that. And we have learned we cannot take that for granted. And so, to the two of you, I thank you deeply for all that you are.
And it is so good to be with everyone here. Tonight, of course, we join with more than 1 billion people around the world to light the diya and to celebrate the fight for good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness.
I have, personally, such fond memories of celebrating Diwali as a child. Like many of you, we would go to India about every other year, avoiding monsoon season—[laughter]—and we would go for Diwali. And I have such fond memories of waking up in the middle of the night, me and my sister Maya, and going, of course, to the eldest in our family, which is—was our grandfather. And then, later in the day, my mother would give us lit sparklers, and we would go into the streets to celebrate this very important occasion.
As many of you know, my mother arrived in the United States at the age of 19 when she came to the United States to study. She arrived by herself, but it was her goal and her mission to study to become a breast cancer researcher. And in our country—in this country—she built a life. She earned her Ph.D., and she excelled in her field. And she raised my sister and me.
And it is because of her dedication, her determination, and her courage that I stand before you as Vice President of the United States.
So, as we all know, Diwali is a holiday of hope. As with so many cultures, Diwali reminds us to see the light in our world, in each other, and in ourselves.
We also are reminded to shine our light in the darkness, to fight for peace, for justice, for understanding, even as powerful forces work to sow hate and division. We remember that in these moments where we see darkness, our light shines the brightest. That is part of what we are reminded of in Diwali. In moments of darkness, we see the light.
So, today, as we celebrate Diwali, let us continue to make real the ideals of our Nation, the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality for all. Together, let us, all together, light the way toward a better future.
And now—[applause]. And now it is my great honor to introduce a leader who fights every day to bring light to our Nation, our President, Joe Biden.
The President. Thank you, Kamala.
And before I begin, how are you guys doing out front there? [Laughter]
[At this point, the President addressed the young daughter, Zara, and son, Soren, of Rep. Rohit Khanna, who were in the audience.]
How are you? You want to come up here? You want to come up? You don't have to, but you can. [Laughter]
Walk—can you walk them around?
[The children walked to the stage.]
Why don't you stand right over here? Come on over here a little.
[The children stood on stage beside the President.]
This is my impression of light. [Laughter]
Now, if you guys get bored, you can go back. [Laughter] It's not going to take very long, okay? All right?
Kamala, thank you very much. And one of the things I admire most about Kamala: She often talks about her mom, like we all talk about our mom, like I talk about my mom, and like I'm getting a lot to talk about my mom these days. [Laughter] Moms are always with us, no matter what.
I know well [we're]* celebrating Diwali, but a few years—days ago, it was also Kamala's birthday. She turned 30. [Laughter]
Vice President Harris. Indeed. [Laughter]
The President. And happy birthday to a great [Vice]* President. We know your mom is always with you.
Vice President Harris. Yes.
The President. All the time.
And I want to thank you for the courage it took for her and for so many of you out there to actually pick up and move your families and start the journey to America.
It's pretty amazing, the sacrifices to leave everything behind and choose to believe the idea that this Nation—this Nation—has a singular place in the place of possibilities.
And, Admiral, great to see you; our Surgeon General is here.
To make old traditions anew—and to tell the ongoing story of America, a story that is firmly stamped in the Indian American and South Asian American experience.
That's why we're here today.
You know, late November 2016, when—one of the last events I hosted at a really nice house—the Vice President's Naval Observatory—[laughter]—which was the official Vice President's residence and is—it was the first Diwali reception ever to be held there.
I'm an Irish Catholic and opening our home for holidays observed by Hindus, Buddhists, Jainists, Sikhs. That night we were joined by Muslims, Christians, and people representing diversity and diaspora here in America, from all over the world, including then-newly elected Indian American Members of Congress, two of whom are here today. Ro and Raja, where are you? There you are. There you are. Are these your daughters—your children?
Audience member. The daughter is.
The President. Well, God love you. They had to be yours. [Laughter]
Is that daddy? Is that daddy right there and mommy? Yes. Whoa! [Laughter]
I tell you what, we have a lot in common, old buddy. We both married way up. [Laughter]
Ro and Raja, I want to thank you for your leadership.
And two other Members who couldn't be here, but send their greetings—you know, the—and they—they are both very good friends and wanted to be here. Pramila—way, way—Pramila Jayapal and Ami Bera wanted to be here. But they're also two great leaders who couldn't be here though tonight.
You know, that evening back in 2016 came under darkness of the night sky, but also darkness from an election of shadow and suspicion.
Immigrant families were vilified and shamed as we—as a prelude to what was to come at the time. Yet that night—that Diwali night—we gathered together to cast a light of hope and belonging and purpose. And we gathered that—and we bonded a sense of community that I hadn't seen in a while across race and faith at—to believe that, in America—how we know and how we love. You know, it was a gathering of light.
While there had been Diwali celebrations in previous administrations, we're gathered here 6 years later. As your President and First Lady and as Vice President, we are honored to host you as the first—this is the first Diwali reception of this scale, in this house, ever to be held.
[The President addressed the children on stage.]
Are you get—are you getting tired? [Laughter] You want to sit?
Soren Khanna. What?
The President. Do you want me—want me to get a seat for you? No? You okay? Okay. [Laughter]
We just lit a diya surrounded by members of our staff who are part of the administration. We have more Asian Americans than ever before in history. And we also wanted to send this message to all of you here and to millions of fellow Americans across the country who observe this sacred holiday. And it's a simple message: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for making this celebration of Diwali such a joyous part of American culture. As we—we see it across the country: opening homes and hearts and exchange gifts and sweets, and hosting feasts and—for family and friends, organizing cultural programs that bring us together as a people.
You know, through all that you contribute, as well beyond, in every part of American life, thank you. Thank you for reflecting the soul of who we are as a nation.
And what is a soul? I'm often asked, since I said I always wanted to restore the soul of the Nation. What's a soul? Well, the soul to me is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are. The soul is what makes us us: optimism that is tested and yet endures; courage that digs really deep when it's needed; truth and knowledge that overcomes falsehood and ignorance; and empathy and a willingness to see each other not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.
You know, that's all of you. That's the incredible South Asian community all across America: Helping us emerge stronger from this pandemic. Building an economy that works for everyone. Teaching our children and caring for our elders. Responding to the cry for action on climate. Working to fix our immigration system. Defending rights and freedoms. Building a more just and equitable country. Serving and protecting our communities and our Nation. Informing, entertaining, inspiring.
You know, together, we're showing that we can do big things: Supporting our veterans. Ending cancer as we know it. Taking on gun violence. And by the way, we are going to ban assault weapons before I'm out of this place. I did it before. We're going to do it again.
But we know there's always darkness lurking as this community has experienced much too often. Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we're all created equal to the harsh reality that racism and fear have long torn us apart.
Hate only hides. I used to think we could defeat hate, coming out of the civil rights movement, but it only hides. It hides under rocks until it's given oxygen, and it comes out when prejudiced people speak it. Violent extremists and—a rising threat.
I ran for office to restore the soul of the Nation, and I've made it clear that—since I was elected—hate can have no safe harbor in this country. Failure to call it out is complicity. Silence is complicity. And we're not going to—[applause]. And thank you. Thank you. We're not going to remain silent.
Diwali is a reminder that each of us has the power—has the power—to dispel darkness and bring light to the world. It's a choice. And we make that choice every day. It's true in our lives and in the life of this Nation, especially in the life of a democracy, whether here in America or for the families back in India marking 75 years of independence.
And whether it's the United Kingdom, where just today we've gotten news that Rishi—[applause]—Rishi Sunak is now the Prime Minister. As my brother would say, "Go figure." [Laughter] And the Conservative Party. Expected to become the Prime Minister I think tomorrow, when he goes to see the King. Pretty astounding. A groundbreaking milestone. And it matters. It matters.
Let me close with this. Few periods have been more challenging to our world than the one we're in right now.
We face an inflection point, one of those moments that only come every several generations where so much is changing and happening—technologically, politically, socially, environmentally—that the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for the next several decades.
Now—now more than ever—we need you engaged to do the work of our time, the work for all time. We need you to help fulfill the promise of this Nation, the same promise of opportunity and equality that brought you and your families here in the first place to this great nation, for the American story depends not on any one of us——
[The President addressed Rep. Khanna's children on stage.]
You can sit down if you want. [Laughter] Hard to stand? It's getting hard to stand, I think. [Laughter]
Not for some of us, but for all of us. That's what I hope you take away from this day: the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community. And remember, from darkness there's power in the gathering of late [light].*
You know, we just have to remember who we are. We're the United States of America. There's nothing—nothing—beyond our capacity when we work together.
So happy Diwali to all your families, and God bless you and protect you.
NOTE: The President spoke at approximately 5:26 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy; Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi; Ritu Khanna, wife of Rep. Khanna; and King Charles III of the United Kingdom.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at a Diwali Celebration Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/358511