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Commemorating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Floor Speech

Date: May 14, 2009
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Women Immigration



Ms. HIRONO. I thank my colleague for yielding me such time as I might use.

Aloha. I rise today to join my fellow congressional Asian Pacific Islander American Caucus members in celebrating Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month. Of course, I'd like to thank Congressman Honda for organizing this Special Order tonight and for his continuing leadership throughout the year and his service as the chair of CAPAC.

In 1978, a joint congressional resolution established Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. The first 10 days of May were chosen to coincide with two key anniversaries: The U.S. arrival of the first Japanese immigrant on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. In 1992, Congress expanded the week to a full monthlong celebration of the Asian and Pacific Islander American community.

We certainly have added to the diversity and the cultural richness of our country. As a first generation immigrant myself, having come to this country when I was about eight years old, this country has afforded not just me, but the millions of immigrants, the first generation we call issei and nisei, opportunities that we never would have had in our home countries.

With 16.2 million residents, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest growing populations in the United States. In fact, the Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2050, more than 33.4 million Asian Americans will call the United States home.

Asian and Pacific Islander Americans have made valuable contributions to every aspect of American

life--from business to education to politics to the arts to the military. For example, there are approximately 1.1 million APIA-owned small businesses all across the country that employ 2.2 million workers. There are also hundreds of thousands of APIA servicemembers and veterans, including more than 53,500 brave men and women who have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

Today, I was glad to join my colleagues in supporting passage of H.R. 347, which appropriately awards a Congressional Gold Medal to the 100th Infantry Battalion and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in honor of their extraordinary and dedicated service during World War II.

Comprised predominantly of nisei, the American-born sons of Japanese immigrants, members of the University of Hawaii's Reserve Officers' Training Corps, the ROTC, aided the wounded, buried the fallen, and helped defend vulnerable areas in Hawaii after the attack at Pearl Harbor.

In spite of these acts of courage, the U.S. Army discharged all nisei in the ROTC unit, changed their draft status to ineligible, and segregated all Japanese American in the military on the mainland out of their units. In the meantime, more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated from their homes to internment camps.

Undaunted, members of the Hawaii Provisional Infantry Battalion joined the 100th Infantry Battalion in California to train as soldiers. The sheer determination and pursuit of excellence displayed by this battalion in training contributed to President Roosevelt's decision to allow nisei volunteers to serve in the U.S. military again, leading to their incorporation into the 442nd.

Members of the 100th and 442nd risked their lives to fight for our country and allies in Europe. The 442nd ``Go for Broke'' unit became the most decorated in U.S. military history for its size and length of service, with its component, the 100th Infantry Battalion, earning the nickname ``The Purple Heart Battalion.''

I'd like to thank Congressman Schiff, the chief sponsor of H.R. 347, for providing us with the opportunity to bestow this body's most distinguished honor, the Congressional Gold Medal, to these brave soldiers on the behalf of a grateful Nation.

I would be remiss if I did not mention one of Hawaii's favorite sons as we celebrate this month, and that is President Barack Obama. While not ethnically Asian American or Pacific Islander himself, his ties to our community are strong ones, and his support on our issues could not be more heartfelt.

He has appointed, as mentioned earlier, Asian Americans to key cabinet positions: Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy; Gary Locke, Secretary of Commerce. By the way, Gary Locke is the first Asian American to be elected Governor outside of Hawaii. And Kauai's own General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Veteran Affairs.

One of the issues that President Obama has supported is self-determination for the indigenous people of our State of Hawaii--native Hawaiians who deserve to have the same right to self-determination enjoyed by other indigenous groups such as the American Indians and the Alaskan natives.

H.R. 2314, the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act, would set up a process for native Hawaiians to organize a governmental entity. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and our President in passing this important bill.

I would also be remiss if I did not pay tribute to my predecessor, Congresswoman Patsy T. Mink of Hawaii, a trailblazer in every sense of the word. I thank my colleague, Congresswoman Richardson, for mentioning Patsy Mink, for whom title IX was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act.

Title IX changed the lives of women and girls across our country. In fact, a couple of years ago, several of the high schools in my district were given a special recognition for really promoting title IX and participation of high school girls in sports. When I attended one of these high schools to present them with a special recognition, one of the girls asked me a question that totally floored me. That question was, If you could pick a sport, what sport would you have participated in? And it floored me because it was a question that had never been asked when I was in high school.

That's the kind of difference that title IX is making. In fact, Patsy's own daughter, when she applied to a particular school and did not get accepted, the reason for that was, they told her, We have enough women in our university. This all preceded title IX. Literally thousands and thousands of lives have been change by title IX.

In closing, I'd like to also once again thank Chairman Honda for allowing us this opportunity to reflect upon how far our APIA community has come, and yet we must remember how much further our community has to go.

As we say in Hawaii, mahalo nui loa.


Ms. HIRONO. I can tell you, having gone to the women's gym in the Rayburn Building, things have changed. We have full-size lockers now. Truly, in terms of gender equality, Patsy was a leader because she had to fight every step of the way. And, in fact, one of the other stories about Patsy is when she applied to medical school. And she was a very smart woman. She wanted to become a doctor. She applied to medical school and was refused because she was a woman. When she finally applied to law school, they put her in the international dorm because they thought she was a foreign person.

We have come a long way.

I did want to mention as long as we are talking about the challenges that immigrants face. There was a historic poll done recently focusing on immigrant women and the fact that so many of them come to this country to truly create a new life of opportunity for their children. Many of them were professionals in the countries from which they came, and so they did not come to make money. Often the kind of jobs they were able to get in this country were very poor paying with not very many benefits.

This was so reminiscent of when my mother brought us to this country. We came literally with nothing, and she started off in a very poor-paying job with no benefits. But what guided her was this immigrant spirit of wanting to create a new life for her children. That kept her going. She wanted for herself to be able to take care of her family, but to have us have opportunities that she never had.

That story is replicated in thousands and thousands and thousands of stories by the waves of immigrants from Japan, Korea, China, the Philippines, over and over. And to know that even now these women and their families face particular challenges should reinforce in us our desire to not only celebrate all of the accomplishments of the APIA community, but to know that there is much more work to be done.

Mr. HONDA. Thank you for sharing that. I guess in English we say you weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth, nor golden chopsticks. Knowing your history of political participation, being the lieutenant governor of Hawaii and now representing Hawaii, I guess one can say that you are a statistical aberration of probabilities, and who would guess except for the fact that your mom had such great strength.

Ms. HIRONO. One of the things that I always say is that this is a great country, and even if we are not perfect, what a country. I am reminded once again of that with the election of our first African American President.