Obama recently signed an Executive Order reestablishing the President’s Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, first created by Clinton a decade ago.
Reading through the transcript of the President’s remarks, I have to give props to him (and his speechwriters) for offering thoughtful acknowledgment to the AAPI community, instead of the usual “thanks for working so hard and being industrious and keeping your head down” tokenism rhetoric spouted by most politicians.
In fact, Obama spoke against buying into the model minority myth, and recognized multiple barriers faced by the AAPI community — from health disparites (i.e. diabetes and Hep B), high dropout and low college enrollment rates, poverty, language barriers, violation of voting and civic rights, and even the often overlooked but extremely important need for collection of data on AAPIs and disagreggation by ethnicity and other variables so we’re not invisible or lumped together. Finally. He also condemned post-9/11 and ongoing hate crimes, which usually elicit barely a blip on CNN and in the papers.
Obama further gave a nod to our folx as “leaders” “who’ve helped build this nation for centuries”…thanking railroad laborers, farmers and veterans like those in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the 442nd, who fought despite their families’ internment. Mr. President continued to bust through stereotypes by naming musicians, athletes, and public service pioneers like His Awesomeness Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth.
Obama also made it personal: “When I talk about America’s AAPI communities, I’m talking about my own family: my sister Maya; my brother-in-law Konrad; my beautiful nieces…and the folks I grew up with in Indonesia, and in Honolulu as part of the Hawai’ian Ohana…”
He called AAPI history “uniquely American” while understanding our reality as a transnational community, with “roots that span the globe”, and by describing Diwali holiday as celebrated by “some of the world’s greatest faiths…Hindusm Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world…” Obama is the first US president to personally take part in a White House ceremony for the festival of lights, lighting a diya inside the executive mansion and bowing before a Hindu pandit. It’s refreshing to hear what has usually been portrayed as Other and un-American unapologetically supported by our most powerful leader.
To boot, AAPI community advocates South Asian Americans Leading Together, Asian American Justice Center, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center, APIAVote, Organization of Chinese Americans, and others released statements applauding Obama’s signing. One step closer to earning that Nobel Peace Prize.