President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

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President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month


By: Elaine L. Chao and George W. Bush

Date: May 17, 2002

Source: Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Labor. "President George W. Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, East Room, The White House, Washington, D.C., May 17, 2002." 〈〉 (accessed June 28, 2006).

About the Author: Elaine L. Chao (1953–) is the twenty-fourth U.S. secretary of labor (2001–) of the United States. Secretary Chao is the first Asian-American woman and the first Chinese-American appointed to the federal cabinet. George W. Bush (1946–) is the forty-third president of the United States (2001–). Before becoming U.S. president, Bush served as governor of the state of Texas for two consecutive terms beginning in 1994.


Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), held annually each May in the United States, is a celebration of U.S. citizens that are descended from natives of Asia and the Pacific Islands (which includes Hawaii and other Pacific islands). Local, state, and national activities, festivals, and educational activities are held throughout May in celebration and in acknowledgment of the contributions made by Asian/Pacific-Island Americans to U.S. society.

Beginning in the 1970s, Chinese-American speaker and consultant Jeanie F. Jew—who was also president of the Organization of Chinese-American Women—identified the need to celebrate the accomplishments of Asian/Pacific-Island Americans—similar to the way, for example, that African Americans and others celebrate Black History Month. In 1976, Jew sought the help of Representative Frank Horton (D-New York). Horton and Norman Y. Mineta (D-California), in June 1977, introduced House Resolution 540 into the agenda of the House of Representatives for the express purpose of the president to proclaim the first ten days of May as Asian/Pacific Heritage Week. Senators Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Spark Matsunaga (D-Hawaii) introduced a similar Senate bill in July 1977. The U.S. Congress subsequently passed each bill. In October 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a Joint Resolution that declared Asian American Heritage Week be held annually during the first week of May. The decision was made to celebrate it in May in order to coincide with the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843 and the efforts of Chinese workers in building the transcontinental railroad that was completed on May 10, 1869. The first Asian Pacific American Heritage Week was celebrated in May 1979.

Congress later expanded the celebration to one month in length and, in May 1992, President George H. W. Bush officially renamed the celebration Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. APAHM was enacted by Public Law 102-450 on October 28, 1992, to honor the achievements of Asian/Pacific-Island Americans and to recognize their contributions to the United States.


Secretary Chao: Good afternoon. Thank you all for being here. Not long ago, our President spoke of the nation's need for "citizens who hear the call of duty … who care for their families … and who treat their neighbors with respect and compassion." While he was calling every American to service, he was also describing the values that define the Asian Pacific American community.

Duty … family … respect … and compassion. These are the values that have sustained us—and our ancestors before us—in coming to America. How grateful we are to have a President who personally lives out the values that have led us—and calls each of us to pursue them with renewed vigor.

Let me add one more ideal to the list that has inspired our community: the American Dream … the desire to be free … to work hard and succeed … so that we may pass on a better life to the generations that follow.

Most of us carried the American Dream in our hearts long before we ever reached these shores. Though we left behind family, friends and all that was familiar, we knew that the dream that burned in our hearts was well worth the sacrifice.

We also have a President who came to Washington from a distant and exotic land: Texas. Like all of us, he came here for a purpose: to preserve and expand the American Dream. Our President believes that politics is not about who you know—it's about what you accomplish.

Power doesn't come from a position, it comes from what you believe in—and whether you have the courage to stand up for it in the face of opposition. Our President believes in—and stands up for—giving all Americans access to a good education, the dignity of work, including those currently on welfare. He believes in cutting taxes, so families have more to save and invest. And he believes deeply in reaching out and opening doors.

That's why, in just the first year of his Administration, he appointed more Asian Pacific Americans to senior positions than ever in American history—including two Asian Pacific Americans to his cabinet.

A politician will tell you what you want to hear; but a leader does what he says. We have such a leader—one who shares our values and stands up for our dreams—our President, George W. Bush.

President Bush: Elaine, thank you very much. Welcome to your house—the White House. I want you to know, [Secretary of Transportation] Norm [Mineta], I welcome Republicans, Democrats—people who don't care—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 United States.

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. 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. 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. Did I even come close? Well, at least I gave it my best shot, Eni. How about just Eni? Thank you for coming from the American Samoa. 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. 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.

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.

I'm looking around for Dat Nguyen. Is he here? He's supposed to be here. Yes, he's a Texan. 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.

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 11 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.


Asian/Pacific-Island Americans contribute significantly to U.S. society. For instance, the U.S. Census Bureau states that Asian/Pacific Island Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. According to the 2005 census, approximately 13.5 percent (about 39 million) of the U.S. population state that their bloodlines derive from people of Asian and Pacific Island descent. As of July 2004, about five percent of the population—about 14 million people in the United States—are considered primarily of Asian or Pacific Island descent. With 4.8 million citizens, the state of California has the largest population of Asian/Pacific Island-Americans. The state of Hawaii has the largest percentage (about fifty-eight percent) of Asian/Pacific Island-Americans within its population. The Census Bureau lists about thirty Asian and Pacific Islander groups in the United States, including Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipinos, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Indonesian, Malaysian, and Vietnamese.

In addition, from the U.S. Census Bureau, forty-nine percent of all Asian-Americans aged twenty-five years or older have at least a bachelor's degree. This percentage is the highest proportion of college graduates of any ethnic or racial group in the United States. Eighty-seven percent of Asian-Americans (within this same age bracket) are high school graduates, and twenty percent possess an advanced educational degree. About fifteen percent of Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders have at least a bachelor's degree, with eighty-four percent of them having high school diplomas and four percent with graduate degrees. Asian-Americans also hold the highest median household income for any racial group in the United States—at $57,518. Pacific-Island-Americans have a median household income of $51,687. Forty-six percent of Asian-Americans and twenty-three percent of Pacific-Island Americans—sixteen years of age or older—work in management or professional and related occupations.

Many organizations have formed as a result of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM). For example, in 1992 the Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association (APAHA) was formed to "promote the Asian/Pacific American culture, heritage, and awareness through celebration events and educational outreach—leading to the month of May, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month." Members of APAHA coordinate their efforts with community, cultural, and educational groups in order to provide continuing educational, cultural, and scholarship programs to the Asian/Pacific Island community in the United States.

Asian/Pacific-Island Americans have played an important role in the development of the United States. The importance of Asian/Pacific-Island Americans to the United States was first officially recognized in the 1970s. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month has come to signify a time to celebrate the contributions, heritage, and traditions of Asian/Pacific-Island Americans to America's history, culture, and society.



Asian Americans: Contemporary Trends and Issues, edited by Pyong Gap Min. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press, 2006.

The Asian Pacific American Heritage: A Companion to Literature and Arts, edited by George J. Leonard. New York: Garland Publishing, 1999.

Barringer, Herbert R. Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1993.

The New Face of Asian Pacific America, edited by Eric Lai and Dennis Arguelles. San Francisco, Calif.: Asian Week with UCLA's Asian American Studies Center Press, 2003.

Remapping Asian American History, edited by Sucheng Chan. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2003.

Web sites

Asian/Pacific American Heritage Association (APAHA). 〈〉 (accessed June 28, 2006).

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President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

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President George W. Bush and Secretary Elaine L. Chao Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month