US Vice-President Joe Biden called on Asian-Pacific Americans to continue fighting for their civil rights, saying many in the group still face discrimination in housing, employment, education and access to healthcare, and are targeted in hate crimes.
“Equal treatment for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, the work Danny [Inouye] and so many of this generation did is on you. The job is not over,” Biden told hundreds of attendees at a Wednesday night gala for civic leaders in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community.
The former senator was emotional in recalling the fight for equal rights by his one-time colleague, Daniel Inouye, who died in December at age 88. Inouye, a Japanese-American who was born in Hawaii, was a decorated US Army veteran of World War II, winning the Medal of Honor before going on to a 53-year career in Congress.
The annual awards dinner for the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, or APAICS, which President Barack Obama addressed last year, is a highlight of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. The celebration of one the fastest-growing US immigrant communities was one week long when established in 1978 and extended to a full month, May, in 1992.
May was chosen because the first Japanese immigrants arrived in the US on May 7, 1843, and because construction of the Transcontinental Railroad was officially completed on May 10, 1869. Most of the workers who laid the tracks were immigrants from China.
Celebrations are taking place across the country. In Washington, public television channel WETA is airing documentaries on legendary architect I.M. Pei; Hollywood’s first Asian-American movie star, Anna May Wong; and the possibility that Chinese explorers discovered America in 1421, seven decades before Christopher Columbus.
Many of the museums that are part of Washington’s Smithsonian Institution have also organized special exhibits, performances and talks to commemorate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
On May 18, the National Asian Heritage Festival, a street fair, will fill a three-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, between the White House and the US Capitol, with food, dancing and art.
“Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month is a time for our country to celebrate the ways in which generations of Asian-Pacific Americans have contributed to the vibrancy of our nation,” said US Representative Judy Chu.
Chu introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives last month to recognize Asian-Pacific Americans’ contribution to the US. A similar resolution is expected to be sponsored in the US Senate by Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
“Americans from Asia and the Pacific Islands have risen above hardship, prejudice and outright persecution to become an indelible part of the American story,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement recognizing the May heritage event. “For generations, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have dedicated their lives to developing and defending the heritage of our country. Today, they are defining our country’s future as leaders in business and government, athletics and public service.”
A Pew Research Center survey released in 2012 and updated last month shows that Asian-Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the US.
“They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success,” the survey’s authors wrote.
Asians have passed Hispanics as the largest group of new immigrants to the US. More than 6 in 10 adults from 25 to 64 years old who have immigrated to the US from Asia in recent years have at least a bachelor’s degree. That’s double the level among recent non-Asian arrivals, according to the Pew survey.
Whereas a century ago most Asian-Americans were low-skilled, low-wage workers living in ethnic enclaves who were often targets of discrimination, today’s immigrants are the most likely of any major racial or ethnic group in the US to live in mixed neighborhoods and intermarry, the survey found.