President Obama Keynotes APAICS Gala
By: Bing Cardenas Branigin
Washington, D.C.–President Barack Obama gave the keynote address at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) 18th Annual Gala Awards Dinner, held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in this capital on May 8. The event was part of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebration.
In his remarks, President Obama said of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population, “It’s a community that’s helped make America the country it is today.” He added, “In all your families, you have stories of perseverance that are uniquely American.”
This is the first time since 2005 that the nation’s President has accepted an invitation from a major Asian American organization.
According to the latest survey, the Asian American and Pacific Islander voters could play a very vital role in the outcome of the coming elections. Largely untapped by political parties, AAPI has grown by 50 percent more in the past ten years.
The President highlighted the many contributions made by AAPI pioneers and trailblazers, dispelled the myth of the “model minority,” and reaffirmed his Administration’s commitment to address the specific needs and concerns of AAPIs.
He stressed that his administrations has strived to do more for the APAI community, in part by reestablishing the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.
The President concluded by telling the powerful story of Gordon Hirabayashi, adding he would present Hirabayashi this year with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
He remarked: “In the midst of World War ll, the son of Japanese immigrants, Gordon Hirabayashi, ignored the curfews and refused to transfer to an internment camp; when he was jailed for his defiance; when he later appealed his conviction and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court – he understood that he was fighting for something larger than himself.
“And he once said, “I never look at my case as a Japanese American case, with principles that affect the fundamental human rights of all Americans.’ And while Gordon is no longer with us, later this year I’ll award him the Presidential Medal Freedom – the highest civilian award America has to offer.”
Over a thousand guests attended the gala. Asian American and Pacific Islanders from all over the U.S. and territories were in attendance, including elected and appointed officials, Hollywood, media, and sports personalities, businessmen, civic leaders, and the youth.
Excerpts from the APAICS website follow: Before the President spoke, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Chair Rep. Judy Chu elevated the room’s energy by sharing her story as the first Chinese American woman in Congress and speaking about the AAPI community's current political growth.
Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, who co-founded APAICS, welcomed President Obama to the stage. The energy was at an all-time high as the President shared stories of living in Hawai’i and Indonesia and how the night's gala felt like a homecoming. President Obama eloquently spoke of the community's diversity from native communities to immigrant stories.
The President addressed the rich history of Asian Americans in the U.S., stressing both resilience in the face of discrimination, as well as achievement and leadership. He also spoke of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
CAPAC Chair Emeritus Rep. Mike Honda thanked the President and praised his keynote address.
With over 1,000 attendees, APAICS was honored to celebrate 18 years of leadership in the AAPI community by presenting awards to remarkable leaders: Floyd Mori, national executive director of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Karen Narasaki, immediate past president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC); and the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, a coalition of 30 Asian Pacific American organizations around the country, with the Community Leadership Award.
APAICS also honored another community leader, C.C. Yin, McDonald’s Owner/Operator, founder of Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Association (APAPA), and co-founder of the Asian McDonald’s Operators Association (AMOA). He was presented with the 2012 Corporate Achievement Award.
Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta of the U.S.Department of Interior and Assistant Secretary Howard Koh of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services attended the event, along with dozens of federal appointees. Daphne Kwok, former APAICS executive director and current chair of President Obama’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs was joined by her fellow Commissioners at the festivities.
Hollywood celebrities also attended the APAICS gala celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Among them were: gala celebrity host Leonardo Nam of The Fast and Furious 3: Tokyo Drift; actress Grace Park of Hawai'i Five-0, James Kyson of Heroes; former Olympian Michelle Kwan, Dante Basco of Hook; MSNBC Dayside Anchor Richard Lui, host of PBS “America Revealed;” Yul Kwon, comedian Dan Nainan; American Idol contestant Heejun Han, who sang the national anthem at the gala; host of Windy City Live Billy Dec; co-founder and co-chair of the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) Wenda Fong, and comedians Tou Ger Xiong and Jenny Yang.
At the end of evening, APAICS Board Chair Jim Park welcomed the new Board Chair Susan Jin Davis, Vice President of Strategic Services-Communications and Data Services of Comcast Cable.