Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Forum
May 9, 2013
The lens through which we tell the story of America is not necessarily the lens that is America. That is what you are all being asked to participate in through this effort, which is, for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, how do we embrace and understand the culture, the history, the values of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in shaping who the United States is, what we have become, and where we're going. Those stories are important to tell and need to be told.
The work that you are embarking on today, to really bring or story out and weave it into the fabric of one of our greatest treasures, our national parks, is so exciting and is so representative of the President's vision of an America that really is reflective of all of us and inclusive of all of us.
We've really brought you together with a single fundamental purpose, and that is we need your help, we need your leadership, and we need your stories.
I was present at the opening of the new visitor center at Manzanar in 2002. We were showing the exhibits that had been developed in partnership with the Japanese American Citizen League and the community, the broader community, and many family members who had been incarcerated there at the camp.
I was walking abound looking at the exhibits. There was a depiction of a family in these miserable tarpaper shacks where they were essentially imprisoned for no other reason than the color of their skin. There was a little old lady standing beside me, who just happened to be there. She pointed at the picture and said, "That's me, my sister, and my mom." These stories are not history; they're present in our memories, as well.
I am proud that we've been able to get this far, but I am proudest of the fact that the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, people like you in this room, have mobilized across this nation to make this effort to preserve our culture and history successful.
It's high time. It's 2013 and we've come a long way. We have a lot more road to travel, but I certainly feel that in this day and age there's tremendous activism and movement, and it starts with our leaders and the people here on Capitol Hill. I'm thrilled. Hopefully we keep this momentum going for many years to come, generations.
To meet people from across the country who've been doing the work, telling the stories of Asian and Pacific Islanders for so long, bringing all those local, personal stories on the national level, it's amazing. It's this amazing moment that I feel really honored to witness firsthand.
We're still a small community as a whole, 17 million in a country of close to 300 million people, so we've got to stick together in order to make sure that things get done.
Thank you all for your great work, but we're going to have to keep always looking to do the work for our future generations to come. Thanks a million.