White House celebrates contributions of Asian Americans

Vice President Kamala Harris addressing the gathering on May 13, 2024, at the White House in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

On May 13, 2024, during a reception to celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage (AANHPI) Month, at the White House Rose Garden, Vice President Kamala Harris acknowledged her mother, Chennai-born Shyamala Gopalan’s “character, strength, and determination” as the foundation that enabled her to serve as Vice President.

Harris said, “My mother arrived in the United States from India when she was 19 years old, by herself, never having been to America. My mother had two goals in her life to raise her two daughters, my sister Maya and me, and to end breast cancer. She was a breast cancer researcher,” adding, “My mother never asked anyone’s permission to pursue her dreams. And it is because of her character, strength, and determination that within one generation, I stand before you as Vice President.”

Noting that “The true measure of strength is based on who you lift up,” Harris cautioned at present, extremists are striving to sow division within the nation and “bully pulpits” use their power to fuel “xenophobia and hate, including anti-Asian hate.”

“We see a full-on assault, state by state on our most fundamental freedoms and rights. The freedom to vote, the freedom to live safe from the horror of gun violence, the freedom from hate and bigotry, the freedom to love who you love openly and with pride, the freedom to learn and acknowledge our true and full history and the freedom of women to make decisions about their own body and not have their government tell them what to do,” Harris added.

President Joe Biden addressing the gathering on May 13, 2024, at the White House in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

President Joe Biden joked, “My name is Joe Biden. I work for Kamala Harris. I asked her to be my Vice President. I knew I needed somebody smarter than me.”

“You represent how we are as a nation of immigrants, nation of dreamers, nation of freedom. That’s the America we share. We made incredible progress together…” Biden told the gathering noting, “By the way, I proposed the most comprehensive immigration reform bill in decades. It includes a pathway to citizenship for dreamers and expands the number of green cards. So, more families can build American dream together. And Congress has to act and do the right thing…”

Biden mentioned that President Donald Trump “brags” about his efforts to overturn Roe v Wade. However, Kamala and I remain committed to persistently fight until it is reinstated as the prevailing law of the land.

Biden pointed out, “While we fight for comprehensive immigration reforms, he [Trump] calls immigrants’ rapists and murderers. He says they’re not people. They’re not people. He says immigrants are poisoning the blood of our country. Folks, my predecessor wants a country just for some of us. We want a country for all of us.”

During the White House reception, the patriotic song, “Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara,” was played and Indian dishes such as Paani puri and Khoya were served to the guests.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the White House Initiative and President’s Advisory Commission on AANHPI, on May 13th a special celebration titled, ‘Lasting Legacies’ was held at the Andrew. W. Mellon auditorium.

During the event, Secretary of US Department of Health and Human Services, Xavier Becerra talked about the importance of disaggregating data of the AANHPI community and warned about the increasing hate crimes.

“We always have known that there is always hate out there and that sometimes it translates to criminal conduct. But more and more we’re seeing that hate crime visited on particular individuals because of what they look like or what they sound like. And this is something that this commission has taken with a vengeance to address… I give all of you a great deal of credit and certainly the commissioners who have really pushed the envelope.”

U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Katherine Tai recognized the work of AANHPI leaders in the Biden administration including Vice President Kamala Harris, Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Arati Prabhakar, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Chair of the Domestic Policy Council and Domestic Policy Advisor to the President, Neera Tanden. Tai also recalled the work of first Asian Americans elected to serve in Congress including Representative Dalip Singh Saund, and Patsy Mink, and the first Asian American to serve in the President’s Cabinet, Secretary Norman Mineta.

To continue their legacies, Tai emphasized, “Our administration is fighting against anti AANHPI hate and violence. We are empowering members of our community, our workers, and small businesses to succeed and we are improving language access. We are pursuing at my agency, a worker centered trade policy to deliver more equitable economic outcomes for our communities.”

Neera Tanden addressing the gathering on May 13, 2024, at the Andrew. W. Mellon auditorium in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

As Chair of the President’s Domestic Policy Council, Tanden noted, “We oversee a range of policies, education, health care, crime, immigration, and equity overall. And a priority for us is to make sure the government really represents the needs and views of all Americans – and important to me has been ensuring that the voices of the AANHPI community are at the table.”

Dr. Vivek Murthy playing drums at the Healing and Connecting through Music performance on May 13, 2024, at the Andrew. W. Mellon auditorium in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

Underscoring the determination of immigrants who came to this country braving “unimaginable hardship” Dr. Murthy, on the occasion of Mother’s Day, recalled his parents’ story and the “harrowing journeys” they undertook to come to the United States, like many others.

Dr. Murthy said, “My grandfather, who was a poor farmer, in a small village in South India, could never have dreamed that one day his grandson, would be asked by the President to look out for the health of an entire nation. That is the power and the promise of America.”

From Left, Miss/Mrs New Jersey and New York winners, Sonia Kaur, Divya Srivastava, Pooja Patel, Sraddha Khare, Divya Frank, and Pooranee Ramesh with Ajay Bhutoria on May 13, 2024, at the Andrew. W. Mellon auditorium in Washington DC. PHOTO: T. Vishnudatta Jayaraman, News India Times

AANHPI Commissioner, Ajay Bhutoria told News India Times, “The Commission has been advocating for issues important to the community around advancing economic equality, data disaggregation, language access, Green Card backlog, H1B visa stamping,” while commending the work of Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Krystal Ka‘ai, Deputy Assistant to the President, Erika Moritsugu, and others.



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