Thank you for the kind invitation to come and participate in your celebration commemorating the rich and diverse heritage of Asian-Pacific Americans. I want to commend our hosts who have done a magnificent job in coordinating this event.
A few years back, I was privileged, along with my Asian-Pacific colleagues on Capitol Hill, to attend a special White House ceremony where President Clinton signed an official proclamation declaring May as "National Asian- Pacific American Heritage Month."
Today, I am privileged to be here with you, sharing this occasion honoring the enduring legacy of those Americans whose roots extend from the soil of nations in the Asia and Pacific region.
Americans of Asian-Pacific descent, almost 10 million strong, are among the fastest growing demographic groups in the United States today. Over the last decade, the Asian- Pacific American community has more than doubled and this rapid growth is expected to continue well into the next century.
As many of you are aware, immigrants from the Asia- Pacific countries are amongst the newest wave to arrive in the United States in recent years. However, they are merely the latest chapter in the long history of Asian-Pacific Americans in our nation.
During this time for celebration, it is only fitting that we honor our fellow citizens of Asian-Pacific descent -- both from the past and the present -- that have blessed and enriched our nation. I submit that Asian-Pacific Americans have certainly been an asset to our country's development, and it is most appropriate that our President and Congress have recognized these achievements by establishing an Asian-Pacific Heritage Month.
The people of the Asia-Pacific have contributed much to America's development in the sciences and medicine. Nothing exemplifies this more than Time Magazine's selection of a Chinese-American in 1996 as its "Man of the Year" -- Dr. David Ho, head of the prestigious Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at New York University Medical School. Dr. Ho's journey, starting as a 12 year old immigrant from Taiwan to gracing the cover of Time Magazine, has given hope to millions of people around the world afflicted by the HIV virus. His story is a stirring testament to the significant contributions that Asian-Pacific American immigrants have made in America.
Dr. David Ho, one of the foremost AIDS scientists in the world, pioneered a treatment for HIV infection using "cocktails" of antiviral drugs, which has fundamentally changed the approach to combating AIDS, stated Time Magazine. Dr. Ho's accomplishments are a credit to the Asian-Pacific American community and more importantly restore hope to millions of patients around the world suffering from the deadly virus.
Dr. Ho's scientific advances continue a long record of service by Asian-Pacific Americans. In 1899 a Japanese immigrant arrived on the shores of this nation. After years of study and work, this man, Dr. Hideyo Noguchi, isolated the syphilis germ, leading to a cure for the deadly, wide-spread disease. For decades, Dr. Makio Murayama conducted vital research in the U.S. that laid the groundwork for combatting sickle-cell anemia. In 1973, Dr. Leo Esaki, an Asian immigrant to our country, was awarded the Nobel prize in physics for his electron tunneling theories. And, in engineering, few have matched the architectural masterpieces created by the genuis of Chinese-American, I. M. Pei.
In the fields of business and commerce, the names of prominent Asian-Pacific American corporate leaders and legal scholars are too numerous to mention. One only need read our nation's top periodicals and newspapers to document that Asian-Pacific American students -- both in secondary schools and universities -- are among the brightest minds our nation has produced.
In the entertainment field and sports, American martial arts expert Bruce Lee captivated the movie audiences of this nation, while destroying the stereotype of the passive, quiet Asian male. World-class conductor Seiji Ozawa has lead the San Francisco Symphony through brilliant performances over the years.
A Native-Hawaiian named Duke Kahanamoku shocked the world by winning the Olympic gold medal in swimming seven decades ago; followed by Dr. Sammy Lee, a Korean-American who won the Olympic gold medal in high diving. Then there was Tommy Kono of Hawaii, also an Olympic gold medalist in weightlifting. And, yes, perhaps the greatest Olympic diver ever known to the world, a Samoan- American by the name of Greg Louganis -- whose record in gold medals and national championships will be in the books for a long time. Japanese-American Kristi Yamaguichi's and Chinese-American Michelle Kwan's enthralling ice-skating performances at the Winter Olympics continue the legacy of milestone achievements by Asian-Pacific Americans.
In professional sports, of course, we have Michael Chang blazing new paths in tennis, Pacific-Islanders Brian Williams and Michael Jones of World Rugby, and the tens of dozens of Polynesian-Americans -- like All-Pro Samoan linebacker, Junior Seau, and Jesse Sapolu of the San Francisco Forty-Niners -- who have made their mark as players in the National Football League. In professional boxing, we have David Tua, a fast-rising Samoan, who is now ranked 4th in the World Heavyweight Division.
One of the brightest stars to emerge recently from our community is Tiger Woods, a professional golfer who has identified himself as Asian-American due to his mother's Thai ancestry. In routing the field at the Masters Tournament last year, Tiger made history. Before his career is finished, he will reinvent the game of golf.
We also have Asian-Pacific Americans who are making their mark on history, not in our country, but in the Far East. Samoan-American Salevaa Atisanoe is a 578-pound sumo wrestler in Japan who goes by the name of Konishiki. Salevaa, or Konishiki, incidentally, also happens to be a relative of mine. Konishiki was the first foreigner in Japan's centuries-old sport to break through to the rarified air of sumo's second-highest rank. Another Samoan/Tongan- American, Leitani Peitani -- known in Japan as Musashimaru - - has also gained prominence as a sumo wrestler.
Native-Hawaiian Chad Rowen, or Akebono as he is known in Japan, has scaled even greater heights in sumo by attaining the exalted status of Yokozuna or grand champion. Until this Polynesian-American arrived on the scene, no foreigner had ever been permitted to assume this sacred position, as the Japanese associate the Yokozuna with the essence of Shinto's guardian spirits. The ascendancy to grand champion sumo status goes to the heart of the Japanese religion and culture.
In honoring Asian-Pacific Americans that have served to enrich our country, I would be remiss, as a Vietnam veteran, if I did not honor the contributions of the Japanese-Americans who served in the U.S. Army's 100th Battalion and 442nd Infantry Combat Group. History speaks for itself in documenting that none have shed their blood more valiantly for America than the Japanese-Americans who served in these units while fighting enemy forces in Europe during World War II.
The records of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Infantry are without equal. These Japanese-American units suffered an unprecedented casualty rate of 314%, and received over 18,000 individual decorations, many awarded post-humously, for bravery and courage in battle.
Given the tremendous sacrifice of lives, a high number of medals were awarded the unit. Fifty-two Distinguished Service Crosses, 560 Silver Stars and 9,480 Purple Hearts were given. I find it unusual, however, that only one Medal of Honor was awarded. Nonetheless, the 442nd Combat Group emerged as the most decorated combat unit of its size in the history of the United States Army. President Truman was so moved by their bravery in the field of battle, as well as that of Black American soldiers during WWII, that he issued an executive order to desegregate the Armed Services.
I am proud to say that we can count the Honorable Daniel K. Inouye and the late, highly-respected senator, Spark Matsunaga, both from Hawaii, as Members from Congress that distinguished themselves in battle as soldiers with the 100th Battalion and 442nd Infantry.
It was while fighting in Europe that Senator Inouye lost his arm and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest medal for bravery.
These Japanese-Americans paid their dues in blood to protect our nation from its enemies. It is a shameful black mark on the history of our country that when the patriotic survivors of the 100th Battalion and 442nd Infantry returned to the U.S., many were reunited with their parents, brothers and sisters who were locked-up behind barbed-wire fences, living in concentration camps. You might be interested to know, my colleagues on the hill, Congressman Robert Matsui and former Representative Norman Mineta, were children of the concentration camps.
The wholesale and arbitrary abolishment of the constitutional rights of these loyal Japanese-Americans will forever serve as a reminder and testament that this must never be allowed to occur again. When this miscarriage of justice unfolded during WWII, Americans of German and Italian ancestry were not similarly jailed en masse. Some declare the incident as an example of outright racism and bigotry in its ugliest form. After viewing the Holocaust Museum in Washington, I understand better why the genocide of 6 million Jews has prompted the cry, "Never Again." Likewise, I sincerely hope that mass internments on the basis of race will never again darken the history of our great nation.
To those that say, well, that occurred decades ago, I say we must continue to be vigilant in guarding against such evil today.
Not long ago we had the case of Bruce Yamashita, a Japanese-American from Hawaii who was discharged from the Marine Corps officer training program in an ugly display of racial discrimination. Marine Corps superiors taunted Yamashita with ethnic slurs and told him, "We don't want your kind around here. Go back to your own country." The situation was made worse by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Carl E. Mundy, who appeared on televison's "Sixty Minutes" and stated, "Marine officers who are minorities do not shoot, swim or use compasses as well as white officers."
After years of perseverance and appeals, Mr. Yamashita was vindicated after proving he was the target of vicious racial harrassment during his officer training program. The Secretary of the Navy's investigation into whether minorities were deliberately being discouraged from becoming officers resulted in Bruce Yamashita receiving his commission as a captain in the Marine Corps.
I am also greatly disturbed by events of the past year involving campaign funding, where the integrity of the Asian-Pacific American community has been unfairly tarnished in the media for the alleged transgressions of a few.
I find this racial scapegoating to be repugnant and morally objectionable. Playing up fears of the "Asian Connection" serves to alienate Asian-Pacific Americans from participating in our political process. Moreover, this negative reporting acts to marginalize Asian-Pacific American political empowerment at a time when we are coming of age in American politics.
Perhaps these attacks are a convenient way to ostracize a growing American political force. When Whites raise money from Whites, it is called gaining political power, but when Asian-Pacific Americans begin to participate, we are accused of being foreigners trying to infiltrate the mainstream of our nation's political system. On this note, remember the Oklahomoa City bombing incident? Americans of Arab descent were immediately targeted and investigated by local federal law enforcement agencies. It's wrong!
However, this is nothing new. One need only look at the history of this country to see that the scapegoating of Asian-Pacific Americans as foreigners has been used as an excuse to burn down Asian-Pacific communities in the 1880s, deny Asian-Pacific Americans the right to own land, marry our own kind and practice many professions in the early 1900s.
To protect America's greatness, we should all be sensitive to the fact that democratic participation by people of all races and backgrounds, including Asian-Pacific Americans, is crucial to our nation's health and vitality.
In concluding, I think Bruce Yamashita's case and the hysteria surrounding Asian-Pacific American political contributions bear implications not just for the military and the media but for our society as a whole. It asks the question, how long do we have to endure the attitude of those who consider Asian-Pacific Americans and other minorities as lesser Americans?
I applaud Captain Yamashita and others like him who have spoken out to ensure that racial discrimination is not tolerated. During this month as we recognize the diverse experiences and contributions of the Asian-Pacific American community to our great nation, I would hope that we all take inspiration from his example.
With that in mind, I would like to close my remarks by asking what is America all about? I think it could not have been said better than on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when Martin Luther King said, "I have a dream. My dream is that one day my children will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
When I envision America, I don't see a melting pot designed to reduce and remove racial differences. The America I see is a brilliant rainbow -- a rainbow of ethnicities and cultures, with each people proudly contributing in their own distinctive and unique way.
That is what America is all about, and Asian-Pacific Americans wish to find a just and equitable place in our society that will allow them -- like all Americans -- to grow, succeed, achieve and contribute to the advancement of this great nation as we enter the next century, the "Pacific Century."