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White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Monday, January 27, 2020

Remarks As Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
Monday, January 27, 2020
The White House, Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Derek.  You are missed as the Number 3 top official at the U. S. Department of Transportation.  But the President tapped Derek to be Executive Associate Director of OMB, where he is doing a great job for our country.

I’m so pleased to be here on this very special occasion witnessing Vice President Mike Pence swearing in the Commissioners of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American & Pacific Islanders.  I am also so delighted to see my co-chair of the White House Initiative, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Secretary of Labor Gene Scalia here as well. 

Congratulations to the new members of the White House Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who were just sworn in!   Finally!  Please also let me acknowledge Acting Deputy Commerce Secretary Karen Dunn Kelly, whose support, at the direction of Secretary Wilbur Ross, has been so essential to this White House Initiative, and the new Executive Director, Tina Wei Smith.

This auspicious occasion today is augmented by the unveiling of the new Lunar New Year “golden rat” postage stamp by U.S. Postal Service Director Mike Duncan.  The unveiling of a new stamp on the occasion of Lunar New year has become a popular annual rite for the Asian Pacific American community. Stamps honor great historical figures from American history. And they help celebrate important achievements and iconic events that have made our country what it is today.  Lunar New Year—one of the most important Asian holidays- is now among the cultural touchstones included and celebrated in this very special way.  It is an example of the diversity that makes our country so unique.

Today, Asian Pacific Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in our country, accounting for 7% of the population, or more than 23 million people.  As our presence in mainstream America grows, awareness of the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans is growing, as well.

Last May 2019, it was especially poignant for me as the U. S. Secretary of Transportation to be at the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike ceremony at Promontory Point, Utah, to commemorate the historic contributions of the 12,000 or so Chinese laborers who made the completion of the transcontinental railroad possible. The transcontinental railroad was one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in American history, connecting this vast continent from east to west and catapulting the economic development of America to the powerhouse it is today. The President paid tribute to them in his message commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Golden Spike.  Many descendants of the Chinese workers were there and they were deeply moved that their ancestors’ contributions were finally recognized at the highest levels of our government. 

Today, Asian Pacific Americans are adding so much to our country.  Asian Pacific Americans have won Nobel prizes in the sciences and the arts, flown into outer space, and designed some of our country’s most acclaimed public buildings.  Asian Pacific Americans have formed cutting-edge technology companies. And Asian Americans have been appointed to the cabinets of three U.S. Presidents.  Asian Pacific Americans are defending our freedom, as well.  34 Asian Pacific Americans have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  And in 2019, I was honored to attend the ceremony awarding the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal to the Chinese American veterans of World War II. 

So today, our community is contributing to every part of mainstream America. 

The unemployment rate for Asian Americans is an all-time low of —2.5 % in December 2019.  This is the result of hard work and the value our community places on education: approximately 61% of all Asian Pacific Americans in the workforce have a bachelor’s degree of higher. Yet the advancement of Asian Pacific Americans into top leadership positions still lags behind others. 

That’s why the President established the Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  The commission’s goal is to identify and remove the remaining obstacles to the advancement of Asian Pacific Americans in mainstream America. 

And that’s why this Administration has affirmed the principle that access to higher education must respect merit, and not diminish those who have sacrificed, invested in themselves and achieved academic excellence. This is an important issue for Asian Pacific Americans and their families, who place such a high value on education. 

So as we gather with family and friends to celebrate the Lunar New Year, there is much to celebrate.  As commissioners, each of you has a unique opportunity to help ensure that the doors of opportunity remain wide open for our community.

Lastly, let me update you on a recently announced initiative at the Department of Transportation.  In coordination with the White House, the Department has prepared AV 4.0: Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies. It explains what this Administration is doing to prepare for the transportation of the future by interacting with one of the many new technologies that has the potential to save lives, and increase access to transportation for everyone—especially seniors and people with disabilities.

Thank you so much for joining us today in celebrating Lunar New Year.  Best wishes to you and your families for a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

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