- From the White House to the Kennedy Center, events were held to honor the contributions of the community and recognize young leaders and change-makers.
South Asian American and Asian American elected officials, youth leaders, aspiring lawmakers, influential politicos and policymakers, and community organizers congregated in Washington D.C. last week to participate in several events to mark the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.
Celebrations began at the Rose Garden in the White House on May 17, with President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden. They were joined by Vice President Kamala Devi Harris, the first person of South Asian descent to serve as Vice President, and Katherine Tai, the first Asian American United States Trade Representative.
In their remarks, both President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris connected the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic to the Buffalo, New York shooting.
In a proclamation issued earlier this month to commemorate AAPI Heritage month, Biden said the communities are among “the fastest-growing racial and ethnic groups” in the U.S., which represent a multitude of ethnicities, languages, and experiences that enrich America and strengthen our Union.”
The following day, the festivities continued at the Willard Intercontinental in the nation’s capital as lawmakers, politicians and organizers attended a day-long summit organized by the Indian American Impact Project. Speakers explored the dreams and ambitions of South Asian Americans and ways to work together to build a more equitable, safer, and prosperous country for all.
Panelists elaborated on the summit’s theme, ‘Dream With Ambition,’ taking a cue from Vice President Kamala Devi Harris’ rousing victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 6, 2020.
Discussions centered around several pressing topics like the rise in hate crimes, immigration, climate change, healthcare, combating misinformation, increasing voter turnout, increasing LGBTQ+ awareness and creating a space and voice for oneself. Panelists talked about their personal journeys and their path to overcoming hurdles along the way. They encouraged South Asian Americans to run for office, whether at the local, district, state, or federal level, to get a spot at the table, and make a difference, using ambition and transforming it into action.
The week rounded off with the first-ever AAPI Victory Celebration and Next Generation Reception hosted by the AAPI Victory Power Fund at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., May 20. The event coincided with the first anniversary of the signing of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act to honor, and aimed to empower and mobilize the country’s fastest-growing voter bloc ahead of this year’s midterm elections.
The highlight of the evening was the address by Vice President Kamala Devi Harris. She alluded to the APPI event held earlier at the White House, and “the biggest crowd that we’ve had yet at the Rose Garden.” She said, “it was extraordinary to see the leadership — the leadership of our nation who were in attendance — from every walk, from every field — there, representing the best of who we are as a nation.” She continued: “And it was such a great tribute to the great people of our nation when we think about the leaders that were there, the leaders we remember, and — and all of those who paved a path for so many of us to be where we are today.”
The recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York and in Laguna Woods, in Dallas, Texas, highlight “the terrible human cost” of hate, racism and sexism, she said. “And I think we all are clear about the threat. There are people who believe that America is meant only for some and not for all; who scapegoat and attack people because of their race, because of their ethnicity, because of their gender; people who see diversity and inclusion as a weakness, not as the strength we all know it to be.”
She urged the attendees to take action to end an epidemic of any sort, including an epidemic of hate. “We must mobilize in support of the notion that harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us. And we must — (applause) — and we must organize against those who seek to incite violence.”
Also in attendance were Rep. Andrew N. Kim (D-N.J.), Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, actor and comedian Aasif Mandvi, and Pulitzer prize-winning Journalist, filmmaker and immigration rights activist Jose Antonio Vargas.