Remarks of Commissioner Rachelle Chong
at the Federal Communications Commission's
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
May 21, 1997
Good morning. It is a great honor and pleasure to be with you to celebrate
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the Federal Communications Commission.
Honoring our Community
One hundred and fifty years ago, the first Asian Pacific Americans came to the
shores of this country. It was during the 1849 Gold Rush that my paternal great-
grandfather left China to seek his fortune in California, the so-called Gold Mountain.
He supported his family in China by performing difficult manual labor. He eventually
returned to lay his bones to rest in China, but he wisely sent his son, my grandfather,
to the Gold Mountain to seek his own fortune. My grandfather rose from busboy to
shopkeeper. Eventually, he was allowed to bring a wife over, and like their many
fellow Chinese immigrants, they worked long hours to send all four children, including
my father, to college.
On my mother's side is a similar story involving my grandfather. But the real
hero of this story is my maternal grandmother, Rose Ah Tye, a devoted mother to 15
children. When she was widowed, she singlehandedly raised those 15 children to be
outstanding citizens. During World War II, she had six gold stars in her window
representing the six sons she had in the service at once. At barely 5 feet tall, she
was a dynamo -- the pillar of the St. Marks Chinese Methodist Church. She was my
Today, we honor the memory and the courage of all those brave Asian Pacific
immigrants, and of the generations that have followed. Because of their countless
sacrifices and dreams of a better life for their children, we celebrate the many
achievements of Asian Pacific Americans in every facet of modern life.
Today, our community forms a vibrant and diverse community of 10 million
strong. We are proud, because we have played a critical role in building this great
We have helped build our nation's infrastructure, ranging from the first
transcontinental railroad to enduring monuments like the Vietnam War
We have turned wilderness into bountiful farmland, in places as diverse as the
sugar cane fields of Hawaii, to the farms of the Central Valley of California
where I was raised.
We have created new industries, ranging from fishing and salmon canning in
the Pacific Northwest, to the new services of cyberspace.
While some have tried to dub us the "model minority," our path to success has
not been as easy as that label suggests. For one thing, our community's profile has
been shaped by historical immigration and refugee policies. Take, for example, the
1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1907 "Gentlemen's Agreement" with Japan, and the
National Origins Act of 1924, all of which effectively banned large scale Asian
immigration until Congress lifted these restrictions in 1965. Today, our community
represents 3% of the nation's population, and our community is one of the fastest
growing in the nation.
Asian Pacific Americans have also long battled restrictions that prevented us
from owning property. Alien land laws passed in many Western and Southern states
early in this century prevented Asian Americans from realizing the very heart of the
American dream, home ownership.
Finally, our community has long battled for civil rights. A shameful moment in
our nation's history is the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans from the West
Coast and Hawaii during World War II. It was not until the Civil Liberties Act of 1988
that 65,000 surviving Japanese Americans received redress payments and a national
apology for this terrible injustice.
Despite this history of adversity, our community has grown and thrived. Today,
we have many role models that are national leaders in business, education, arts,
industry and sports. Many are economically successful due to our focus on hard
work and education. Meanwhile, new immigrants continue to pour in from Southeast
Asia and other places, creating new challenges for our community.
Today's Challenge for the Community
Today, we continue to fight prejudice and racial stereotypes. No matter what
our accomplishments, it pains me to note that we apparently still look "foreign" to
some. Hate crimes are still directed towards members of our community. In fact,
hate crimes against Asian Americans grew from 335 incidents in 1993 to 458
incidents in 1995, a 37% increase in two years. This is a disturbing trend.
Anti-Asian sentiments and "Yellow Peril" fears still appear as themes in the
media and in politics. You need look no further than the front pages of our nation's
newspapers for evidence of this. I am speaking, of course, of the campaign
fundraising controversy. Regrettably, this controversy continues to have a serious,
negative impact on our community's image. It is particularly distressing to me that
ethnic stereotypes have reared their ugly heads in connection with this controversy.
As a prime example of such stereotypes, the National Review magazine ran a
cover in March depicting a slanted-eye and "coolie" hatted President, a bucked teeth
and Communist-garbed First Lady, and a Buddhist monk-attired Vice President, over
the headline "The Manchurian Candidates."
I join my fellow Asian Pacific Americans in expressing personal outrage over
this tasteless and offensive depiction. I am proud that our community -- joined by
other minority communities -- have united in a bipartisan manner to protest this cover,
and to speak out against the perpetration of hurtful racial stereotypes.
Our community has appropriately and reasonably asked that politicians and the
media ensure that their actions and statements describing this controversy do not
unfairly impugn our entire community. We have asked that they recognize that there
is a difference between foreign born Asians and Asian Pacific Americans. We have
asked that they distinguish between the legitimate political activity of APAs, and any
alleged illegal or improper activity. We have asked that members of our community
not be made "guilty by association" with key figures in the controversy.
In sum, we have asked for fairness to the APA community in covering this
story. It is a reasonable thing to ask, and I hope the media and politicians will hear
our concerns and act responsibly.
The APA Community and Politics
While I believe that this campaign fundraising issue will eventually pass, I
remain concerned that it could have a profound and negative impact on Asian Pacific
American participation in the political process. I think it would be terrible if this
scandal serves to discourage APAs from our rightful role in the governance of our
In the past century and a half, our community has been slow to participate
actively in American electoral politics. We had long been the silent minority, allowing
others to decide our fate.
However, while there were only 1.5 million APAs in 1970, we now have 7.3
million in 1990. Based on recent trends, the APA population is projected to reach
over 20 million by the year 2020. This is a growth of approximately 145% in a
quarter century. Given this stunning growth, our community has slowly realized that
our strength lies in our growing numbers. And to tap this strength requires political
And so, in the last two decades, our community has become a rising tide -- a
political force with whom to be reckoned. Congressman Jay Kim earlier talked to us
about our need to get out the vote. Recent voter registration and "get out the vote"
efforts have been fairly successful. In addition, we are seeing the number of elected
APA officials continuing to skyrocket, from a handful twenty years ago to over 300
officials in 1996.
One of my key messages today is that we must not falter from this course, if
we wish to ensure that our community has a role when the major political affairs of
the nation are decided. As a community, we must continue to seek out and support
APA qualified political candidates. We must continue to request that APAs be
appointed to important policy positions in local, state and federal government. We
must teach our children that public service is an option, and that the sky is the limit
So, please make it your personal goal to further our collective political clout. If
you aren't involved in politics yet, get involved! As Washingtonians, you can help our
voice be heard by key federal policymakers.
How can you be more involved in the political process? Follow the issues,
attend community meetings, and speak out. Take part in grassroot efforts like letter
writing campaigns. Contribute articles to APA newsletters or web sites about what's
going on in Washington. Let's make national empowerment of our community be our
Getting the Community Ready for the Information Age
My final topic this morning has to do with the unique expertise that the FCC
employees in this room happen to have. Collectively, we have a tremendous amount
of knowledge about telecommunications and information technology. We are really
the brain trust of the APA community on the Information Age.
I challenge each of you to help educate our community about the tremendous
benefits of telecommunications and information technology. If we can achieve this
goal, our community have a chance to use technology more effectively. This will
keep us better linked and better informed.
To be more specific, let's get out and educate our community, especially
community-based organizations, about the power of the Information Superhighway.
Let's face it. One of the difficulties of getting unified national APA community
action is the fact that we are geographically separated in places like Hawaii, San
Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Guam or Washington. Through the establishment
and use of Internet E-mail, bulletin boards, and web sites, Asian Pacific Americans
with similar interests can overcome this distance. More immediate communication
will enhance our feeling of community and help us be more effective in our political
To be successful, we should first target the education of the leadership of
community-based organizations. We need to educate them about why an investment
in technology will pay off. We need to let them know that Internet E-mail is a
lightening fast and inexpensive way to get the word out. Through the Internet, APAs
can launch letter writing campaigns and other grass root political efforts within hours.
Through bulletin boards, community members can share information on topics
of interest. Already, Asian American health organizations are using the Net to get
urgent health information to the community in Asian languages. Web sites also help
attract new members to community based organizations and keep them updated on
activities and hot issues.
As an action plan, please think about where your knowledge lies and what you
can do to help. Perhaps you have the technical knowledge to help a community-
based organization get on line or set up a web site. Maybe you can help a group put
on a fundraiser to raise money to buy computers and modems. Or maybe you can
help a group fill out the forms to obtain a grant for technology. Maybe you can
volunteer to speak to an organization you belong to about the importance and power
of communications technology.
As FCC employees who understand telecommunications and information
technologies, this may be our opportunity to give a unique gift to our community.
Whatever your talent is, use it. Let's get our community on line for the exciting
Information Age that we have helped create here at the FCC!
In closing, I wanted to take this opportunity to thank each of you. I have never
forgotten that the base of my support has been from my community. Thank you for
your enthusiasm when I became the first Asian Pacific American Commissioner three
years ago, and for your unwavering support through the years, particularly in the last
few months. I couldn't have done it without you!
Thank you very much.