Text Version

Remarks of Commissioner Rachelle Chong
at the Federal Communications Commission's
Asian Pacific American Heritage Month
Observance Day
Washington, D.C.

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 hero.

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 Nation.

We have helped build our nation's infrastructure, ranging from the first transcontinental railroad to enduring monuments like the Vietnam War Memorial.

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 country.

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 organization.

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 for them.

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 shared goal.

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 efforts.

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.