Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Asian-American Journalists' Association
August 15, 1997
It's wonderful to be here.
As the husband of an Asian-American journalist, I already feel like part of the family here - even if only an in-law.
And family is important to us.
For my family and I, the last three years have been a whirlwind.
It was just three years ago that Mona and I were married.
It was just a year ago in March that we decided to run for governor.
And in just the last few months, I've become the bearer to two important titles: Governor, and Dad.
And I have to tell you that although I'm deeply honored to be governor,
the more important title to me is Dad.
Our little Emily was born last March.
And even before she was born, Hillary Clinton offered to babysit.
We were honored to be invited to the Washington, D. C. -- we call that "the other Washington" -- for the Presidents' inaugural.
And in that speech, the President said something that has really stayed with me.
He pointed out that with only a thousand days left till the beginning of a new century, the children born now will have scarcely any memory of this one.
They will truly be children of the 21st century.
I think of that often when I look at Emily.
Her presence in our lives has given Mona and I a new orientation to thinking about both the history of our family, and our future.
And it defines for me the challenge of being governor -- the challenge of ensuring that for Emily, and for all the other children of the 21st century,
our state will continue to be a great place to live, work, and raise a family.
More recently, we shared a family occasion that made us reflect on the seamlessness of the future and the past.
Just a couple of Sundays ago, we celebrated my Dad's 80th birthday, and my parents' 50th wedding anniversary.
Our family's history in America began in the late 1880s, when my grandfather came to this country and worked as a servant for a family that lived in a house that's still standing, about a mile from where I now live in the Governor's mansion.
His purpose was to get an education, and so the family he worked for agreed to teach him English in return for his work.
Like everyone else in our family, my grandfather worked hard and studied hard, and eventually he returned to China, married, and had ten children.
My Dad and all of my aunts and uncles were born in China, buteventually the whole family returned to Washington state.
My Dad fought for this country in World War II and participated in the Normandy invasion.
My Mom immigrated from Hong Kong, and I learned English with her as she studied for her citizenship test by reading newspapers and the Readers' Digest.
For me, public school was total culture shock.
My elementary school was about 30% immigrant kids from the Philippines, Japan, China.
And I distinctly remember our third grade teacher, who would interrogate all of us each day about what we had for breakfast.
If we reported eating what she considered un-American foods - like Chinese rice porridge - she would slap our hands.
I remember one Italian kid getting his hands slapped for reporting that he had sips of coffee with his breakfast, too.
It's a wonder we didn't all become accomplished liars, but at the time, we were too little to know how to defend ourselves.
Experiences like those did take their toll, and a lot of the immigrant kids of my generation became embarrassed and ashamed of our parents' cultures.
We went overboard to become 110% American.
And in the rush to embrace the American lifestyle, we stopped speaking the languages of our parents.
These are things I now deeply regret.
And I know that I disappoint a lot of people who expect me to speak Chinese.
But what my parents wanted for all us kids was for us to do well in school.
As I was growing up, Mom and Dad ran a small restaurant, and later a little grocery store that was open seven days a week.
After school, we sat in the back of the store and did our homework diligently.
And in spite of all our difficulties, my whole family stayed focused on three things: getting a good education, working hard, and taking care of each other.
And in the end, we have been blessed with opportunities that would not have been available to us in any other country.
My family story is no different than millions of other American family stories.
Over the past 500 years, immigrants from every corner of the earth have come to this country to find hope, opportunity, and freedom.
And together with Native Americans and the descendants of African-Americans who came here in chains, we are creating the first universal nation on earth.
Our national history may be full of moral lapses, and contradictions of our constitutional ideals.
But the principles of our constitution have been as constant as the north star in guiding the American journey towards equality, justice, and pluralism.
And the story of America's journey proves that moral progress is possible.
This is America's gift to the world.
And this is the gift that all of us must work to sustain, protect, and advance in the new century that our children will inhabit.
Our country is always a work in progress.
And as this country's first Chinese-American governor, I am honored to be an emblem of that progress.
I am also proud to be the governor of a pioneer state that has a long history of electing women and people of color, in spite of the fact that we are a small percentage of the population.
In the primary election last fall, the top two vote-getters in the governor's race were myself and Norm Rice, the African-American mayor of Seattle.
Between the two of us, we captured over 40% of the vote in a field of 15 candidates.
I like to think that our Washington retains the spirit of openness, adventure, and community that were the hallmarks of its first people and its first immigrants.
But I am also acutely aware that all pioneers face special challenges, and an extra measure of public and historical scrutiny.
So I have a special motivation to do well.
Some of that special motivation comes from the Asian-American community itself.
When I visit schools and meet Asian-American kids, for instance,
I can see the way their eyes widen, and feel the importance to them of having "one of their own" hold the title of governor.
My presence enlarges their sense of what will be possible in their own lives, and that's something I cherish very deeply.
Because I'm a "first," I'm also the subject of a lot of national and international attention.
This has been, as you might imagine, a mixed blessing.
I unavoidably disappoint a lot of organizations and individuals whose invitations I cannot accept because of time constraints.
And I know that I disappoint those who expect me to support every issue that any other Asian-American supports.
To give just one example, I didn't exempt non-English speakers from the time limits of our new welfare reform law, and I know that upset some of my supporters.
But most painful to me, my ethnicity has meant that my campaign has been targeted for special scrutiny because of the fact that I had so many Asian-American contributors across the country.
You certainly have to wonder, with all the controversy over national campaign contributions by John Huang and others, whether contributions from Danish-Americans or French-Americans would arouse the same level of scrutiny.
But there are positives, too - positives that will benefit our entire state.
I've been invited to meet with heads of state in Japan, China and Great Britain, and to speak to important national audiences like this one.
My Asian-ness will help my state strengthen its ties to the dynamic economies of the Pacific Rim.
And the mere fact of my celebrity gives me special opportunities to promote the moral renewal of America - the renewal of the values of
active citizenship, loyalty to family, community and country, compassion for others, and personal responsibility.
Being the son of Asian-American immigrants also affects me not just in the way I am perceived by others, but in the substance of what I perceive, and what I stand for.
When Washington state enacted our version of welfare reform,
I made it clear that I would refuse to sign any proposal that didn't treat legal immigrants equally.
The result is that our law commits $107 million of state funding to ensure that past, present, and future legal immigrants will be accorded the same rights and the same obligations as any other person in need.
And when our legislature passed a measure that would have established separate, lower housing standards for migrant farm workers, I vetoed it,
and called on all those involved to come back to the table and find a better solution to the problem.
All that's new and unique about my role as Governor reflects the stage of America's development today: We have come a long way since the time that covered wagons headed west, but we are still pioneering.
We are still breaking new ground, and blazing new trails.
And the challenge to all Americans today is to make as much progress in our generation as was made by our parents and our grandparents.
We thought, for instance, that when we won redress for the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, our country would have learned that it is wrong to judge and punish an entire ethnic group
for actions that were taken by people in their country of origin.
But when American hostages were taken in Iran, thousands of Iranian-Americans became the targets of hate and suspicion.
And when the federal building in Oklahoma City was bombed, the instant urge was to go arrest an Arab-American.
Some lessons have to be taught many times before they are really learned.
But learning those lessons is becoming more urgent with every passing year.
We know that in the coming century, America will become even more diverse, and that eventually, there will be no ethnic majority in our country.
And that means that we need to work harder to strengthen the ties that bind America together, and to overcome the prejudices and misunderstandings that divide us.
Our country is bound together by the ideals on which its founders staked their lives and honor: the ideals of equality, opportunity, and democracy.
To live out the promises of those ideals, we urgently need to develop a strong national consensus that promotes the value of diversity and the practice of good citizenship and democracy.
This is both incredibly complicated, and very simple.
It is complicated because our country's ethnic composition is becoming more varied with every passing year.
And it's complicated because, as President Clinton has said, we just haven't had the national dialogue we need to help people come to terms with the changes we're going through.
But the fundamental ideas of diversity and democracy are very simple.
We can be enriched by our differences, and bound together by what we have in common.
The simplest example of this is that there are many recipes for fried chicken in America.
In my family, there's a famous recipe known as Mama Locke's fried chicken.
It starts with marinating the chicken in soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger.
In other communities in America, the recipe for fried chicken starts by marinating the chicken in buttermilk, or beer, or heaven knows what else.
Some people fry their chicken in olive oil; some use corn oil; still others wouldn't dream of using anything but lard.
But the point is that across all the states of America, we can have a thousand recipes for fried chicken, and still be one nation.
We can all work for the common good -- to ensure that there's a chicken in every pot -- and leave it to each family to decide how it's cooked.
And we can all be enriched by the opportunity to try other families' recipes, and to enjoy a variety of flavors.
We can live out this vision if we all agree on the ground rules of
personal responsibility, civility, and a rigorous pursuit of equal opportunity and open-mindedness.
And we have to remember that America belongs to all of us - not just to those whose families have been here the longest, or to those who have connections, or to those who never suffered the indignity of slavery, exclusion, or defeat.
If we take the time to listen to each others' family stories, and to learn from all the lessons of our family histories, we can show the world a path towards peace.
And your role as the story-tellers of the American family is critical.
All Americans depend on you to help us understand where we have been,
and how the choices we're confronted with today will affect where we are going.
Your role is to remind us of our weaknesses, so that we can work to overcome them.
We depend on you to probe the policies that our leaders propose, and to find and introduce us to the families who will be affected by them.
We look to you to measure the distance between what America stands for, and where we're actually standing.
And we look to you to educate us, so that we can cope with the accelerating pace of social, economic, and technological change.
More than anything else, democracy depends on the existence of an educated, informed citizenry.
And you are a vital source of the information that keeps democracy alive, and helps us gradually close the distance between our ideals and our daily lives.
In my family, we joke about the one-mile distance between the house where my grandfather worked as a servant,
and the Governor's mansion where my wife and daughter and I now live.
It's taken my family over a hundred years to travel just that one mile.
But it's been a journey that could only take place in the United States of America.
We progressed because we held fast to our faith in the American ideals of hope, opportunity, and equality.
And we were able to overcome the barriers of discrimination and discouragement because my grandparents and my parents knew the value of education, hard work, loyalty, and personal responsibility.
It is through stories like ours - and the untold stories of millions of other families -- that America becomes what it is.
And it is the story-tellers like you who have the power to shape a culture,
to create a common bond, and to help build a united nation.
Yours is a very powerful profession.
And I hope you will use your power to keep moving America forward -
for all the children of the 21st century -- with good will, good humor, and hard work.
I wish every one of you great success.
And I thank you for including me in this special occasion.