Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Consular Corps Luncheon
September 16, 1997
It's a pleasure and an honor to address the diplomatic community in Seattle.
I'm very appreciative of the fact that your very presence here in Seattle makes a big contribution to our stature as a center of international trade and culture.
I know that increasing the international stature of Washington state is not your purpose, but I am very grateful for it anyway.
I am also very grateful for what you do intentionally - which is to represent the interests of over 30 countries here in our community.
And I have especially appreciated the gracious help of Consul General Nomoto for his help as I prepare for my first visit to Japan.
As I prepare for this mission - a trip that will include visits to Japan, China, and Hong Kong - I have been focusing on what we must do to ensure Washington's success in the international arena in the coming century.
Clearly, we have to fix our freeways if our ports are to retain their one-day advantage in travel time to the major ports of east Asia.
We also must offer assistance, education, and support to the small and medium-sized businesses that have not yet entered international markets.
And we must continue to work on the agricultural issues that currently impede the export potential of our wheat, apples and other products.
But the more I work on these issues, the more I find myself coming back to the more fundamental question of how to create the climate of public support and understanding for expanding our international relationships.
And this brings me to my most important reason to be grateful for your work in our community.
The diplomatic community represents a set of shared values: the value of communication rather than isolation; the value of engagement rather than avoidance; the value of diversity rather than conformity.
In fact, one might accurately call these virtues.
Surely it's a virtue for both people and nations to communicate with one another rather than isolating themselves.
Surely it's a virtue for both people and nations to be engaged in solving problems rather than avoiding them.
And there can be no doubt that it is a virtue to celebrate and learn from our diversity rather than clinging to the very destructive idea that one culture or nation or ethnic group is superior, and all others are inferior.
These are the virtues that the consular corps helps to promote in our community.
And these are the virtues that promote real progress in both our international relations and in the American quest for full equality in a diverse society.
America is, after all, a nation of immigrants - a nation with bonds of blood between our own citizens and the citizens of virtually every country on earth.
Each of you has a local constituency made up of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants from the countries you represent.
I want to join you in the continuing work of helping all of these constituencies celebrate and preserve their heritage.
I firmly believe that doing so strengthens our local capacity to succeed in the international arena, and, at the same time, promotes the healthy pluralism that leads to a truly egalitarian and open society.
When I was growing up here in Seattle, immigrant kids felt enormous pressure to forsake the culture and language of their parents in order to prove that we were "real" Americans.
And one result of that pressure is that I don't speak Chinese, even though it was the only language I spoke until I started kindergarten.
I know that this is going to cause great disappointment and confusion when I visit China.
And it's emblematic of the larger problem of America's well-deserved reputation as a hopelessly monolingual nation.
Where we ought to have a public outcry over the lack of foreign language instruction, we instead have a public outcry to make English our official language.
The fact that children who attend Seattle Public Schools speak over 70 different languages is often cited as a terrible problem.
And though it is certainly a challenge, we ought to consider it a precious asset as well.
And we ought to work much harder to help those kids become proficient in English without losing their capacity to speak the language of their families.
Our state is now in the process of creating a statewide, interactive telecommunications network among all our schools and colleges.
This network will make it possible for students in Forks or Ferry County to take classes that are taught at the University of Washington, or in any other school in our state.
I hope this will lead to a flowering of foreign language instruction in schools that had previously lacked the resources to offer them.
But that will only happen if we succeed at promoting the value of fluency in more than one language.
And that, in turn, will only happen if we succeed at promoting the value of diversity.
We have certainly made progress in the last half-century.
But the current attacks on affirmative action and immigration represent a renewed resistance to diversity that must be countered.
This resistance is terribly divisive and unfair to millions of Americans.
The recent rise in hate crimes against Asian-Americans is clear evidence that intolerance and racism are still life-threatening diseases in our country.
And while our state can be proud that we did not contribute to the rise in these hate crimes, we certainly mustn't become complacent.
On the contrary, we have special motivations to do more to showcase and celebrate the diversity of our past, present, and future.
This state was built with the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants from Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.
With each new wave of immigration came a new wave of innovation and progress.
Our history is the history of diversity - of African-American, English and Irish pioneers who crossed the plains in covered wagons; Scandinavian fishermen and dairy farmers; Chinese railroad-builders; and Japanese artists and vegetable-growers.
Today, ours is a vibrant, creative society because we draw on the traditions, the perspectives, and the wisdom of the whole world.
And to the extent that Seattle is a successful international city, it is largely because of this diversity.
If you need to find someone who speaks Chinese or Russian or Norwegian, you can find them here.
If you are a business person far from home, and you really long for the cuisine of your country, you can probably find that here, too.
And on the streets and in the Pike Place market you can feel the energy, the variety, and the dynamism of people cooking up new recipes, synthesizing new ideas, and creating new artistic styles from the raw material of cultural diversity.
The cultural, economic, and educational value of this rich diversity has still not been as widely understood or promoted as it ought to be.
But your presence in our community is a powerful force for helping all of us achieve a deeper level of appreciation for our wide-ranging roots.
And your presence underscores the critical link between the domestic issues of diversity, and its value as a strategic asset in international commerce.
Your presence is also a major educational resource for our children as they learn about the diversity of both their own communities and the larger world.
When inner-city kids meet a French-speaking diplomat from Africa, you can just about hear the doors of possibility opening in their minds.
When any one of you speaks in a classroom or organizes a celebration of your national holidays, children learn to enjoy diversity and to respect the traditions of others.
These events also help the children of immigrants resist the pressure to reject the culture and traditions of their families, and to find the healthy balance between assimilation and their own distinctive cultural identities.
On virtually every occasion that you work to promote international understanding, you are also helping to foster the healthy pluralism that helps to unify this nation of immigrants.
This is an immeasurable benefit to all the citizens of Washington state, as well as to the cause of international peace and understanding.
And this is the most important reason that I look forward to working with all of you in the years to come.
Thank you very much.