Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Asian-American Community Luncheon, Washington, D.C.
October 30, 1997
Thank you all very much for coming today.
It's good to be able to spend time together - especially when it involves sharing a good meal.
I'm really grateful to the organizers of this luncheon, and to all my friends here in what we call "the other Washington."
And I'm glad to have a chance to tell you what's been going on in my life since I was last in town.
As many of you know, becoming Governor was not actually the biggest thing in my life this year.
The biggest thing in my life was becoming a Dad.
So I want to report that Emily is doing things Mona and I find incredibly exciting - like rolling over, and starting to crawl.
As you may have heard, I made my first trip as Governor to Japan and China just a couple of weeks ago.
And while we were there, I had dreams that Emily started walking while we were away.
Since she's just starting to crawl, I knew that wasn't possible, but the idea that I might miss her first step was very troubling.
So we were never so glad to get home.
It was a wonderful, inspiring, and productive trip.
I was deeply honored by the opportunity to meet with President Jiang Zemin.
And I was successful in my mission, which was to establish the relationships we'll need to be able to expand our state's long-term educational, cultural, and trade relationships in China and Japan.
But my trip was immeasurably more than a trade mission.
It was also a personal odyssey.
We visited the village where my father, my grandfather, and my great grandfather were born, and the house in Shanghai where Mona's father spent his boyhood.
The visit to my father's village was an incredible experience.
It was a media mob scene.
But it was also an amazing demonstration of communal pride, and a festival of hope and opportunity.
Never before has it been so dramatically clear to me how much my election has opened the doors of possibility for others.
Thousands of children lined the road leading into our village of Jilong.
And one villager said that my success had enlarged the dreams of all those kids.
That strengthened my resolve to be the best Governor of the state of Washington I can be.
And as I sat in very room where my father was born eighty years ago, I was struck by how hard my parents and my grandparents worked to make my success possible.
They left behind everything that was familiar to them.
They learned a difficult new language in a strange new country.
And they bore the brunt of ignorance and prejudice with dignity and courage for decade after decade.
The last time my parents had visited our village was 50 years ago, when they were first married.
And for them, as for me, the most dramatic contrast was comparing how much has changed in America in the last 50 years, and how little has changed in the village.
The very one and only flush toilet was installed in the village especially for the occasion of our visit.
Only about half the buildings in the village have electricity, and all the residents of the village draw their water from a common well.
By American standards, the people of the village are very poor.
But our village is a place where the people have little, but have given much.
Like all the villages of Asia, our village and our ancestors have contributed to the wisdom of a civilization that is older than most Americans can even imagine.
And our village has given the world a stream of emigrants who have enriched every community in which they have settled.
Those emigrants have helped to build the railroads and the cities, grow the crops, and fight the wars of the United States of America.
They have instilled strong values of community, loyalty and honor in every neighborhood they've lived in.
And perhaps most important, they have promoted the value of education with a fervor that borders on fanaticism.
Today, as we look the 21st century in the eye, we can see that our parents and grandparents were right about the importance of doing our homework.
And today, as America struggles to renew the moral fabric of our communities and our country, we can also see that they were right to cling so fiercely to the values of family unity, mutual support, and hard work.
So I came home from China with an even deeper pride in my family and in the country of my ancestors.
China has given this country and the world so many gifts.
The plates we eat on - china! -- because that's where it was invented.
The fireworks we use to celebrate the fourth of July - also invented in China.
The art and culture of the American west coast - profoundly shaped by China as well as Japan and all the other nationalities of Asia and the Pacific.
I came home with a longer view of history, and a deeper sense of gratitude to my parents, my grandparents -- and to the people of China for the many contributions they've made to us and to the whole world.
The opening of China - and there can be no doubt that China is becoming more open to the outside world with every passing year - is even more important than most people realize.
Open markets lead to open minds.
And although there's no doubt that China's progress on human rights is uneven and imperfect, the genie is out of the bottle.
Faxes, cell phones, television and all the other communications technologies have made it impossible for China ever to turn back.
Economic change, communications technology, and a national ambition to be a major partner in world affairs have turned China in a new direction.
And the West ought to be focusing on how we can help nurture the changes that will benefit all those children who live in the thousands of villages like Jilong.
The Chinese people, who have given so much to the world, have surely earned a place in the sun in the coming century.
But just as I came home with a deeper appreciation for the country of my ancestors, I also came home with a renewed pride in America.
It makes me proud that people come to America from all over the world to improve the lives of their children.
It makes me proud that people come to America to be able to think what they want, and to speak openly and freely.
It makes me proud that people look to Americans for advice and expertise on how to make their economies grow, and build successful private businesses.
And it makes me proud that people in America - people from all races and all walks of life - have a history of working to dismantle the barriers of racism and discrimination, and to keep the promises of America's constitution.
Nothing has made me feel so thoroughly American as traveling to China - and nothing has made me prouder to be Chinese-American.
I know that in some quarters, people argue about whether I am too Asian, or not Asian enough.
But for me, that argument is utterly irrelevant.
I simply am who I am.
I am Emily's Dad, and Mona's husband.
I am the American-born son of my parents and grandparents, who come from a village in China called Jilong.
And I am a governor whose first priority is life-long education for all the people of Washington state.
Education is the great equalizer.
Education makes hope and opportunity possible for generation after generation of Americans.
And education is the most powerful weapon in the long war against prejudice, discrimination, and despair.
That's why, in Washington state, we've set new, higher academic standards for all our public school students.
This fall, we got our first test results showing just how far our fourth-graders are from meeting those new standards.
Only 22% of our students met the standard in math, and only 47% met our new reading standard.
But we're not going to back away from our new academic standards - not even one inch.
We're going to move heaven and earth to make sure that every child in our state can build a life on a solid foundation of skill, and knowledge, and self-confidence.
And we're going to mobilize parents and communities to hold schools and students accountable for meeting our new, higher standards.
In this first year of being governor, I've discovered that all Americans have a deep well of shared values that we can tap.
As a nation of immigrants and Native Americans, all of us come from national or ethnic traditions of family unity, mutual support, and hard work.
Whether we're Italian-Americans, African-Americans, or twentieth-generation Americans of mixed nationality, we all come from cultures that believe that children are the heart of the home, and that honoring our elders is an essential virtue.
That's why, everywhere I go in Washington state, I call on people to come home to the core values that I learned as a child: the value of getting a good education, working hard, and taking care of each other.
Those values are very Chinese, very American -- and absolutely universal.
And I like to think that I am, too.
The progress of America depends on our ability to unite around those universal values, while, at the same time, we cherish and celebrate our diversity and our differences.
That's why it's so wrong to single out Asian-Americans for distrust simply because a few individuals with Asian surnames were involved in questionable campaign donations.
I am as adamant as anyone else in my belief that we ought to get to the bottom of what happened, and we ought to fix what's wrong with our campaign financing system.
But it's it's just plain wrong to tar all Asian Americans with the same brush.
If those few questionable contributions had been made by Irish-Americans or French-Americans, would everyone with an Irish or French surname become suspect?
I don't think so.
We need to continue to educate people about the inequity this episode has exposed.
And we also need to ensure that this episode doesn't diminish our communities' resolve to participate in our American democracy.
Asian-Americans have earned the right to participate in the political life of this country.
Our parents and grandparents - and the new Asian immigrants of today - have done the hardest work, for the lowest wages.
Our Japanese-American friends and colleagues suffered through internment in World War II - even while their fathers and brothers fought for this country with honor and courage.
And in spite of decades of discrimination and ugly, ignorant stereotypes, Asian-Americans have steadfastly worked side by side with Americans of every other hue to make this the great nation it is today.
In this room, there is ample evidence of how Asian-Americans are using our talents to contribute to America's future.
In both government and the private sector, we are economists, scientists, managers, attorneys, health care practitioners, child development specialists, and a thousand other professions.
And we must not let this latest cycle of anti-Asian sentiment deter us, or diminish our resolve to behave as the full American citizens that we are.
And that's because our most important role - and the one we have in common with Americans from every region and every walk of life - is that we are parents.
In his last state of the union message, President Clinton noted that there were less than a thousand days left until the beginning of the 21st century.
The children born this year will have virtually no memory of the 20th century.
They will truly be the children of the next millennium.
And it's up to us - it's up to all Americans - to ensure that the children of the 21st century will not have to live through the cycles of discrimination that have marred our own coming of age.
We can rightfully be proud of how far we've come in this century.
We can celebrate the growing number of Asian-American elected officials, and the rise of Asian-Americans in the professions both in and out of government.
But we must continue to use our inalienable rights as American citizens to speak out against prejudice, to participate in the political life of this country, and to promote a vision of equal treatment and equal opportunity for everyone.
The future of our children depends on our willingness to do this, and on our ability to do it well.
I have absolute confidence that we are both willing and able.
And I also have confidence that we are joined and supported by millions of Americans from every race and creed - Americans who believe, as we do, that working to keep the promise of America's constitution is the highest calling of every citizen.
That's why, as we stand at the edge of a new century - and as we eagerly await our daughter Emily's first steps - we can be filled hope, optimism, and a vision of the future that is worthy of our children, and that honors our ancestors.
Thank you very much.