Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
University of Washington Asian Pacific American Students
May 23, 2000
Thank you, Markane, for those thoughtful words.
I'm pleased you invited me to join you tonight. It's always a pleasure to see people from our community pulling together to share ideas and dreams, thoughts and visions. Especially young members of our community.
I was asked me to share some of my experiences with you -- what it's been like to be the first Asian Pacific American governor. But I encourage all of you to also reflect on the impact you have from your position in our society. Because we are all, as a group, history in the making.
My life changed very quickly for a while, there. During one year, I became a governor, a father, and Mona and I took a trip to China.
Becoming governor changed my professional focus. I'm in a position where I am trying in help everybody pursue their own potential, regardless of their family's bank balance, what country they were born in, the color of their skin, shape of their face, texture of their hair. None of that should hold anyone back. Because this is America. This is the land where cultural differences make us stronger, better people.
Becoming a father changed my thoughts about the future. I had a new reason to want to make the world a better place. When Emily was born, my ideas shifted from the abstract of wanting to help people to a very concrete focus of wanting a better world for my children.
And traveling to China with my family, my mother and father, brothers and sisters, and my wife, deepened my understanding of the past and gave me a fuller understanding of the opportunities and challenges that face APAs today.
We visited my family's ancestral village of Jilong in Kwongdung province. My mom and dad had not been back to the village since their marriage, 50 years previous. Visiting Jilong is like stepping back into the 19th century. For the occasion of our visit, they had installed their first-ever flush toilet -- of course, it wasn't connected to a sewage system --but it was a toilet, and we were honored. Only about half the houses in the village have electricity. And everyone still draws their water from a well in the center of town.
My family and I were given an incredible welcome, with thousands of children lining the roads for miles, waving flowers and banners, welcoming me "home" like a son. But what I came away with was more than the memory of all the hoopla and celebration. I came away with a deeper appreciation of how hard my parents and grandparents worked to provide my generation with the opportunities we've had.
They left everything that was familiar to them, came to a strange country, learned a difficult new language, and worked incredibly long hours. They endured decades of discrimination with dignity and courage. They scrimped and saved and denied themselves even the smallest luxuries so that we could get a good education. Their dream was a better life for their children -- for us and a brighter future for our community.
And no matter how hard they had to work, or how much anti-Asian prejudice they experienced, they held fast to the belief that America is the land of freedom, hope and opportunity. They believed this so strongly that for most of us, they made it come true. And in the process, they gave us a heritage of the values of service to others, respect for our elders, and sacrifice for our children.
When Emily is fifty years old… I'll be a centenarian by then… but when Emily is fifty years old what will she see when she looks back? She will see the sacrifices my grandparents' and parents' generations made for our family and our community, but what will my generation have accomplished by then? What will your generation have accomplished by then?
It's my dream that my children will face no discrimination, that equal opportunity will mean equal opportunity for all, that it will be commonplace to have people of color and women in government. I hope my children will live in a world where cultural diversity is celebrated and nurtured, not met with fear. Where Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream is not just remembered, but lived every second of every day by every citizen. That we judge each other not by the color of our skin but by the content and the strength of our character.
So we need to ask ourselves… how are we going to get there?
We all carry our personal histories of discrimination and injustice, too. I can never change the way my grade school teacher slapped the wrists of Asian American kids when she went around and asked us what we ate for breakfast and Asian American kids said, "fish and rice." We were slapped for being "UnAmerican." That's history, and we can't change it. But we can change the future, we can help write the future's history.
We can become active, and write books and laws and live our lives in a way that demands social justice. And make sure that our children will never know what it's like to be an American, and yet be treated like an alien or the enemy by other Americans. Let's create a world where "UnAmerican" applies to values, not people.
We are the first generation of Asian Americans to be free from the shackles of legal discrimination, and it is not only our obligation but also our privilege, then, to honor the struggle for equality previous generations undertook, by embracing the opportunities available to us.
Civil rights. That was a big step. But social justice -- that's an equally big step. And it's up to us to make it happen. Sometimes it feels like every time we take two steps forward, we take one step back. But if we look at this as a dance instead of an attempt to walk a straight line, we'll maintain our strength, perseverance, and faith.
While Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the nation and are actively participating in our national economy and culture, Asian Americans have one of the lowest rates of voter registration among all ethnic groups. After having been denied basic civil rights for so long, Asian Americans should use the power we have as citizens.
To meet our growing challenges, we need to respond with community action. We need to encourage Asian Pacific Americans to register to vote and to vote. We need to ensure the issues we care about are heard, represented and addressed. More Asian Americans need to run for public office and be at the table to make and influence laws that affect all of us. And, as we move forward into the new century, we have to make sure that we're developing a new generation of leadership. By leadership, I don't mean elected officials in government, but leaders in all sectors: public, private and non-profit.
We bring into the new century a legacy of the blood, sweat and tears of our parents and our grandparents who helped make this country all that it is today. It's our turn now. We owe it to our parents and grandparents -- and to ourselves -- to take action that will guarantee 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 -- to ensure we achieve social justice.
Thank you very much.