Governor Gary Locke’s Remarks
Korean American Voters Alliance Annual Convention
September 8, 2003
Good evening—I am honored to be here.
I want to begin by congratulating the Korean American community. Congratulations on this year’s 100th anniversary of the first Korean immigration to the United States.
There are among us many different stories, but they are always about the same journey in pursuit of freedom, equality and opportunity. The journey for my family began when my grandfather came to the U.S. from China as a teenager. He worked as a servant for a family in Olympia in exchange for English lessons more than 100 years ago.
Today I live in the Governor’s mansion—the first Asian-American governor in the continental United States. Just one mile away from the house where my grandfather swept floors, cooked, and washed dishes. It took our family 100 years to travel one mile. But what a journey it has been! A journey of hope, hard work, and belief in the American Dream.
There were many milestones along the way in my family’s journey, just as there are in yours. My parents taught me the value of hard work, running a little neighborhood grocery store. They worked seven days a week, 365 days a year. No vacations, no days off, no time to be sick.
They didn’t dwell on the obstacles. Instead they taught me the value of opportunity, hard work, and helping others. I spent many hours doing my homework in the back of the store. I also spent many hours stocking shelves and sweeping floors.
And I remember my mother, studying for the citizenship exam. I was five years old. I remember how hard she studied. I remember very vividly the day she became a citizen. How thrilled she was to raise her right hand and be sworn in. She became a bigger, more powerful person to me that day. I know she felt that way, too. And I remember how seriously she took her new role as a citizen—and still does today.
I also remember my own early awareness that others were not always tolerant of differences. I had a grade school teacher who slapped the wrists of Asian American kids when she went around and asked us what we ate for breakfast. When we answered, "fish and rice," we were slapped for being "UnAmerican.”
Our families have traveled the same journey. Immigrants have powerfully transformed and defined this great country. That is how American progress is made. This country was shaped and changed by the blood, sweat and tears of Native Americans and immigrants whether they came voluntary of involuntary. And wave after wave of immigrants have renewed and enriched the American dream. Wave after wave have formed the tides of change and contributed to the cultural, spiritual and intellectual wealth of our country.
Except for the Native Americans, Washington is very much an immigrant state. Immigrants helped build our state gold mines, railroads and country. They came as rail workers and miners and worked farms and were merchants in our state. They were the hardworking backbone of prosperity and progress.
There was discrimination, injustice, and little sharing in that prosperity and progress at first. Some still exists.
But we pressed on. We fought in armed services and gave lives to protect freedoms – because we believed in essential goodness and promise of America: freedom, hope and opportunity.
And for Asian Pacific Americans, the past few decades have been marked by rapid change and progress. The Korean American community has helped lead this change.
Great civic leaders have emerged. Leaders like State Senator Paull Shin; like former Seattle City Council member and now our director of Community, Trade and Economic Development Martha Choe; like former City Council members Cheryl Lee and Michael Park. And other leaders are waiting in the wings—candidates like Kollin Min and Cindy Ryu.
The Korean American population in our state has increased dramatically—rising 60 percent between 1990 and 2000. Your community has so much to offer our state.
The Korean American Voters Alliance has done an outstanding job in uniting and empowering this community. Since its founding just last year, the Alliance has registered over 4,200 new voters. KAVA produced the first-ever Korean-language voters guide.
In Pierce County it was 18 percent, and 14 percent in Snohomish County.
I am proud to an Asian Pacific American. I believe in the American dream because I am living it.
I am profoundly humbled to think that perhaps by daring to try and by managing to succeed, I have paved the way for others to travel the same journey. And to go even farther.
I am proof that we can challenge the glass ceiling through political involvement and empowerment. We can challenge the glass ceiling and we can shatter it. If you care about education and jobs, you must be involved.
From those first frightened immigrants struggling to make their way in our country to this energetic and enlightened group here tonight, Korean Americans have clearly come a long, long way.
I started out by congratulating Korean Americans on their 100-year anniversary of immigration. I would like to close by congratulating the Korean American Voters Alliance on honoring this first century with effective, responsible civic action. Be proud.
I encourage you to continue engaging your fellow citizens. You are doing more than empowering the Korean American community to vote. You are empowering people, to be part of our political system. And that’s what democracy in our country is all about.
Keep up work!