This sample speech for Asian Pacific Islander Heritage month is intended for use by speakers at Asian / Pacific Islander / Asian American events honoring Asian Pacific heritage. These keynote remarks may be modified to fit the event where you are speaking or used as is.
I’d like to welcome you all to our celebration of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month and thank you for the opportunity to speak today. It is a great honor.
When we speak of Asian Pacific Islander Heritage, we speak of a wealth of diverse people. From India to Indonesia, Singapore to Samoa and Thailand to Tonga, Asian Pacific people represent a wide variety of languages, cultures and lifestyles. It’s hard to try and boil down the people of the world’s most populous continent into a short speech. For instance, in India alone there are 720 different dialects spoken. Or take the Phillipines, which has as astounding seven thousand, six hundred and forty one islands! In Tibet, the highest village is higher than sixteen thousand feet, but the highest point in the Maldives is eight feet about sea level! So you can see, we bite off a big chunk when we try to do honor to the diversity of people from Asia and the Pacific Islands.
Whether its hula or anime, K-pop or yoga, sushi or Buddhism, you only need to look around to see how Asian Pacific culture has spread across the globe.
However today we will focus on the achievements of Asian Pacific Americans and how their contributions continue to enrich their legacy in the United States.
Asian Pacific Heritage Month is observed in May each year. Our theme this year is "_______." (IF THERE IS NO THEME, OMIT THIS SECTION.)
Today we celebrate the remarkable achievements of people of Asian Pacific Heritage around the world and here at home.
(AT THIS POINT, IF YOU ARE OF ASIAN PACIFIC DESCENT, YOU CAN TELL PERSONAL STORIES OF WHAT ASIAN PACIFIC HERITAGE MEANS TO YOU. OTHERWISE YOU CAN TALK ABOUT IMPORTANT ASIAN PACIFIC PEOPLE, IDEALLY SOMEONE WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN SOMETHING RELATED TO THE ORGANIZATION YOU’RE SPEAKING TO, FOR INSTANCE FOR A MILITARY AUDIENCE, TALK ABOUT IMPORTANT ASIAN PACIFIC SERVICE MEMBERS. FOR A SPEECH AT A SCHOOL, TALK ABOUT AN IMPORTANT ASIAN PACIFIC EDUCATOR. WE HAVE INCLUDED EXAMPLES OF ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN LEADERS BELOW. YOU MAY USE THE FOLLOWING EXAMPLES BUT IT’S BETTER TO FIND EXAMPLES THAT ARE APPROPRIATE TO YOUR AUDIENCE).
There are so many Asian Pacific people who have made amazing contributions, but I’d like to highlight just a few.
Let me begin by talking about Capt. Francis Brown Wai (WAY). Wai was of native Hawaiian and Chinese ancestry. A noted surfer and athlete, after graduating from UCLA, he planned to go home to Hawaii and work with his father in real estate and banking. Instead, as World War II loomed, Wai joined the Hawaii National Guard. He was commissioned as an officer in 1941, a rarity at a time when few Asian Pacific service members were given the opportunity. After serving in several roles, Wai was sent to lead his unit into battle in the Pacific theater.
In1944, Wai led part of an assault on Leyte (LAY-TEE) Island in the Philippines. Japanese forces were already established on the island, and American troops landing at Red Beach faced concentrated fire from a group of soldiers in a palm grove surrounded by rice paddies. It was an incredibly difficult and dangerous position to assault, but the American troops were helpless unless the position was taken out.
Upon landing, Captain Wai found the U.S. forces leaderless, disorganized and pinned down by the enemy fire. He took command and organized an assault. He fearlessly led the assault himself, facing direct fire as he moved through the rice paddies. His fellow American soldiers rose to follow him. Tragically, he was killed leading the assault, but his leadership allowed the soldiers he’d rallied to finish clearing the area of opposing forces. Their actions enabled other troops to land safely on the island.
For his heroism, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. military’s second highest decoration for valor. However, after an extensive review of awards in the year 2000, his medal was upgraded to the highest military award, the Medal of Honor. As of today, Wai is the only Chinese American to receive the medal.
Bravery can come in many forms, and there are many Asian Pacific leaders whose courage has made an impact in their communities. Next I’d like to tell you about two more heroes from the World War II era, although they were heroes in a different kind of battle.
Gordon Hirabayashi (HE-RA-BY-AH-SHE) was a Japanese American U.S. citizen born in Seattle. Hirabayashi was a young man when World War II began. Although many Japanese Americans volunteered to serve in the military, Hirabayashi was a pacifist due to his Christian upbringing, and he registered as a conscientious objector.
When the U.S. government began passing restrictive laws against Japanese Americans, even those who were U.S. citizens, Hirabayashi couldn’t accept it. He purposefully violated a curfew that applied only to Japanese people, and then turned himself into the FBI. He was convicted and sentenced to prison. Hirabayashi didn’t let his case rest though. His case, along with that of another Japanese American who was protesting the curfews, went all the way to the Supreme Court. The court ruled against them.
At the same time, Japanese Americans were being forced to leave their homes and go to internment camps. Whether citizens or not, they were locked into isolated, barren camps with insufficient supplies and scanty protection from the elements. Many lost their homes, businesses and livelihoods when they were forced into the camps. Disabled children were taken from their parents and put in institutions where many died. It was a sad blot on American history.
Another Japanese American, Fred Korematsu (KO-RAY-MA-TSOO) was also fighting against these injustices. Korematsu brought a case against the internment camps to the Supreme Court. Again, the Supreme Court found that it was legal for the government to discriminate against people of Japanese ethnicity, regardless of citizenship.
These were dark days in American justice. Constitutional scholars decried the decision as, to quote, "an odious and discredited artifact of popular bigotry" and "a stain on American jurisprudence".
However, the arc of justice may have been long, but it did prove to be strong. Both cases were overturned in the decades that followed. In both cases, researchers discovered that attorneys had hidden pertinent information from the Supreme Court.
After the overturning of the decision, Hirabayashi celebrated the triumph of justice.
He said: "There was a time when I felt that the Constitution failed me, but with the reversal in the courts and in public statements from the government, I feel that our country has proven that the Constitution is worth upholding. The U.S. government admitted it made a mistake. A country that can do that is a strong country. I have more faith and allegiance to the Constitution than I ever had before”
Years later, both Hirabayashi and Korematsu were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor.
Whether fighting in wars or for civil rights, Asian Pacific Americans have served our country with courage. Another person who fought for civil rights is Patsy Takemoto Mink (TA-KAY-MO-TOE).
Takemoto Mink, born and raised in Hawaii, became the first woman of color elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She was a staunch advocate for civil rights, women’s rights, the rights of people with disabilities, equal access to education and social progress. She helped establish Title Nine of federal education law, which ensures athletic and educational programs for women are funded at equal levels to male programs. She was instrumental in supporting legislation for bilingual education and special education, and helped pass the Women’s Education Equity Act, which promoted opportunities for women and fought educational and employment discrimination. There were only seven other women in Congress at the same time as her, so throughout her career, she battled personal discrimination for her ethnicity and gender.
Takemoto Mink said she felt the need to represent both people of color and women in her work.
To quote her, “We have to build things that we want to see accomplished, in life and in our country, based on our own personal experiences ... to make sure that others ... do not have to suffer the same discrimination.”
For her trailblazing and accomplishments, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
All of these leaders chose to give back to their communities through service to our nation, in one form or another. Courage; trailblazing new paths; dedication to their community; perseverance – these are all qualities these Asian Pacific leaders embodied in their own struggles. Through military service, in social activism and in standing up for those without a voice, these leaders found a way to serve their communities.
So let me conclude by issuing a challenge to you. I want you to look at yourself and your place in your community. How are you making a difference? Whether you are of Asian Pacific heritage or of another background, we can look to the examples of these leaders and question how we ourselves can give back to our own communities. No matter how small, all of our actions have an impact. We have the opportunity every day to contribute. Whether it’s through getting involved in environmental programs or volunteering; working with children or advocating for those in need; standing up to injustice or serving in a leadership position; even just spreading a little kindness, there are always ways to serve.
It is easy to look at the many challenges and divisions we face today and feel discouraged. It is easy to feel overwhelmed or powerless. Yet, each one of us has a gift and can make a difference. Ask yourself, how can I serve? How can I contribute?
It’s up to you and me to be the change we want to see in the world. Today as we celebrate Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I challenge you to follow the examples of these leaders and find the way you can make your own impact.
I’d like to thank everyone whose efforts made today possible. Thank you to (NAME OF ORGANIZATION WHO ORGANIZED EVENT), and finally, thank you to all of you for your kind attention.
Let me leave you with the famous quote by the ancient Chinese spiritual leader Lao Tzu. (LAO TSUH)
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Make your own journey begin today. Thank you.
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