Zhao Xiaolan on the status of Chinese Americans

Caifu Magazine | by Ann He


Thursday, July 25, 2019, Washington, D.C.

Thank you, Dr. Hsu [Paul], for that warm welcome.

Congratulations to ILF and its founder Chiling Tong on its 20th anniversary. Along with Norm Mineta, I have been an honorary co-chair of the ILF when I was in the private sector. In the 20 years since its founding, ILF has flourished and offered so many enriching experiences in mainstream America to so many Asian Pacific American young people in their career and personal development.

The ILF galas are always such wonderful occasions to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to our country. They are also so impressive because they are attended by so many distinguished leaders from across the country who are forging new paths for Asian Pacific Americans in their communities. Tonight is no exception – and I want to also congratulate the Asian Pacific American leaders from the public, private and non-profit sectors being recognized tonight. And many thanks to Mary Millben for delighting us again this year with such a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

As you know, throughout my career in public service, I have worked to help Asian Pacific Americans—and other traditionally under-served communities—access opportunities in mainstream America. And I have made consistent efforts to highlight the contributions of Asian Pacific Americans.

This year on May 10, 2019 at Promontory Summit, Utah, I had the unique privilege to fully acknowledge and recognize the contributions and sacrifices of the 12,000 laborers of Chinese heritage who helped build one of America’s greatest pieces of infrastructure: the transcontinental railroad — 150 years after its completion. It was especially noteworthy that this tribute was made by the first Secretary of Transportation of Chinese ancestry.

The achievements of these 12,000 Chinese laborers was even more poignant given that they did not have the opportunity to bring their families with them or to become citizens of the United States.

America has moved forward since those days to become the diverse country it is today. The most recent estimate shows the Asian Pacific American community is nearly 7% of our country’s population—or about 23 million strong.

As our community has grown in numbers, we are increasingly contributing to the economic vitality and cultural diversity of our country. As you may know, our economy is booming. The tax cuts and deregulatory policies of this Administration have jump started the economy. The U.S. economy grew 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019. The national unemployment rate of 3.7 percent is about the lowest in 50 years. The unemployment rate within the Asian American community is at 2.1 percent, the lowest ever since this figure was recorded.

Asian Pacific Americans have branched out to every field in mainstream America. And Asian Pacific Americans have also distinguished themselves in military service. On January 29, 2019, I participated in a moving ceremony conferring the Congressional Gold Medal on the Chinese American veterans of World War II.

The progress made by Asian Pacific Americans in mainstream America is a testament to the values our community holds dear, especially our emphasis on strong families, hard work and the value of a quality education.

As we authenticate and celebrate our contributions to this country, let me mention an issue which I have heard from many Chinese Americans across all social and economic strata and that is the growing anxiety at the specter of ethnic profiling. As the relationship between the U.S. and China becomes more complex, many Chinese-Americans are growing increasingly anxious about how their ethnicity affects their acceptance in the United States.

My own family was recently the subject of malicious political partisan attacks that would not have occurred if our last name were “Smith” and if we came from England. I’ve been criticized by the “mainstream”media for including my father at some official appearances and social or ceremonial events, and for attending certain non-governmental events in my personal capacity with my father. Occasions such as these are not unusual for Cabinet members. This also reflects a deliberate mischaracterization of our Asian value of traditional respect for our parents -filial piety.

As our community grows in numbers, we have the chance to explain and inform others of our Asian values. I used to be reluctant or shy to do so, in an effort to blend in. Perhapsit’s age or maybe it’s because our country is becoming more diverse which is more emboldening…

I have a few words:

1) Be strong.
2) I will always fight for our community.
3) Our community must not be afraid in asserting our contributions to America, and in sharing our cultural values and how they make our country stronger.

So kudos to you for being here tonight, and to what you do in your communities to highlight the talents of our community and its contributions to mainstream America. Good night.