Asian Americans somberly celebrate Heritage Month | Inquirer

Asian Americans somberly celebrate Heritage Month

/ 03:21 PM May 22, 2017


Champions of the AAPI community taking the stage at the APAICS gala: Fil-Am Rep. Bobby Scott D-VA (from left), Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Al Green (D-TX), Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep.  Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), Rep. Darren Sotto (D-FL) INQUIRER/Elton Lugay


WASHINGTON, DC—This year’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month was markedly somber despite assurances from the Trump administration that it continues to hold Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders held in high regard.


“The truth is that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are an integral part of America’s past, but they’re even a bigger part of America’s future. So today, I say with confidence our future is bright—brighter than ever before. For AAPIs, I know with your help, we will make America great again,” Vice President Mike Pence said during a White House reception on May 17.

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APAICS Vision Awardee Randall Park INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

Earlier this month, President Donald Trump issued a proclamation declaring that AAPIs have distinguished themselves in every area of American life.

The month of May is meaningful to AAPIs as it marks the first time Japanese immigrants came to the U.S. and when the U.S. transcontinental railroad was completed by Chinese immigrants. Since 1977, an AAPI heritage week has been celebrated across the U.S., which was expanded to a month-long observance in 1992.

Fear and instability

But ever since the Trump administration enforced policies that expanded raids, detention and deportation of immigrants, fear and instability have come upon immigrant communities across the U.S.


CBS News correspondent and gala host Elaine Quijano (from left) and APAICS honorees Nisha Ramachandran and Jason Tengco INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

A day before the White House celebration, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) held its 23rd gala awards dinner in a less celebratory fashion as compared with previous years.

The annual APAICS gala awards dinner is a premier event in Washington, D.C. to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. Honored during the event are AAPI leaders, both current and pioneers, and recognized outstanding individuals and organizations that continue to politically empower the AAPI community.


Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.) hailed the annual celebration as a time for Asian Americans to take stock of their achievements in politics, entertainment and the arts, but noted the chilling effect of the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim travel ban and executive order on immigration.

“It is so important to speak out and to show that we are strong as a community so that we can fight the worst aspects of the Trump administration’s policies,” Chu told


Fil-Am Bing Branigin (right, seated) with fellow community leaders at the APAICS gala INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

“We have to continue to build our political power and continue to have access to the political mainstream so that we can fight the worst policies of the Trump administration. America is a land of opportunity and we will fight to continue to make it that way,” she added.

United front needed

For Joshua Ang Price, a Fil-Am based in Arkansas who is part of APAICS’ leadership academy this year, nothing less than a united front will work: “[It] is so important now to stand together as minorities to realize that we are all Americans regardless of the color of our skin, regardless of where we come from, regardless of our ethnicity, our gender, our religion.”

Price said further: “We are Americans, we are all in this together. And we have to come together to make this nation great. He wants us to be great—it’s going to take all of us. I really believe that God made us all unique and different because he wants us to work together. Your strength may be my weakness and vice versa. We have to collaborate. It’s about partnership, collaborating, understanding each other’s point of view and working together to build a bright future for everyone.”


Keynote speaker Senator Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

Hollywood actor Randall Park, who was among the APAICS honorees, said mobilizing support is important. “It’s really heartening to see that we’re still out here doing important work and merging different parts of the community like the Hollywood community and the political community in D.C. along with so many others who are kind of unifying—it’s really cool,” he told Park is the star of the hit ABC comedy series “Fresh Off The Boat,” the first TV show to focus on an Asian American family in over 20 years.

Keynote speaker Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) poignantly asked the audience to actively fight for what’s right and beneficial for future generations.

Call to courage

“There are people that want to undermine our values and our truth that we’re a nation of liberty and justice for all. There are people that want to take the words of our ancestors, malice towards none, charity towards all, and twist them and limit them and reduce them—we cannot let that happen. This is a call to courage, a call to patriotism, it is a call to love,” Booker said.


Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Calif.) INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

“Let us rise every day in the morning, thank God for our country but then go to the service of our nation, of our values and of our people. And if we rise in that way, if we live our oath more than we preach, I tell you right now I see the future, it is a beautiful future, it is a rainbow future, it’s a future for Black Americans and White Americans, and Latino Americans and Asian Americans. It is all about our nation—we will make that country real and make our ancestors proud and more generations will benefit,” in his speech,” Booker added.

When asked how the community could fight Trump’s immigration policies, APAICS founder and former transportation secretary Norman Mineta said the effort has to be nationwide.

“What we have to do is to get the community organized across the country because he’s [Trump] not listening to anybody. All of us as members of an organization have to get those organizations to speak out against his policy issues. And the problem is he does things and he pays no penalty or price for it. And I can’t get over that. Or he’ll say like he did today, ‘As a president, I can do anything I want.’ Well, he can’t but no one is taking him on, on that stuff. So all of us organizations have to be really in this. People have to speak up and write to the President and to their own representatives,” he told

Other honorees

Apart from Park, this year’s honorees are Chancee Martorell, Verizon Communications, Nisha Ramachandran, and Jason Tengco, a Fil-Am millennial who served as deputy director at the White House Initiative on AAPIs and AAPI outreach director for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.


Fil-Am Joshua Ang Price from Arkansas, among APAICS National Leadership Academy participants this year INQUIRER/Elton Lugay

Elaine Quijano, CBS news correspondent and 2016 vice-presidential debate moderator, was the evening’s mistress of ceremonies.

“It’s such an honor to be here. It’s such a privilege to listen to the stories of the awardees ‘cause I’ve never been here. It’s funny when Sen. Booker said this is the Asian prom and I never knew about that. I’ve been here for the White House Correspondents’ Dinner many times but now I can add Asian prom to my resume. It’s very inspiring to hear the stories of Americans in this country who have a very much shared history and connected experiences even though we are all different,” Quijano told

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TAGS: Asian Americans, Filipino American politicians, Jason Tengco
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