Kicking Off Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

As co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I’m honored to bat lead-off in what promises to be an interesting and informative month of blog posts on this site.

Today, more than 16 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) make up one of the fastest growing and most diverse populations in the United States.  Each of the dozens of distinct AAPI ethnic and language groups has a rich history that contributes to the fabric of our nation. 

A month-long commemoration of that history may be a relatively recent invention – Congress expanded it from a week-long celebration in 1990 – but May is a fitting month to pay tribute to our saga. It was May 1843 when the first Japanese immigrants came to America, and in May 1869 the first transcontinental railroad was completed with substantial contributions from Chinese immigrants.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to play outsized roles in our nation’s society and economy. According to the newest Census data released just last week, between 2002 and 2007, AAPI-owned businesses increased 40.4 percent to 1.5 million, generating over $500 billion in sales and employing more than 2.8 million people. Many of these companies are small proprietorships, like the grocery store my family owned when I was growing up in Seattle.

Small businesses are the engines that drive our economy, accounting for almost two-thirds of all jobs in America.  In fact, firms less than five years old accounted for nearly all increased employment in the private sector from 1980 to 2005. This is the power and promise of entrepreneurship, and that’s a power that runs through the AAPI community today.

A big part of my job as Commerce Secretary is to smooth the way for that long line of accomplishment to continue.

But we have our work cut out for us. Despite tremendous successes, members of the AAPI business community still face hurdles to accessing federal programs and other assistance, including language barriers and a lack of awareness about the many resources offered by the federal government.

Today, many AAPI entrepreneurs need access to resources such as management and technical assistance and small business loans to expand their businesses. Since the earliest days of the Obama administration, we have passed a variety of measures to help AAPI businesses thrive:

  • The Recovery Act enabled 8,000 AAPI-owned businesses to receive over $5 billion worth of new loans.
  • We passed new tax incentives that enable small businesses to deduct the cost of new equipment, new hires and even healthcare coverage.
  • We’ve also focused on educating AAPI firms about government procurement opportunities.  Thus far, AAPI businesses have collected over $1 billion in new government contracts and played a major role in our National Export Initiative.
  • And because the AAPI community often has such extensive contacts in foreign countries, we’ve offered significant aid for those interested in export and trade initiatives abroad.

We have an opportunity to make a difference in the everyday lives of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our country – and the everyday lives of all Americans. That is what I strive to achieve every day as Commerce Secretary, and I promise this administration will continue this important work into the future.

Thank you – and have a wonderful AAPI Heritage Month.

Gary Locke is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Co-Chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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