5:36 P.M. EST
THE FIRST LADY: Hello, everybody. (Laughs.)
THE FIRST LADY: Today, as we are meant to celebrate, our joy has been shattered by two horrifying mass shootings this week. And our prayers are with the family of those lost in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, and we grieve with broken hearts alongside every member of this community.
The poet, Cathy Song, wrote: “May those who have gone before us rest in peace, rest in comfort, rest in joy…[And] may our wish for peace spread like a mother’s soothing hand and reach the distressed, fevered places of the world.”
It’s an honor to be with all of you here for the first Lunar New Year reception at the White House! (Applause.)
Each winter, as we come to this moment, we are still the same people that we’ve always been. Our history lives inside of us, no matter how many pages of the calendar we turn.
And yet, as we sweep the grounds of this last year; as we tell the passed-down legend of the terrible monster, Nian; as we turn away from short days and long nights, we can see the hope of each new year just the same: in blazing red spring couplets on door frames, in tables overflowing with food from old family recipes, in windows that glow with lantern light.
In the darkest night, the new moon, shadowed with the unknown, waxes toward the dawn of morning.
It’s never too late to begin again, to learn from our past and honor the people who helped us get here; to face our fears with faith in themselves, hope for good fortune; and work together for the world that we all want.
History lives inside this White House, as well — hammered into the beams of these walls and swirling in the marble of each fireplace. It tells the stories and legends of where we’ve come and who we’ve been.
And yet, the brilliant lanterns with lucky red, we know that it, too, can grow and evolve and begin something new.
With our unique traditions and talents, with our love and laughter, with our faith in the future we want, we breathe new life into these halls.
This is an historic house, but you make it a home, alive with purpose and possibility.
So, today we celebrate the Lunar New Year together. We will continue to shape this country we call home, meeting each new day with faith in our communities, hope, and hard work.
Thank you all for being here. Thanks. (Applause.)
Oh, almost forgot. (Laughter.) And I almost forgot. (Laughter.) Now it’s my — here, come on over. (Laughter.)
Now it’s my pleasure to introduce a tireless advocate for this community, CEO of Asian Services in Action to — Action of Ohio, Elaine Tso. Elaine. (Applause.)
MS. TSO: Hi, everyone.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Woo! (Applause.)
MS. TSO: So, my name is Elaine Tso, and I am so excited to be here with you today. As you know, Lunar New Year is the most celebrated holiday by Asians across the world. And this year’s festivities have felt different.
I am — I’m still processing the recent mass shootings, so I will simply say that more needs to be done to address gun violence in America.
I’m grateful the President has called for more action. And I am hopeful that our elected officials will do what is right for its people, to protect its people. (Applause.)
I have the honor of leading Asian Services in Action, which is headquartered in Akron, Ohio. We are the largest organization serving Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in the state of Ohio, and we’re a federally qualified health center.
So, supporting us is one of the many ways that the Biden administration has improved the lives of the AANHPI immigrant and refugee community living in Ohio, and especially through the challenges that we’ve faced the past few years.
We also serve a limited-English-proficient community that relies on us for so many things. And we have built trust because our team comes from the communities that we serve. We speak the languages that they — that they need. And we help people address needs through action and advocacy.
This ethos of helping others in the community I learned from my own mother. She supported the limited-English-proficient community as an — as an interpreter for pregnant women, where — where many pregnant women felt unseen and unheard. And that is what our community is all about: fighting for our cities, our towns, for our country, to build a healthier and more hopeful future.
So, it means so much to the Asian American community that the White House is hosting this first-ever Lunar New Year event. You know, and because of it, you know, we feel seen, we feel heard. (Applause.) And more importantly — more importantly, we feel valued and — and acknowledged as members of this amazing country that — that welcomes and supports a vibrant community from — from diverse origins.
So, now it is my distinct honor to introduce the President of the United States, Joe Biden. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Elaine, thank you for that introduction. And it’s wonderful to see so many friends on this special holiday, ev- — even as we gather with such heavy hearts.
Our prayers are with the people of Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, and after yet another spree of gun violence in America.
I’m going to use this. (The President picks up a handheld microphone.) This working? Hello, hello, hello. Can you hear me with this?
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
You know, I’ve been in close contact with Governor Newsom and — to provide the full support of the federal government. And Kamala, who has deep ties in the area, is just getting back from spending some time there with families.
And I spoke with Brandon Tsay, a general her- — a genuine hero. This a 26-year-old kid — 26-year-old kid whose family has owned a dance studio for some time, as people were ending the celebration that night on — for the ne- — the Lunar New Year.
And as we all saw on the video, he — he heard the front door close and saw a man pointing a gun at him.
Instead of running — Brandon said he thought he was going to die, but then he thought about the people inside.
Think about this now. Just think about this in reality. And in that moment, he follows instinct. And he followed his courage.
And this is a kid who went out — “a kid” — he’s a young man — and had the courage to act. And he did. He charged the gunman, wrestled him to the ground, and took away his semiautomatic pistol from him. He had just shot and killed 11 people and wounded several more in another dance studio nearby.
You know, it was a struggle that Brandon prevailed. But think about what could have happened had he not done this. I really mean it.
You know, I think sometimes we under- — underestimate incredible acts of courage.
Someone shooting has a semi-automatic pistol aimed at you
and you think about others. That’s pretty profound. Pretty profound.
You know, in both Monterey Bay and Half Moon Bay, we saw the heroism of police officers, firefighters, and first responders. They answered the call. They answered the call. They rushed into danger, and they saved lives and protected their neighbors.
These are tight-knit communities, as you all know. They will be affected by what they saw and what they lost for the rest of their lives. We got to think about the impacts of post-traumatic stress on many of these folks.
And as a nation, we have to be there with them. We have to be there with them. We don’t have a choice.
You know, I know several members of Congress wanted to attend here tonight because they wanted to be able to — but they have votes up on the Hill, including my dear friend, Judy Chu.
Judy is Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and a former mayor of Monterey
Bay [Park]. I spoke with Judy several days ago and said, “Judy, what should I do? Should I continue to — should I be in California or should I still have this celebration?” And she felt very strongly. She said, “We have to move forward.”
Her message was: Don’t give into fear and sorrow. Don’t do that. Stand in solidarity in the spirit of toughness that this holiday is all about.
She went on to say that’s what folks are doing back in California and across the country: providing counseling support,
transition [translation] services for the victims’ families; holding candlelight vigils and bringing people together; and showing that even with heavy hearts, we have unbreakable spirits. So that’s what we’re going to do tonight to be there for each other.
And, by the way, you know, I said — as some of my senior staff here knows — that I was going to have the most diverse staff in American history and it was going to reflect what the population of America looked like.
Well, I knew we had more women than men. (Laughter and applause.) But I looked up the following. You know what percentage of AANI- — of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders it is in this administration? 13.7 percent. (Applause.) The next highest was 7 percent. That’s why the hell I’m doing so well right now. (Laughter.)
No, but all kidding aside — most of all, when you think about the loved ones who were left behind, they were grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, neighbors, but they were fellow Americans.
So please join me in a moment of silence to honor them.
May God bless them all.
You know, I’m really honored to be with you all tonight.
For centuries, families in Asia and the United States and all around the world have gathered to celebrate the first moon of the new year. It’s a time of renewal and reflection, hope and possibilities — for good over evil, for sharing meals, for celebrating firecra- — no firecrackers tonight. (Laughter.)
No, I’m serious. I was thinking about that, you know. (Laughter.) If things hadn’t been like they’d been the last couple years, we should have fireworks outside.
But, you know, celebrating with firecrackers and dance. We got dance. (Laughter.) Honoring your ancestors while passing down traditions to the next generation.
All of you here and across the country have opened your hearts and homes to friends and neighbors to wish each other a prosperous new year full of good health and good fortune.
So, to start the new tradition in the nation for holidays that — where the home is central, Jill and I are honored to welcome you to the first Lunar New Year Reception of this scale held in the White House — your home. (Applause.) This is your home.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you!
THE PRESIDENT: No, this — this is the People’s House. For real. Jill and I are very temporary residents in this home. (Laughter.)
But all kidding aside —
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Not too temporary.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, God — (laughter) — God love you.
Look, you know, for many of you, this is the year of the rabbit. And for others, like the Vietnese — -mese — Vietnamese community, it’s the year of the cat.
And the rabbit — earnest and persistent in the face of great challenges. The cat — majestic, beloved, a protector. By the way, that sounds like our cat, Willow, who maybe — (laughter) — you think I’m kidding. Willow may walk in here any time now. She has no limits. And — (laughter) — oh, you think I’m kidding? I’m not. Especially in the middle of the night when she climbs up and lays on top of my head. (Laughter.)
Look, all of you reflect the values represented by these symbols. And I mean that sincerely.
And the Lunar New Year offers an opportunity to acknowledge the many ways you’ve enriched this country through diversity of culture, the breadth of achievements, including a record number of Oscar nominations that were announced just this week — (applause) — and that are long overdue.
I know nothing about entertainment. (Laughter.) But I know when people are picked that is best.
And speaking of winning, we’re honored to be joined by Olympic champion — gold and silver and bronze medalist — a three-time world champion figure skater, Nathan Chen. (Applause.) Nathan, where are you? Nathan, good to see you, pal. Come here. Get up here. (Applause.)
You’re the only guy that can step — good to see you, Nathan. Thank you.
MR. CHEN: Thank you so much.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s not bad. Gold medal, bronze — holy mackerel. (Laughter.)
It also includes the great work led by those in my administration.
I heard we have an ambassador who’s a daughter of immigrants, and she happens to be — I think her name is Katherine Tai. I — (laughter) — I’m — I’m not sure. (Applause.) Thank you. You’re doing a hell of a job for us. You really are.
By the way, she’s gained the respect of folks around the world. Not a joke. Not a joke. She’s the best. The first Af- — the first Asian American woman of color to serve as U.S. Trade Representative.
And just last week, she helped launched the first-ever National Strategy to Advance Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for Asian Americans. Thank you, thank you, thank you. (Applause.)
I get other world leaders saying, “You don’t explain this very well. Send her back, will you?” Really, you’re doing a hell of a job, kid. Thank you, thank you.
And together with Congress, we passed historic legislation to bring us one step closer to preserving and amplifying the contributions and history of the community through a national museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture. (Applause.)
Yet for all the progress, this community has experienced profound hate, pain, and violence, and loss with the rise of anti-hate crime —
Asian anti-hate [anti-Asian hate] crimes. You know, gut-wrenching attacks on elderly immigrant women.
As I’ve said many times before, hate can have no safe haven or harbor in America. No person deserves to be treated with hate — in a hateful way. They all deserve to be treated with dignity and with respect.
That’s why I’m proud — with the help of many of you in this room, we signed into law a COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, and to host — (applause) — and to host the first-ever White House Summit against hate-fueled violence.
Look, folks, it’s real simple: Silence is complicity. Silence is complicity. We cannot be silent. I will not be silent.
And one more thing: We’re going to ban assault weapons again, (inaudible). (Applause.) I did it once as a senator. We’re going to do it again.
And let me close with this. The Lunar New Year ends with the hanging of those red lanterns to symbolize letting go of the past and committing to new beginnings.
Well, I’m — I mean this sincerely; you’ve heard me say it many times: I’ve never been more optimistic in my life about the future of this country and the ability to unify this country. I really mean it.
As we gather here today, let us recommit to the work of standing together and taking care of one another.
Let’s do the work of spreading hope, joy, and love.
So, from the Biden family to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year.
And please enjoy the reception and the wonderful program that’s about to begin. (Applause.)
I guess I got to step down here. I’ll give you that. Okay.
(Choy Wun Lions perform.)
THE FIRST LADY: No I got it. Thank you. Yeah —
THE PRESIDENT: You going to dance?
THE FIRST LADY: No, you’re good. Come up. (Laughter.) No, but I would love that costume. (Laughter.)
Come on up, Joe.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not dancing. I don’t dance. (Laughter.)
THE FIRST LADY: No, you’re not going to dance, believe me. (Laughter.) We don’t want to ruin the evening.
You know, it was so funny, I saw that tangerine there when I was speaking, and I thought — I thought, “Oh one of the workers left that.” Thank God I — (laughter) — thank God I didn’t pick it up.
But anyway, weren’t they amazing? Can we give them another round? (Applause.)
So please join us for a reception. And welcome to the White House. Happy New Year.
THE PRESIDENT: And, by the way, I only have — I only have one regret. I wish my grandkids were here. (Laughter.)
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: All right.
THE FIRST LADY: Thank you. (Applause.)
6:03 P.M. EST