Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by First Lady Jill Biden at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies Annual Gala
Thank you, Judy. You’re such a force for your constituents and your community. Thank you for your friendship and your decades of leadership.
Madalene, thank you for putting your heart and hard work into making this evening a success.
I’m excited to be joined tonight by Secretary Becerra and Ambassador Tai.
Leader Jeffries, Hakeem, we’re so lucky to have you at the helm in the House, working tirelessly for the American people.
And to Congressman Bera, Congresswoman Meng, and all of our amazing elected leaders here today, I’m honored to celebrate with all of you.
I also want to take a moment to remember Norm Mineta. We’re here because of his passion and his vision. He paved the way for so many.
As some of you know, I teach writing at a community college not far from here. And in my classes, we often talk about how the stories we tell shape our identity. They can isolate us, make us angry or afraid.
But stories can inspire us to rise to kindness as well. They can remind us that our differences are precious and our similarities infinite. That our community, our country is capable of beautiful and powerful things.
So what story can we tell about this community?
Well, there isn’t just one. Not one country of origin or path to America. Not one language, religion, or set of traditions. Not one struggle or movement for justice, but many.
You come from immigrants, and pioneers, and native peoples that have called our country home long before there was a United States.
You’re leading at every level.
And representation matters. My husband, Joe, and Kamala, the first Asian American Vice President, know that. That’s why it’s so important to both of them to have an administration that looks like America. That’s why Joe nominated Julie Su as our next Secretary of Labor and chose Vivek Murthy to be one of our nation’s most trusted health advisors. It’s why Ambassador Tai is leading our trade strategy and why Joe ensured that his staff include an unprecedented number of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
This isn’t about checking a box.
It’s about understanding that the story of our country and its next chapter cannot be complete without your voices.
And that’s especially true as we address the challenges you face.
We’re still recovering from the pandemic, both in ways we can measure, like businesses closed and students who need to catch up in school, and those that are harder to quantify: Discrimination. Hatred. Violence.
I know that these years have been difficult. I know that it hurt to hear leaders use COVID as a way to stereotype and degrade, that you’ve had to explain the unexplainable to your children. I know that even as we’ve all grieved when your communities have been attacked, your heartbreak was deeper: a very real fear wondering if your loved ones could be next.
But you don’t give up. You show up. You speak up. You demand change.
Sometimes the American Dream lives strongest in the hearts of those who have never felt the full measure of its promise, those who fight hardest for the shining country that we can and will be.
APAICS has done so much to strengthen this community. To give people more resources in their own languages so they can stop hate crimes. To empower the next generation to run for office and win. To help so many dream of a better future for their children and grandchildren and work to make it real.
And you have partners in this fight: Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. They’re committed to doing everything in their power to address the challenges you face: From once-in-a-generation investments that support your communities, to signing the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, to supporting critical research addressing bias and xenophobia against AA and NHPI communities. And Joe signed legislation that gets us one step closer to establishing a national museum that will help share your stories.
They won’t stop fighting for you.
You know, a few years ago, I had to tell my class that I would miss the next session for personal reasons.
Now, my students have a lot of shining qualities, but boundaries are not one of them. So, they immediately began shouting, “Dr. B, Dr. B, where are you going?”
My sister was having the first of her cancer treatments, a stem cell transplant, and she would be in a hospital room for six weeks. I tried to explain with as much composure as I could muster, but the words caught in my throat. I turned to the whiteboard, hoping to hold back my emotions.
When I turned back around, the entire class was standing. They lined up and gave me a hug, one by one.
Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much I was struggling, or how much I needed them.
Sometimes our strength comes from within us, and sometimes it can’t. Sometimes we need to lean on the people around us and hope we can carry the weight of our lives together.
Because sooner or later, we all stumble. We all suffer heartbreaks, some unimaginable. We don’t always know what’s behind someone’s smile, or how much they need our grace.
In the darkest times of my life, I learned that one of the most courageous things we can do is lean on each other. And I learned that, often, it doesn’t take much to be that strength in return: A kind word. A hand on a shoulder. A smile that lets someone know they aren’t alone.
It’s a gift we give to each other: our vulnerability, our brokenness, and the chance to lift up our communities when they need it most.
The burden of shaping your future can’t only fall on the shoulders of Julie and Judy, Vivek and Katherine. No one person, no one group can carry it alone: no matter how strong you may be.
It’s up to all of us to stand up to hate, to turn away from the simple narratives so many have accepted in the past. It’s up to all of us to lift up your stories in all of their nuanced and unique beauty.
We carry each other’s grief and joy. We come from different backgrounds, but there are common threads that unite us as well: The strength to overcome adversity. The love that moves us to hold on to old traditions and create new ones. The courage to raise our voices and build a better world, where everyone is free to be themselves and to pursue their American Dream.
In every chapter of this nation’s history, we can find the stories of this community. And as we turn the next page, we can build the future we want and need side by side.
So thank you for inviting me to celebrate with you today, and thank you for helping us build that future together.