WASHINGTON, D.C. (MAY 8, 2014) — Thank you, Denise [Cheung], for those kind words – and for your friendship, dedicated service, and wise counsel as an indispensable member of my staff. I’d also like to thank Richard [Toscano] and his colleagues throughout the Justice Management Division for all that they’ve done to bring us together today. It’s a pleasure to welcome this crowd, and our distinguished guest speaker – my friend and colleague and a truly great Secretary of Veterans Affairs [Eric] Shinseki – here to the Great Hall. And it’s a privilege, as always, to take part in this important celebration.
For just over two decades, Americans across the country have come together every May to celebrate the important and ongoing contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders– and to pay tribute to the sacrifices made by generations, throughout history, who have enriched this nation and helped to shape its course, even in the face of adversity and injustice. This month, we honor not only the men and women who carry on this struggle today, but also those who have worked, and marched, and organized to win the dignity that America promises to all of its people, and the equality that is our Constitutional right.
These brave pioneers include men like Herbert Choy, the first person of Korean ancestry to be admitted to the bar, and the first Asian-American to be appointed to the federal bench; women like Patsy Mink, the first non-white woman ever to serve in Congress, who led the push for Title IX to ensure that girls and women have the same athletic and educational opportunities as their male peers; and trailblazers like Fred Korematsu, who went before the Supreme Court to challenge the deeply unjust policy of Japanese internment in the United States during the Second World War.
These courageous individuals, and countless others, have helped to move this country forward in ways that were often, at the time, difficult to fathom. And the impact they’ve had is impossible to measure. Once largely confined to a circumscribed set of roles and professions, denied the due process to which they should have been entitled, and stripped of their most fundamental rights, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders now make indelible contributions to every facet of American life – from our classrooms to our courtrooms; from the boardrooms of our most innovative businesses to the offices of our most dedicated public servants; from this Department of Justice, where, like Denise, they uphold and protect the rule of law, to America’s armed services, where they courageously defend our shores.
This progress speaks to the fortitude and the unyielding determination of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in overcoming adversity. It is a testament to the enduring truth of the American dream. It’s an indication of this country’s limitless capacity for growth and enrichment. And it is a reminder that, here in the United States of America – a nation of immigrants that was quite literally built by those who traveled here from around the world – we all share an essential obligation to keep striving toward the more perfect union that was described in our founding documents – and to keep building the more just and inclusive society that everyone in this country deserves.
Every public servant in this room – and your peers throughout this Department and across the federal government – has a critical role to play, and an important set of responsibilities to fulfill, when it comes to realizing the values of equality, opportunity, and justice that have defined and illuminated this country since its inception. During the last year alone, Department of Justice employees have led efforts to protect the voting rights of language minorities and communities of color; to prosecute hate crimes under the landmark Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act; and to implement the Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor, to ensure that every lawfully married couple is afforded the federal rights, benefits, and protections they deserve.
Within the Department, we have moved forward with our groundbreaking Diversity Management Initiative to promote diversity within our own ranks. Through our close partnership with the Federal Asian Pacific American Council, we have helped to create considerable new opportunities for our employees to thrive – both personally and professionally. And thanks to the tireless efforts of employee organizations like DOJ Pan Asia and others, we continue to encourage every member of the DOJ family to grow, to learn, and to advance in their lives and careers.
Of course, we all recognize that – even as we gather in celebration of the remarkable, once-unimaginable progress we’ve seen over the years – a great deal of work remains to be done. And that’s why I believe we must regard this ceremony not merely as an occasion for reflecting on past achievements, but an important moment to rededicate ourselves to the spirit that has made these advances possible – both within this building and across the nation.
I am proud, and humbled, to count each of you as a colleague and partner in this critical effort. And I now have the privilege of introducing a highly-decorated leader, a trailblazer in his own right, and today’s keynote speaker – my good friend and fellow Cabinet member, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
Secretary Shinseki was born in what was then the Territory of Hawaii to an American family of Japanese ancestry. And he has spent his entire life courageously serving this country – from West Point to active duty in the U.S. Army; from the front lines of combat in Vietnam to command posts around the world and here at home. He attained the rank of four-star General, served as Army Chief of Staff, and retired as the highest-ranking Asian-American ever to serve in the U.S. armed forces.
At every stage of his distinguished career, Secretary Shinseki has demonstrated his deep and abiding patriotism – and his high regard for the brave men and women who serve this country in uniform. That’s why he continues to serve today with great effectiveness our American heroes and wounded warriors with honor and distinction. He has the support of our President and all of us who presently serve with him. And it is my pleasure and great privilege to invite him to share a few words with us today.
Please join me in welcoming Secretary Eric Shinseki.