Remembering AAPI veterans this Memorial Day
By U.S. Rep. Ted. Lieu
WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 30, 2016) — Each year, we celebrate Memorial Day to honor those who gave their lives serving in our armed forces. The holiday is particularly close to my heart because I’m a veteran and also because it comes at the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
My parents immigrated to the United States when I was 3-years-old, and became successful small business owners thanks to their hard work and perseverance. After I attended college and law school, I decided to give back to my country by serving on active duty with the U.S. Air Force. Over the course of four years, I met countless brave service members from diverse backgrounds, carrying their own immigrant family stories who were unquestionably committed to defending our nation’s principles.
But there’s a troubling new development in our national politics today threatening to tarnish the memories and stories of those men and women. In light of the anti-immigrant and anti-Asian sentiments expressed by Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, it is especially important to remember the rich diversity of the courageous people who have already made our country great.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) soldiers have served the U.S. for over 200 years, beginning with Filipino soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. Due to our nation’s history of racial discrimination, AAPI soldiers have often dealt with hostile environments during and after their service. Japanese-American soldiers fought nobly in WWII despite the mass internment of their families, and Filipino WWII veterans are still dealing with the denial of benefits and fighting for recognition of their efforts.
Earlier this month, the Obama Administration implemented a program that allowed family members of Filipino-American veterans to immigrate the U.S. to support and care for them. These families had previously waited for decades in the immigration backlog, and their experiences highlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform as well as the need for AAPIs to make their voices heard.
At a time when Donald Trump threatens progress by continually delegitimizing and insulting the immigrant experience, the Democratic Party’s commitment to keeping families together extends from young undocumented children and their parents to senior citizens in need of home care.
As part of an effort to ensure just treatment of all current soldiers, I co-sponsored a bill introduced by my colleague Rep. Judy Chu that would require every branch of the military and the Coast Guard to report on their anti-hazing efforts. Rep. Chu experienced a personal tragedy when her nephew took his own life after being subject to violent hazing during his service. Her legislation also aims to ensure that those in the armed services will not face discrimination in their ranks because of race, sex, religion, orientation or creed.
Unfortunately, we have yet to see that same commitment from Mr. Trump, who regularly incites violence through race-baiting and divisive rhetoric that re-opens the deep wounds our nation has worked so hard to heal. Trump has made belligerent claims to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and engage in a trade war with China. His presidential run correlates to an uptick of bullying in schools, and teachers have reported a rise in anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim feelings in students, as well as fear of the future if Trump were to be elected. Trump’s vows to dismantle key strategic agreements around the world has also alarmed world leaders. And his policies and rhetoric threaten to make our children and our soldiers less safe at home and abroad.
On this Memorial Day, and as we mark the end of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we remember the many who have sacrificed their lives to protect our great country and fight for our freedom and prosperity. We must not elect, as our next Commander in Chief, a man whose lack of judgment would make our nation less safe and secure. Donald Trump would only divide us. America is stronger when we stand together.
Congressman Ted W. Lieu is serving his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing California’s 33rd Congressional District. He was elected Democratic Freshman Class President by his colleagues. He also served Active Duty in the US Air Force and is currently a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves.