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Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West Speaks at the Department of Justice Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Event


United States

Good morning and thank you, Grande for that kind introduction.  It is a pleasure to join all of you as we acknowledge the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the Justice Department and to our Nation. 

I would like to briefly thank the entire DOJ EEO Community, including the JMD EEO Staff, for their efforts to coordinate annual special emphasis programs’ observances, including today’s event.  Since his appointment in 2009, Attorney General Holder has made it a priority to strengthen the Department’s human capital and advance equal opportunity for all.  And the JMD EEO Staff’s affirmative employment initiatives continue to support the Attorney General’s goals for diversity and inclusion, and are an important component to our collective efforts to ensure equal employment opportunity for all.

At the Department of Justice, we have several outstanding leaders from the AAPI community.  We also have an established AAPI employee association, DOJ Pan Asia, which is chaired by Samuel Go of the Civil Rights Division.  As many of you know, DOJ Pan Asia is an active organization that brings together DOJ employees to address the interests and needs of the AAPI community, and to offer Departmental policy makers, potential strategies to help recruit, hire, retain, and develop this important segment of the U.S. population.

Today’s program and others like it being held throughout the Department and our Nation this month, provide a unique opportunity to honor and reflect upon the accomplishments and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, many of whom arrived in this country as immigrants or children of immigrants and altered the landscape of our Nation’s history. 

Importantly, our recognition acknowledges that these accomplishments did not come without sacrifice or struggle.  Indeed, from the Chinese laborers who connected our coasts with the Transcontinental railroad, to those Japanese American patriots who fought – many of whom died – abroad while their families were interned here at home; from our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander friends who have endured decades of persecution and broken promises to our South Asian American neighbors who have faced senseless violence and suspicion due only to the color of their skin or the tenants of their faith.  These are among the adversities Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have endured.

However, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 and the 70th anniversary of the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, we have seen resilience and resolve triumph over hardship and discrimination.  As President Obama stated in his 2013 Asian American and Pacific Islander Presidential Proclamation: “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have prevailed over adversity and risen to the top of their fields – from medicine to business to the bench.”  And yet, despite these successes, “too many hardworking AAPI families face disparities in health care, education, and employment that keep them from getting ahead.” 

These ongoing struggles are why Asian Americans and Pacific Islander leaders in our economic, academic, and social institutions are so important.  These are the leaders who are working tirelessly each day to create positive change for the AAPI community, their neighbors, and our Country.  We are so fortunate to be joined today by one of these leaders, a true trailblazer for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, our keynote speaker Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Representative for Illinois’ 8th Congressional district.

In 2004, Ms. Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard.  She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on November 12, 2004.  Ms. Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.

Ms. Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  As one of the highest-ranking patients, she quickly became an advocate for her fellow Soldiers and testified before Congress about caring for our veterans and wounded warriors.

Following her recovery, Ms. Duckworth became Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.  In Illinois, she worked to create a tax credit for employers who hired Veterans, established a first-in-the-nation 24/7 crisis hotline for veterans, and developed innovative programs to improve veterans’ access to housing and health care.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Ms. Duckworth to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  At the VA, Ms. Duckworth led an initiative to end homelessness among veterans.  She created the Office of Online Communications to improve the VA’s and accessibility, especially among young veterans, and worked to address the unique challenges that Native American and female veterans face.

Ms. Duckworth ran for Congress in 2012 to advocate for the practical solutions and cooperation needed to rebuild our economy and ensure that every American has a chance to achieve the American Dream.  This past January, Congresswoman Duckworth became the first Asian-American woman elected to Congress for the State of Illinois and the first member of Congress born in Thailand. 

Please join me in welcoming to the podium, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth. 

Updated September 17, 2014