Good afternoon. Thank you, Howard, for that introduction. Let me begin by thanking the Department of the Interior for hosting today’s event in this incredible auditorium.
I also want to acknowledge the hard work of the teams from WHIAANHPI, the Office of Public Engagement, and all of our colleagues and friends who put together so many wonderful AA and NHPI Heritage Month programs and events over the past few weeks.
As we have taken this month to celebrate so many important accomplishments from members of AA and NHPI communities, I have also reflected on my own responsibility as the first Asian American United States Trade Representative.
This responsibility was evident when, two days before I was sworn in by our first Asian American Vice President, a gunman in Atlanta killed eight people, including six Asian women.
I began this job just as our communities were reeling from an unprecedented tragedy, in addition to all the acts of bias and bigotry that AA and NHPI people experience in everyday life.
From the beginning, I have had the dual responsibility of advancing President Biden’s trade agenda on the world stage and being a voice for our communities in the Cabinet.
This is why I am deeply honored to co-chair the White House Initiative and President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
By reestablishing and expanding WHIAANHPI, President Biden made clear that his administration would use the scale and power of the federal government to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for our communities.
The Initiative provides a forum for us to bring together stakeholders to advise us on how we fulfill WHIAANHPI’s mission. From dismantling language access barriers and expanding the use of disaggregated data, to confronting anti-AA and NHPI hate and xenophobia, this Initiative is advancing meaningful change.
I have long believed that soliciting and incorporating feedback from a wide range of stakeholders will help us create better and more equitable outcomes. In both my work as U.S. Trade Representative and as the co-Chair of WHIAANHPI, this feedback helps us create more durable, inclusive, and resilient policies, while ensuring that our administration is aligned with the needs of our communities.
That’s why one of my priorities as the U.S. Trade Representative is to include meetings with local AA and NHPI leaders into my travel around the country. Whether these conversations occur over a cup of tea or in a community center, it is important to ensure that we are directly incorporating their input and connecting our work to their needs at the local level.
While these discussions involve trade policy, we also find ourselves talking about our shared priorities and challenges. I have worked to incorporate these conversations into WHIAANHPI’s work, and to make sure these perspectives are reflected in the policies we develop together.
When I am asked about what it means to be the first Asian American U.S. Trade Representative, or one of two Asian Americans in the Cabinet, I think back on these conversations, but I also recognize those who paved the way for people like me.
Like Secretary Norman Mineta, who we lost earlier this month.
He was the son of Japanese immigrants and his family was interned in California during World War II. Despite these hardships, Norman Mineta enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduating from UC Berkeley and served as an intelligence officer in Japan and Korea.
He rose from the San Jose City Council to the mayor’s office to the halls of the United States House of Representatives. He served for two decades and co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which remains an integral institution in our legislative branch.
And of course, he was the first Asian American to serve in the Cabinet, first as President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce, and later as President Bush’s Secretary of Transportation. He was also the first chair of what became the WHIAANHPI.
We can learn so much from Secretary Mineta’s career and legacy. Despite the prejudice he experienced from his own government, his decency and commitment to justice never wavered and he remained inspired to serve this country.
Time and time again, Secretary Mineta drew upon his personal experience to speak up and speak out against injustice. He refused to stand on the sidelines when human dignity of any kind was being challenged.
Even when he made history in joining the President’s Cabinet, he didn’t settle for being the “first.”
As Secretary of Transportation after September 11, he oversaw the creation of the Transportation Security Administration and our modern aviation security policies. He inspired a generation of young AA and NHPI leaders, myself included.
If there is one part of his legacy that I want to continue, it is to pass on the legacy of mentorship, resilience, and principled service.
I often reflect on the beginning of my career in public service many years ago when I was hired as a litigator by USTR's general counsel at the time, Warren Maruyama. Warren is a brilliant trade lawyer, and he helped me understand the nuances of trade litigation.
But he was also an outstanding mentor and model in ensuring that the faces of the Federal government represent all the communities of our nation. This is a practice that I strive to continue and expand in leading our agency, and as the first Asian American to hold this position, I want to make the path to success easier for those who will follow in our footsteps.
As we reflect on our legacy and the seeds we are planting for a better future for the country and all her people, I want to thank each of you for the long days, hard work, and sacrifice that you and your families make on the behalf of a grateful nation.
As AA and NHPI Heritage Month comes to a close and our work continues, I am so glad that we have an opportunity to celebrate ourselves and each other. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve alongside all of you and our dynamic, committed colleagues across the Biden-Harris Administration to fulfill the mission of a more just and equitable society.
I am now pleased to introduce the Department of the Interior’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs, Keone Nakoa.