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Opening Remarks for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month


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William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Washington, DC
May 22, 2012

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Date: 05/22/2012 Description: Deputy Secretary Burns greets Embassy of the Republic of Korea Minister for Economic Affairs Gheewhan Kim at the Asian-American Foreign Affairs Association event on May 22 where the Deputy delivered opening remarks.   © Photo Credit: Choon Young RoThank you. It’s truly an honor to join all of you in celebrating the 20th Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

Thirty years ago, I entered a State Department far less diverse than it is today. Thirty years ago, there was no Asian-American heritage day. Today, there are over 1,000 Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders serving in the Department of State. Today, we devote a whole month to honoring the achievements of so many Americans of Asian and Pacific Heritage. And today we celebrate the cultures -- ancient but vibrant -- that extend from the farming villages of Southeast Asia, from the mega-cities of China, Korea and Japan, from the fishing towns of the Pacific Islands and from so many other places across the ocean to become a treasured part of the fabric of American life.

We celebrate the contributions of Asian-American and Pacific Islander scientists and soldiers, doctors and diplomats, newly arrived immigrants, multi-generational American families, and even New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, who sparked “Linsanity” and captivated fans around the globe.

This year we come together against the backdrop of a renewed diplomatic focus on the Asia-Pacific. As you know well, generations of Americans have sacrificed alongside their trans-Pacific partners so that democracy and prosperity could take root on both sides of the ocean. Today, the Pacific is emerging as the global center of gravity, of rising economic and political power, of growth, of innovation and trade. Ours has always been a Pacific nation, but we now find ourselves in the midst of a “Pacific Century.”

That is why Secretary Clinton broke with tradition and made her inaugural overseas trip as Secretary of State to the Asia-Pacific. It is why we are shoring up alliances with Japan, South Korea and other long standing allies. It is why we are engaging with rising powers like China, Indonesia, and India. And it is why we are building up regional institutions like ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit.

From that first trip to Secretary Clinton’s most recent visit to China -- through two wars, an Arab Spring, and countless other crises -- our focus on the Asia-Pacific has continued unabated. And many of us have the frequent flier miles to prove it: since becoming Deputy Secretary last summer, I have traveled to the region four times and will return to Southeast Asia next month for the Shangri-la Dialogue.

But our focus on the Asia-Pacific isn’t the only reason to celebrate the remarkable Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in our midst. Year by year, America looks more and more like the world around us. And if we want to represent America in the twenty-first century world, we need a diplomatic corps that looks like America. The idea that this is a nation founded on ideas and ideals rather than a single common ethnicity -- the idea that anyone can become an American -- the idea that any American-born person can become President, even the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan -- this is who we are. It is a source of pride and a source of soft power too often left untapped.

As Secretary Clinton likes to say, we want to celebrate diversity, but more than that, we want to put it to work. And so we have.

Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders keep American diplomacy running every day. You bring unique and valuable histories, cultures, languages, skills and knowledge inside the walls of the Department. We are lucky to have remarkable senior Department leaders like Legal Adviser Harold Koh, Don Yamamoto in African Affairs, Joe Yun in East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Ambassadors Gary Locke in China, Sung Kim in Korea, and Geeta Pasi in Djibouti. And we are lucky to count so many Asian-American and Pacific Islanders among our Foreign Service and Civil Service staff. Your triumphs may have been quieter than some of the more senior figures I just mentioned, but your service is no less valued.

I want to thank the Asian-American Foreign Affairs Association for all of your work. Your annual leadership dinner continues to connect new hires with mentors and is expanding to satellite dinners at our posts overseas. Your members recruit at career fairs and speak to local press about opportunities to serve in government. Your Board advocates for expanding opportunities for Asian-Americans to serve in critical needs posts. You haven’t just heeded the call for a more diverse State Department, you have led the charge.

And so, as we embark on America’s Pacific Century, it is a matter of national interest and national pride to welcome and support the Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders of the State Department. On behalf of Secretary Clinton, let me simply say: we celebrate your heritage, we treasure your talents and dedication, and we thank you for your service.



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