Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, and Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) Mike Honda (CA-15) hosted the 2008 Asian American and Pacific Islander Town Hall today to discuss important issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Below are the Speaker's remarks:
“Thank you for being here this morning. This is an important occasion for us when you come to Washington and share your views. This is the third Asian American and Pacific Islander Town Hall, so I'm pleased to say that it is becoming a tradition.
“I am grateful to have co-sponsored this town hall with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid; Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee; and Congressman Mike Honda, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. With their leadership, we continue to ensure that the voices of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are heard.
“I represent the city of San Francisco, one of the most diverse cities in the country, and also with one of the largest AAPI populations. Every time I go home, it is wonderful to go around certain parts of Chinatown and Japantown and the rest. It's nice to see the pride in the cultural heritage of our San Franciscans, because the beauty is in the mix.
“As we approach Memorial Day, it is fitting that many of you are here today as advocates for the Filipino World War II veterans. Chairman Filner has been a relentless, persistent, dissatisfied advocate. Congressman Honda lives and breathes this issue. They have enlisted so many of our colleagues in this fight. And of course, in my district, this is one of the issues that I brought to Congress a long time ago and now that we are in the majority we have to find a way to get the bill passed and also signed. The Senate passed theirs in part of another package. We would hope that we could send this to be signed by the President of the United States.
“But all this takes outside mobilization to make the dream come true - it has been long overdue. The inside maneuvering by me, and many others for a long time, including Representatives Doris Matsui, Mazie Hirono and David Wu is not enough. Our message to you is that we're doing what we can in maneuvering internally. We need for Members of Congress and the White House to hear from all of you on the outside. And you know what? Asian American and Pacific Islanders are all over America. There isn't a place that you could name where there wouldn't be voices that would be heeded by the community.
“This year's theme: ‘Working Together to Strengthen Our Economy,' is appropriate. As I said to you before, in our country, we have been blessed by constant reinvigoration of newcomers coming to America. Some of your families have been here longer than some European immigrants. They helped build the railroads, helped build this country and helped build it in so many different ways. And some of your families have just come recently. Whether it is 200 years or two days, the reinvigoration of America is what makes us great.
“The AAPI community has been particularly important in strengthening America, when we're talking about family values, a sense of community, education of our children, work ethic, plus your commitment for a better future for the next generation. This immigration has made America more American.
“The economy is an important part of that, and many of you are in the lead in small business. The House has passed legislation to strengthen small businesses, to lower the cost of financing and to increase the share of federal contracts for minority-owned businesses. We know that there are more than 1.1 million AAPI-owned small businesses in our country, creating millions of jobs.
“On housing, AAPIs have been victimized by predatory lenders and we have legislation addressing this issue and have sent it over to the Senate.
“On health care, 15 percent of the AAPI population does not have health insurance - 8 percent of that number reflects AAPI children without insurance. So we thank you for your support of SCHIP, we're trying to get that passed and signed by the President.
“In the 110th Congress we have passed legislation that increases access and reduces costs to colleges and universities across the country. That education package is the largest education package for college affordability since the GI Bill was signed in 1944.
“In terms of the economy, we passed, in a bipartisan way, our economic stimulus package and that means more than 130 million families in America who never got a check or a tax rebate or a child tax credit will receive a Recovery Rebate. Across the country, over $100 billion in checks will be in the mail; hopefully they'll start showing up in your communities. But we need to do more and we know that.
“And we have to do it by listening to you about what ideas are the best to go forward to grow our economy with innovation, to strengthen our families through education and health care, to build an infrastructure for America and to do so in a way that builds a greener America. And that was part of the whole infrastructure initiative of Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt and now we carry on that tradition with good paying jobs.
“Our first responsibility is to protect the American people and it is our belief that we can do that better when our troops are redeployed, when our troops are out of Iraq so we can focus on building our military.
“It is our responsibility to protect the American people and we must honor our responsibility to our veterans, so I end where I began and that is with our Filipino vets. A promise has been made and the reputation of our country is at stake with this important issue. We don't want any more time to go by. We look forward to working with you on this, fully committed to do it because it is the right thing to do and are forever grateful to you for protecting our great country and continuing to make it secure.
“God Bless you and God Bless America.”