Lucille Roybal-Allard

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month - May 3, 2005

Lucille Roybal-Allard
May 03, 2005— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. Speaker: It is my privilege today to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

I am especially proud to do so because I am fortunate to represent some of the most important Asian Pacific American communities in Los Angeles, including Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Filipinotown, and a portion of the Korean-American community. These historic communities are constant reminders of the vibrancy and vitality of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and their significant contributions to our nation.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation, former Rep. Norman Y. Mineta from California, was one of the first to work towards establishing a time of national recognition of the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. In June of 1977, he and his colleague, Rep. Frank Horton of New York, introduced the first House resolution that called upon the President to proclaim the first 10 days of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution declaring May 4-10 as National Asian Pacific American Heritage Week. And in 1990, President George H. W. Bush expanded the celebration to the entire month of May. The month of May was chosen for this special commemoration since it corresponds with the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to the United States in May of 1843.

"Asian Pacific American" is a political appellation that encompasses the many ethnic groups that exist in the AAPI community. The term helps give expression to this historically, culturally, linguistically, and ethnically diverse group while at the same time recognizing common experiences in American history.

Mr. Speaker, let me take a few minutes to highlight a few of the important events in the lives of my Asian Pacific American constituents. In Little Tokyo, one event was the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Little Tokyo Service Center, in which I had the honor to participate. For 25 years, the Little Tokyo Service Center, a nonprofit charitable organization serving Asian and Pacific Islanders throughout Los Angeles County, has been an important resource for the residents of this diverse community. Currently, Little Tokyo Service Center sponsors over a dozen community and social service programs, with more than 40 paid staff and hundreds of volunteers who provide competent and compassionate services in seven different languages. The services provided by Little Tokyo Service Center include individual and family counseling, support groups, transportation and translation services, an emergency caregiver program, crisis hotlines, and consumer education.

Little Tokyo Service Center is also the sponsor of several major community development projects in the Los Angeles area, including the construction and management of Casa Heiwa, a 100-unit affordable housing project for individuals and families; the rehabilitation of one of our city's historical landmarks into the Union Center for the Arts; and the development of Pacific Bridge, a housing complex for adults with developmental challenges. Another noteworthy event took place last year when I was honored to recognize the 100th anniversary of The Rafu Shimpo. The success of this bilingual English-Japanese newspaper, founded in Los Angeles and published, distributed, and read avidly in my congressional district, is another milestone in the rich history of the Japanese-American community.

The history of The Rafu Shimpo is an important part of both American and Japanese American history and heritage. In April 1903, three young men, Rippo Iijima, Masaharu Yamaguchi, and Seijiro Shibuya produced in Los Angeles the first mimeographed news bulletin for the Japanese-speaking community. In 1914, under the new management of Henry Toyosaku (H.T.) Komai, the newspaper began to grow. In 1926, an English language section was added with the help of a 20-year-old UCLA education major, Louise Suski. By 1932, the English section became a daily feature.

On April 4, 1942, The Rafu Shimpo ceased publication as Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly and shamefully removed to desert internment camps. At the end of the war in 1945, while other Japanese Americans were released, H.T. Komai continued to be detained in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Nevertheless, the Komai family’s dedication to publishing The Rafu Shimpo persevered. H.T.’s son, Akira Komai, with a $1,500 loan from three staff members, rebuilt the newspaper.

The newspaper grew rapidly from a circulation of 500 in 1946, to 20,000 over the next 30 years. Today, H.T.'s grandson, Michael Komai, serves as the third generation publisher, a position he has held since 1983. The award-winning daily has over 45,000 readers and prevails as the premier news source for the Los Angeles area Japanese American community.

Two years ago, I was also honored to recognize the 100th anniversary of Fugetsu-Do, a family-run bakery in my congressional district. Starting in 1903, Seiichi Kito and his family, later including Roy Kito, began working in a small shop to produce batches of mochi, maju, and other Japanese sweets. In 1942, when the Kito family was forced to relocate to the Heart Mountain, Wyoming internment camp, the family business was closed. At the end of the war, the Kito family returned to Los Angeles and reopened the doors of Fugetsu-Do. Today, Brian Kito, the grandson of Seiichi Kito and the son of Roy Kito, continues the legacy of Fugetsu-Do and continues to serve the Little Tokyo community. And, of course, there is the wonderful celebration of Japanese culture and tradition during Nisei Week, culminating with the annual parade.

I am also very proud to represent many members of the Korean-American community and to work with this important constituency that greatly contributes to the Los Angeles area and our nation as a whole.

In 1903, Korean immigrants began arriving in the U.S. in three distinct waves. The first wave was recruited for back-breaking work on the sugar plantations of Hawaii. The second wave of Koreans arrived after World War II and again after the Korean War. In the 1960’s, more Korean immigrants came to the U.S. seeking increased educational opportunities. Many in this last group were medical professionals who came to fill the shortage of health care workers in our inner cities. These immigrants have helped revitalize declining neighborhoods and have been an economic stimulus through small business entrepreneurship. Korean Americans have also made their influence felt in international trade, the fashion industry, and other community businesses such as restaurants. Still others make significant contributions in professions ranging from the arts to medicine and the sciences. Last year I was proud to help honor the 100th anniversary of Korean-American immigration to the United States with a statement on the floor of the House of Representatives and to participate in their annual Harvest Moon Festival parade in Los Angeles.

And, of course, I am privileged to represent Los Angeles’s Chinatown, perhaps the Asian Pacific American group with the oldest and best known story in American history. Immigrants from China first came to southern California in the late 1850’s to help build wagon roads and lay railroad tracks across the west. Initially barred from owning property, many Chinese eventually settled near Olvera Street in rented homes and storefronts used for hand laundries, herb shops and markets in downtown Los Angeles. In the 1930s, this neighborhood of approximately three-thousand Chinese residents was uprooted to make way for the construction of Union Station on Alameda Street.

Chinese families and merchants banded together as the Los Angeles Chinatown Corporation to create a “new Chinatown” on Broadway. Since second-generation Chinese could own property, American-born Peter Soo Hoo led the group in purchasing a railroad storage yard they turned into a traditional Chinese-looking, tile-fringed pedestrian plaza. This “New Chinatown” became one of America’s first shopping malls and was an immediate success. Restaurants and shops abounded, and at night the neighborhood came to life with colorful lights, music and street entertainers.

In the 1970s, waves of new Chinese immigrants led an ethnic population shift eastward to the San Gabriel Valley. The original Chinatown, however, retains its historical significance and vitality. To help stimulate its renewal and make this historic area accessible to more Southern Californians, the Los Angeles delegation is working to bring the Gold Line through Chinatown.

Among the many other exciting things happening in Chinatown is the Chinese American Museum. In December of 2003, I was pleased to join the Chinese community to celebrate the Grand Opening of the museum, located at Olvera Street, the birthplace of Los Angeles. The Chinese American Museum is in the Garnier Building, which was erected in the 1890’s for the exclusive use of the Chinese community. During those early years, the Garnier building housed schools, temples, churches and businesses. And, of course, the annual Chinese New Year parade and dragon dance culminates a week of celebration of Chinese culture and history.

And finally, in 2003, with other Members of Congress, I was pleased to attend a recognition ceremony in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans and current service members who are defending our country in the armed services. Among those being honored were members of the legendary 442nd Infantry Army Regiment, which sustained a higher rate of casualties during World War II than any other unit.

This ceremony was one more reminder of the enormous contributions and sacrifices made to this country by the members of our Asian Pacific American communities. It is truly an honor to join my colleagues during Asian Pacific Heritage Month to recognize the many heroic and positive contributions of the API community to our American society.