WASHINGTON – Cabinet members and leaders from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community joined President Barack Obama at the White House Wednesday as he signed an executive order restoring a commission to address issues in that community.
The President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,created under President Bill Clinton and cut by President George W. Bush,will bring leaders from 23 agencies together to eliminate health,education and economic disparities between the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and the rest of the population. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke will chair the commission.
“When any of our citizens are unable to fulfill their potential due to factors that have nothing to do with their talent,character,or work ethic,then I believe there's a role for our government to play,” Obama said. “Not to guarantee anybody's success or to solve everybody's problems,but to ensure that we're living up to our nation's ideals; to ensure that we can each pursue our own version of happiness,and that we continue to be a nation where all things are still possible for all people.”
The president noted the accomplishments of Asian Americans in the armed forces and sports. He introduced Terry Shima,a World War II veteran and the executive director of the Japanese American Veterans Association,and Wat Misaka,who played for the New York Knicks as the first non-white player in the National Basketball Association.
“On a personal note,when I talk about America's AAPI communities,I'm talking about my own family: my sister,Maya; my brother-in-law,Konrad; my beautiful nieces,Suhaila and Savita; and the folks I grew up with in Indonesia,and in Honolulu,as part of the Hawai'ian Ohana,or family.”
Tammy Duckworth,assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs at the Veterans Affairs Department who lost both of her legs in Iraq,joined Obama on stage.
The president also lit a diya,or lantern,commemorating Diwali,a festival of lights in India.
“This coming Saturday,Hindus,Jains,Sikhs and some Buddhists,here in America and around the world,will celebrate this holiday by lighting diyas,or lamps,which symbolize the victory of light over darkness,and knowledge over ignorance,” Obama said. “And while this is a time of rejoicing,it's also a time for reflection,when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need.”
The president was accompanied by Sri Narayanachar Digalakote,a Hindu priest at Sri Shiva Vishnu temple in Lanham,Md.,who chanted while Obama lit the White House diya.