WASHINGTON — Vice President Kamala Harris gave a speech on May 24 at the Renaissance Hotel during Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies’ 28th annual awards. Following are excerpts.
School Shooting in Texas: Tonight is a rough night. We planned for a great celebration, but I’m sure most of you have heard the tragic news about what has happened in Texas … I just first want to begin by saying a few words about the tragedy that occurred today in Uvalde, Texas.
As many of you know, the reports are that there was a mass shooting at an elementary school, and the preliminary reports are that 14 children have been killed. And the details are still coming in, and of course the president and I are monitoring the situation closely.
So while we don’t know all the details yet, we do know that there are parents who have lost children, families that have lost children and their loved ones, of course, and many others who may have been injured.
So, I would normally say in a moment like this — we would all say naturally — that our hearts break, but our hearts keep getting broken.
You know, I think so many — there’s so many elected leaders in this room. You know what I’m talking about. Every time a tragedy like this happens, our hearts break, and our broken hearts are nothing compared to the broken hearts of those families. And yet, it keeps happening.
So, I think we all know and have said many times with each other: Enough is enough. Enough is enough.
As a nation, we have to have the courage to take action and understand the nexus between what make for reasonable and sensible public policy to ensure something like this never happens again.
So, the president will speak more about this later. But for now, I will just say to the people of Uvalde: Please know that this is a room full of leaders who grieve with you. And we are praying for you, and we stand with you.
And it is difficult at a time like this to think about much else, but I do look around this room and I know who is here, and I know this is a room full of American leaders who know and have the courage to take a stand.
Norman Mineta: So this is the first time APAICS has gathered without the great Secretary Norman Mineta, who I all know — I know we all miss. And, you know, Norm showed us what a leader could be. I loved Norm. I knew Norm. (Applause)
As a kid who grew up — I think I see Norm’s family here. There you are. I — as a kid who grew up in the Bay Area, I was born in the Bay Area, Norm Mineta was a legend. He was a legend. In fact, many of you may know — his family knows — my brother-in-law Tony West, who some of you have worked with over the years, he was an intern in then-Congressman Mineta’s office when Tony was a very, very mature 11-year-old. (Laughter) Because that’s the kind of leader Norm Mineta was.
He, if he were here, would have great expectations of us in terms of what this moment requires of us as leaders. But throughout his life, as long as any of us have known him — and we will carry our knowledge of him and memory — he never thought that anyone was too young or too small to deserve his attention and concern and investment.
That’s the kind of leader Norm Mineta was. He was a leader who understood what is possible and a leader who understood what must be.
And as I think about it, going forward, I say that, you know, Norm is somebody who had the ability to — out of great sacrifice, out of great tragedy — always still be so optimistic about who we are as a country.
As we all know, he endured — through his own life experiences, along with approximately 120,000 other Japanese Americans — virtual incarceration. We called it, for many years, “internment.”
But Norm — but Norm decided that he understood the power of a government; that he endured, he understood what a government could do. And he said — because he was the kind of leader — “I’m going to go inside. I’m going to run for office. I’m going to hold office. And I’m going to lead with a sense of optimism about the best of who we are.”
Norm saw … America during one of our darkest hours. And even so, he never gave up on our country.
Instead, he chose to devote his career to public service. And he worked tirelessly to make our nation stronger, safer, and more just. And he was relentless in his efforts to bring together the AANHPI community in pursuit of a better future.
As he once said — and I will quote — “If we will act together, then we are strong enough to withstand any evil, internal or external, that threatens to unravel this beautiful tapestry that is America.” This room.
After the events of today and the last two weeks in Buffalo, Laguna Woods, and Dallas, Norm’s words take on a new sense of urgency.
Today, we are witnessing, again and again, the terrible consequences of hate and the consequences of violence. But let’s not lose sight of the beautiful tapestry that Norm spoke of.
Taking Action: This is a moment that calls on us to take action. A moment once again for all of us to join together in the collective fight against hate and toward a better future for all people.And now I’m speaking specifically of the events — not today — that have occurred though, in the last couple of weeks and for years before.
For nearly three decades, APAICS has done the outstanding work to promote AA and NHPI participation and representation in all levels of government. We know our country is stronger and more just when policies reflect the experiences and the perspectives of all people.
We know that Asian Americans need to be in the rooms where decisions are being made. (Applause) That Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders need to be in the room where decisions are made. (Applause) We know and have devoted our lives to understand the words when we say, “Participation and access matter.” It’s a lived experience for us.
And I know, of course — like so many of you — I know first-hand what it is like to be in the rooms where decisions are being made and be the only person who looks like you or who has had your life experience.
And so, I will remind us all that in those moments, we must always remember — and I will say to you, those of you especially who are starting out in your role of leadership: When you are in those rooms, please remember you are never alone. Look around this room and hold onto the image to remember we are all in that room with you.
And always remember, then, that what comes with that experience is also, of course, a responsibility to know and remember that we carry the voices of so many who are not in the room — and perhaps have never been in the room — to carry those voices with us and to remind each other always that we are in this together, supporting each other.
And most importantly, I believe it is very much a part of the spirit of this organization and its work to remember our collective responsibility to speak up for everyone who is not in the room, for those voices must be heard.
So this is a unique responsibility that all of us here carry. However, it should not be ours alone. It falls on every American, and especially all of our elected officials, regardless of their party affiliation, to fight for the promise of equal justice under law.
And it will take all of us working together to uplift our nation. And slowly but surely, I’m confident that we, as elected leaders, are making progress …
Just one year ago, members of Congress from both parties came together to pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act. It was based on a resolution that I had introduced — (applause) — right? — that I had introduced when I was senator, together with the phenomenal (Sen.) Mazie Hirono, the phenomenal (Sen.) Tammy Duckworth — (applause) — condemning the rise of anti-Asian sentiment in our country.
And as I stood, then, later — a year later almost — as vice president with President Joe Biden in the East Room that day, while he signed the bill into law, I looked around and I saw all the people in that room, including many of whom are here today, who fought to ensure that this law would be a significant step forward.
We have seen progress. And that law, of course, now provides resources and training for law enforcement to accurately identify and report hate crime. And it addresses language and cultural barriers that make it difficult for AA and NHPI communities to report those crimes.
As of this month, hate crime resources are now available in 18 of the most commonly spoken Asian languages. But we know we have hundreds; I know that too, so — but — (laughter) — it’s a start …
In spite of the obstacles that we face along the way, the strength of our country has always been that we fight to move forward — from injustice to justice, from darkness to light.
And together, in spite of whatever the challenges may be, let us remain focused on the path forward to a better future for all people. Let us remain focused on what many of you have heard me say all the time: Let us remain focused on what can be — and our vision, collectively, of what can be — unburdened by what has been.
That is the beauty and the strength of this organization and the leaders in this room.
Transcript provided by the White House.