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WASHINGTON DC -- To commemorate Asian American Heritage Month, President Barack Obama is urging all Americans to learn more about the history and contributions of this group.
“This month, we reflect on the indelible ways AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) communities have shaped our national life,” the president said in a statement on May 1.
A proclamation he signed on the same date, the president designated May 2012 as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
“I call upon all Americans to learn more about the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities,” he said.
In his statement, Pres. Obama also commemorated the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese cherry blossom trees planted in Washington DC “[It is] an enduring symbol of the friendship shared between the United States and Japan and a reminder of America's standing as a Pacific nation,” he noted.
“Over the centuries, we have maintained a long, rich history of engagement in the Asia-Pacific region, and our AAPI communities have been essential to strengthening the economic, political, and social bonds we share with our partners around the world,” the president also said.
In his statement, Pres. Obama noted AAPI contributions to American society including that in government and industry, science and medicine, the arts, US Armed Forces, education and sports.
“Yet, while we celebrate these successes, we must remember that too often Asian American and Pacific Islanders face significant adversity,” he said.
“Many AAPI communities continue to fight prejudice and struggle to overcome disparities in education, employment, housing, and health care. My Administration remains committed to addressing these unique challenges,” he added.
President Obama noted the federal inter-agency White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is working to expand opportunities for AAPI communities by improving access to federal programs where the group is currently underserved.
Meanwhile, a distinguished Asian-American was named by President Obama as one of thirteen recipients of this year’s Presidential Medal of Freedom awards.
“Gordon Hirabayashi was an American hero. We are thrilled to hear that he will receive a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor which will help spread awareness of his courageous story," Ling Woo Liu, director of the Fred T. Korematsu Institute for Civil Rights and Education, said.
Hirabayashi, who died last January 2, was a student at the University of Washington when President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II. Hirabayashi, an American citizen, refused to comply with the forced relocation order and instead turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assert that the internment order was racially discriminatory.
He was convicted by a US Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943.
Following World War II and his time in prison, Hirabayashi obtained his doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor at the University of Alberta in Canada. In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Members of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, the Asian American Institute, Asian American Justice Center, Asian Law Caucus and Asian Pacific American Legal Center applaud the president for honoring Hirabayashi.