President Obama highlights contributions of Asian Americans

President Barack Obama greets people in the audience after delivering the keynote address at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies 18th Annual Gala Dinner in Washington, DC, May 8, 2012.

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Washington DC – President Barack Obama on May 8 highlighted the role played by Indian Americans in the history of modern-day America, citing the example of Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian American elected to the United States Congress.

Addressing the annual gala of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAIC), a non-profit group that works to develop Asian American leaders and politicians, President Obama recognized Saund as a trailblazer for the Asian American community for his years of service in the House of Representatives.

Obama reviewed the role of immigrants in the building of America, saying, “No matter when it began, no matter where it began, your stories are about someone who came here looking for new opportunities, not merely for themselves, but for their children, and for their children’s children, and for all generations to come.”

“Few of them had money. A lot of them didn’t have belongings. But what they did have was an unshakeable belief that this country — of all countries — is a place where anybody can make it if they try,” said Obama.

President Obama acknowledged the challenges faced by immigrants over the years saying, “Now, many of them faced hardship; many of them faced ridicule; many of them faced racism. Many were treated as second-class citizens — as people who didn’t belong.  But they didn’t give up. They didn’t make excuses. They kept forging ahead. They kept building up America.”

Commending the first Indian American member of Congress, President Obama said, “They were trailblazers like Dalip Singh Saund — a young man from India who, in 1920, came to study agriculture, stayed to become a farmer, and took on the cause of citizenship for all people of South Asian descent.”

“And once Dalip earned his own citizenship, he stepped up to serve the country he loved — and became the first Asian American elected to the Congress,” continued Obama amid thunderous applause.

In addition to honoring pioneers like Saund, Obama highlighted the responsibility of the present generation to build for the future. “We honor the trailblazers who came before. But we also celebrate the leaders yet to come — all the young people who are here tonight.”

Amid applause, Obama said, “Together, it’s our turn to be responsible for the future. It’s our turn to make sure the next generation has more opportunities than we did. It’s our turn to make sure that no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, no matter what you look like, America forever remains the place where you can make it if you try.”

“Whether your heritage stems from South Asia or East Asia, from my native Hawaii or the Pacific Islands, whether you’re first generation … Whether you are first generation or the fifth, you’re helping to build a better America,” said President Obama as he was repeatedly interrupted by applause.

Obama promised, “Every child born in America, regardless of race, creed, color, is going to have a chance. We’re going to do that together — because in this country, we look out for each other. We fight for each other. If somebody is suffering through injustice or inequality, we take up their cause as if it was our own. That’s the story of America. And that’s certainly the story of this community.”

There was overwhelming support for Obama at the non-partisan event as the group welcomed Obama by chanting “four more years!” until the president told them “have a seat” and “you’re making me blush.”

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