skip navigational linksDOL Seal - Link to DOL Home Page
Photos representing the workforce - Digital Imagery© copyright 2001 PhotoDisc, Inc.
October 6, 2008    DOL Home > Newsroom > Speeches & Remarks   

Speeches by Secretary Elaine L. Chao

Printer-Friendly Version

Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao
CelebrAsian '08
Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thank you for that warm welcome!

Thank you, Susan [Au Allen, National President & CEO, U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce], and the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC) for putting together this great event.

Each May, we have an opportunity to foster greater awareness and appreciation of the heritage and contributions of Asian Pacific Americans to our country.

America is truly a land of hope and opportunity. Over forty years ago, when my family and I first caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and embarked on this great adventure, we could never have dreamed that I would be where I am today. As a young immigrant to this country, I spoke no English, and my family and I had very modest expectations.

Today, as I look back — I believe I owe all of my successes to my parents. If it weren't for their courage, for their many sacrifices, and for their incredibly hard work — I would not be an American. I would not have had all the tremendous opportunities I have been blessed with over the years. Their story will sound familiar to many of you in this room, whose families have gone through many of the same hardships and challenges to build a better life for their families.

My father, Dr. James S. C. Chao, and mother, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, are Americans of Chinese descent. They grew up in early 20th Century China, which was buffeted with domestic turmoil, natural disasters, foreign invasions, instability, and insecurity.

In 1949, after the Civil War, they resettled in Taiwan. There, they met, got married and had three children. When my mother was seven months pregnant with my third sister, my father had an opportunity to come to the United States. He had scored number one in the national examinations, was written up in the newspapers, and a benefactor offered to sponsor him for study in the United States.

Did my young parents hesitate because my mother was seven months' pregnant? Did they ask — well, maybe we could request a two-month extension, just until the baby is born. No! Of course not! They understood that you have to seize opportunities because there is no guarantee that they'll come your way again.

My mother actually encouraged my father to go to America to pursue a life of greater opportunity for our family.

It wasn't easy. My mother stayed back in China with three small children for three years while my father studied in America. The only communication between them was by letter, since international phone calls were much too expensive. Those letters were a precious lifeline, nurturing and encouraging them through the hardship of separation.

When my father finally saved up enough money to bring over his family, the only fare he could afford was on a cargo ship. So, my mother, sisters, and I sailed from Kaoshiung to Tokyo Bay across the Pacific Ocean, stopping in Los Angeles, across the Panama Canal, up the east coast and landed at New York Harbor. It was a sea journey of over 11,000 nautical miles! It took over a month, and we were the only women on the ship! But, my mother was so brave. Throughout her whole life I never once heard her complain. She was the rock of our family and her memory continues to inspire us today.

My mother and father made the decision to come to America not for themselves, but for my sisters and me. They wanted us to have all the freedom and opportunity this great country promised. And they taught us that if you work hard, invest in yourself, and never give up, you can achieve your dreams.

This year marks the final one in my term as the United States Secretary of Labor. And, during my tenure, I hope that we have done lots of good things to improve the health and safety, retirement security and competitiveness of America's workforce. But there is a special place in my heart for the things that have been accomplished on behalf of traditionally-underserved communities, including the Asian Pacific American community.

Over the past 15 years, the Asian Pacific American population has grown from about 3 percent of America's total population to about 5 percent. And, current projections estimate the APA population will reach over 33 million by 2050. Along with our increasing presence in mainstream America, our community has also grown in what we have been able to achieve. President George W. Bush recognized this by appointing more than 400 Asian Pacific Americans to positions across the federal government. That's more than all the previous administrations combined. And, I'm very proud of the fact that the U.S. Department of Labor has the highest percentage of Asian Pacific Americans appointed to senior management of any Cabinet agency.

At the Labor Department, we have launched many programs to help Asian Pacific Americans — and other traditionally underserved communities — take advantage of the opportunities available in mainstream America. And hopefully, many in this audience have been able to access them.

At the beginning of my tenure, the Department launched the Asian Pacific American Federal Career Advancement Summit, to help APA's access the skills necessary to advance within the federal workforce. We've held it annually and this year's summit — held a couple of weeks ago — had more than 1300 attendees. That's the largest number ever! And today, the training received at the summit is officially approved by the federal government's Office of Personnel Management.

During my tenure, the Department also launched an annual Opportunity Conference to help employers in traditionally underserved communities access greater opportunities in mainstream America. I know many in this audience have attended these conferences. We've had five of them and attendance has reached over 1000! The Department has especially appreciated the support of Susan Allen and USPAACC on this program.

And we must always remember the next generation, because they are our future. To help foster a new generation of leaders and promote diversity in the workforce, the Department established an internship program that over 100 Asian Pacific have participated in during my tenure. Every year I set aside time to meet with many of the Asian Pacific American interns in the Washington D.C. area, to encourage them and highlight the leadership opportunities available.

And on the national level, the Department now tracks employment in our community for the first time ever. In 2003, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began specifically reporting monthly employment data on Asian Pacific Americans as a separate, independent category. That's how we now know that the unemployment rate for Asian Pacific Americans is right around 3 percent.

The Department has also posted record results in enforcing equal opportunity rights for employees of federal contractors — with an increase in financial recoveries of nearly 80 percent since 2001. Last year, the Department recovered a record in excess of $51 million on behalf of workers who had been subjected to illegal discrimination. Many were Asian Pacific Americans.

And, to help entrepreneurs, the Department has translated numerous labor law materials into multiple languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean. Outreach of this kind is important because the number of businesses owned by Asian Pacific Americans has jumped in recent years.

This Administration understands that it is employers like you, in the private sector, who create jobs — not the government. So we have focused on letting you keep more of your hard earned income and on reducing the over regulation, excessive taxation and abusive litigation that hamper growth.

As I look out over this crowd, I see the faces of so many old friends, and so many new ones as well. I'm so proud of the many accomplishments we've achieved together over these last seven-plus years. And, I am always so grateful for the wonderful support I've received from you and from all the Asian Pacific American community over the years.

But there is always more to be done. As you move forward, I hope you will reach out and help those who are coming behind you take their first steps in mainstream America. You are the bridge between our two great cultures — Asian and American. The network you have established with this organization — and so many others like it — are invaluable to our community. With your commitment, I am confident that the seeds of change we have planted will grow and create more hope and opportunity for our community and for all Americans.

Enjoy your celebration!


# # #


Phone Numbers