By AUDREY FISCHER
With a spirit of "aloha" (love), Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) delivered the Asian Pacific American Heritage month keynote address at the Library of Congress in May.
"Love binds together things that are separated," said Akaka. "That's what our country and our world need."
Present at the historic meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the late 1970s, Akaka recalled wishing former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin "shaloha," a greeting of peace (shalom) and love.
Akaka has served in the House and Senate for a total of nearly 30 years. A member of numerous key congressional committees, he is especially proud to have been instrumental in the establishment of Asian Pacific Heritage Week in 1978 and passage of legislation in 1992 to extend the observance to a monthlong celebration.
A veteran of World War II, Akaka acknowledged "the bravery of veterans of Asian American and Pacific Island descent." He recalled that the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated Japanese-American unit, fought in World War II and became the most decorated unit in military history. Originally denied recognition because of discrimination, 21 Japanese-Americans who fought in that unit were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2000 by President Clinton. Among them was Sen. Daniel Inouye, who has represented Hawaii in Congress since 1962.
Akaka also paid tribute to Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), an Asian-American member of Congress, who died earlier this year. Matsui, who served in Congress for more than 30 years, was one of many American citizens of Japanese descent who were sent to internment camps during the 1940s.
"He believed in public service," said Akaka of his colleague in Congress. "He did not lose faith but instead indulged the promise of opportunity which came with being a U.S. citizen."
Akaka acknowledged Fred Korematsu, who also died earlier this year. Like Matsui, Korematsu was sent to a Japanese internment camp. He sued the U.S. government on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated. His case went all the way to the Supreme Court, but he lost by a vote of 6 to 3. However, the case was reopened in the 1980s, and evidence revealed that the order was based on racial prejudice. The U.S. government admitted that the Japanese-Americans had posed no danger of spying or risk to security. In 1998 President Clinton honored Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor any American can ever hope to receive.
Akaka thanked the Library for inviting him to speak, and he acknowledged receipt of the Hawaiian lei that was presented to him by Lorraine Tong of the Congressional Research Service and a member of the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month Planning Committee.
"A lei means you belong," explained Akaka. "I feel like I belong here at the Library of Congress. You have all this material in your hands. Apply the spirit of aloha to your work at the Library of Congress."
Audrey Fischer is a public affairs specialist in the Library's Public Affairs Office.