By CHRISTINA TYLER
Almost all families in the United States share a similar heritage, despite ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
That's what Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) (left) told the audience during his Asian Pacific American Heritage Month keynote address at the Library on May 12.
The most important similarity of the vast majority of Americans is that their families came to this land from another, he said. It is also important, however, for a person to learn about his or her ancestors' birthplace.
"The opportunity to participate in the American dream is a gift of the American spirit, and I'm grateful everyday to share it," Rep. Wu said. "I do my job every day with the faith that we are all serving a larger purpose."
Rep. Wu, 44, is the first Chinese-American U.S. representative and was elected from Oregon's First District, encompassing six counties from Portland to the Pacific coast. His family emigrated from Taiwan in the early 1960s because his father wanted to continue his education and offer his family greater opportunities.
But, Rep. Wu said, a family's heritage need not be lost in the move. "I'm here to reassure you that whatever your children say, they will remember your sacrifices," he said.
Rep. Wu graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor's degree in 1977. He attended Harvard Medical School and earned his law degree from Yale in 1982.
He told a story about his first year in medical school, when he decided he could make more of a contribution to society by becoming something other than a doctor, such as a lawyer. "When I told my father I wanted to leave med school to make a broader difference, he started sending me articles about doctors helping impoverished communities and about attorneys chasing ambulances."
After he completed law school, Rep. Wu had a clerkship with a federal judge in Portland. There he co-founded a successful law firm, Cohen & Wu, working mostly with professionals in the technology and medical fields. After winning his first run for election of any kind, he was sworn into office on Jan. 6.
"My father was in the first lady's box, where the first lady sits for the State of the Union address, and I wondered if he still wished that I had finished medical school," he recalled.
Rep. Wu is a member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, which will play a crucial role in shaping the nation's education policy though the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Although he is not in medicine, he will have some influence on its practice as a member of the Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations, which will look at health care reform. He is also on the Committee on Science subcommittees on Space and Aeronautics and Technology.
"The smallest public decision can make a profound difference in a person's life," he said. He encouraged audience members to run for office or get involved in local government. Rep. Wu also urged the audience to teach their children about their heritage. "In order to properly live, we have to have some anchor to where we've been."
After his speech, an audience member asked his opinion of the recent accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo.
Rep. Wu, who spent part of his childhood in China, said, "People in China have difficulty understanding how a country as technologically advanced as the United States can make this kind of mistake. In technology, what you put in is what you get out, and humans are fallible. What I find disturbing is that the Chinese government kept the U.S. apologies and explanations off the air for several days.
"I hope the tragedy is not a wedge in a sundering relationship. In strong relationships, bad things happen, and you weather them."
Ms. Tyler is assistant editor of The Gazette, the Library's staff newspaper.