Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., is donating the suit he wore in a viral photo that showed him quietly cleaning up the U.S. Capitol at midnight following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The congressman announced Tuesday that the blue suit — which he was wearing while filling up trash bags with debris after supporters of then-President Donald Trump stormed the building in an attempt to overturn the election results — has been given to the Smithsonian Institution, which is collecting items from the riot. Kim told NBC Asian America that as painful as that day was for him, the suit serves as a reminder of the immigrant values he and many others grew up with.
“This suit of mine that’s with the Smithsonian now is not because of some high achievement that I've reached in this country. It was because I unfortunately was at the site of one of the most tragic events in our American democracy,” Kim, the son of Korean immigrants, said. “The values it tries to bring about are very much ones that are rooted in my immigrant family. Having humility, having respect for this country that gave us the opportunities that we've had.”
He added: “I hope other Asian Americans see in that suit the same thing that I see, which is, hope for the kind of future in this country that many of us either immigrated to this country for, or grew up in this country with.”
Kim, who purchased the suit on sale at J. Crew, wore it one final time just days after the insurrection while casting his vote for Trump’s impeachment on the House floor. The congressman, who had not planned on surfacing it again due to the heavy memories of that day, wrote on Twitter that the Smithsonian had requested the garment to be a part of a Jan. 6 exhibit. He said it was important for the most difficult portions of history to be preserved.
“Instead of trying to erase history they don’t like after the fact, politicians should just act in a way that doesn’t produce such shameful results,” he wrote. “It’s not hard to not incite or cover up an insurrection.”
The congressman said the Capitol had always been a place of promise for him. The first time he ever visited the building was when he was a child with his parents and his family admired the very rotunda that he was attempting to salvage after the mob.
“It was such a moment of pride for her to be able to walk me through that Capitol. I remember how excited she was as an immigrant for her to bring her two kids, through these buildings, to the Capitol Building,” he said, referring to his mother. “It meant so much to her.”
The insurrection, however, was a wake-up call for Kim, who said that the tragedy was evidence that a “better world is not inevitable.” He said there is a “very real chance” that his two sons will grow up in an America that’s harder than the one he experienced and therefore, there’s a necessity to work toward a better democracy.
Despite all that’s happened, Kim said he remains optimistic because the grit and resilience that he saw in his own immigrant family is not specific to them.
“My parents literally immigrated to this country and knew zero people in the entire country when they arrived. Zero. No money, no family, no friends, nothing. That's toughness. That is something that reminds me that the foundation of this country is strong. It's built off of millions of these stories of just hardworking families that just gave everything to this country,” he said. “Yes, we have instability. And yes, things are bad … If we can anchor ourselves in those values that have helped navigate us through tough times before, we're gonna make it.”
Kim said that as future generations see the suit and other pieces of that day, he hopes they will take away the “sense of participation that is required in our country and our democracy and recognize that it requires participation from everyone.”