When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it.
This past week, at a debate in Illinois between the two candidates for the U.S. Senate, Representative Tammy Duckworth — whose mother is Thai and late father was American — mentioned that her family had served in the American military since the Revolutionary War. Tammy carried on that tradition; she became a pilot for the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq, and lost both her legs when insurgents shot down her helicopter.
The correct answer to Congresswoman Duckworth’s comment about her family’s military service is, “Wow. That’s amazing. Thank you, and thanks to your family.”
Instead, her opponent, Senator Mark Kirk, said, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”
In other words: you can’t have Thai heritage and trace your American roots back to the start of our nation.
That’s just plain wrong. And sadly, it wasn’t the only racial insult we’ve seen in this election — far from it. Fox News ran a segment that trafficked in the worst racial stereotypes of Asian Americans. Donald Trump has mocked the accents of Chinese and Indian people in his speeches. More broadly, he promises to round up and deport immigrant families, ban Muslims from entering the United States, and ban immigration from countries like the Philippines. He even said he might have supported interning Japanese Americans during World War II. Does he not understand how shameful that policy was for our country?
It’s 2016. We need to do better. And if I’m elected president, we will.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest-growing racial group in America. I want to make sure they — and all Americans — have every opportunity to get an education, get a good job, support their families, and contribute to their communities. And I want to bring us together to erase the prejudice, ignorance, and racism that still touches too many people’s lives.
Here are three ways my administration will do that.
First, we’ll build an economy that works for everybody, not just those at the top. That means closing the wage gap. Right now, AAPI women earn only 86 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. That’s wrong, and we should make it right. We’re also going to help AAPI-owned businesses, which employ nearly 3 million Americans. My plan will cut red tape to make it easier for people to start businesses and access capital. And whenever small businesses experience predatory behavior and discrimination at the hands of people like Donald Trump, we’ll give them the tools they need to fight back.
Second, we need to be strong in the world — not just militarily but also through diplomacy. That means maintaining strong ties with our allies and friends, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region, which is increasingly vital to the world’s economy and security. As Secretary of State, President Obama and I embarked on a “pivot to Asia,” because we knew our relationships there would help us address many important issues, like managing our relationship with China, working with our allies to address the threat from North Korea, and sharing intelligence with Muslim nations in Asia, which helps keep us safe. As I saw repeatedly at the State Department, the cultural diversity we enjoy here at home is a huge asset to that work.
Third, we need to build a community of respect here at home. Our country was built on the backs of generations of hard-working immigrants. We need to ensure immigrant families can stay together today. In the Senate, I worked hard to address the family visa backlog, 40 percent of which is made up of applicants from the Asia-Pacific region. Right now, it takes a U.S. citizen at least 12 years to get a visa for a brother or sister in India. Some Filipino Americans have been waiting for family visas for more than two decades.
"I want to bring us together to erase the prejudice, ignorance, and racism that still touches too many people’s lives."
That’s far too long. I’ll introduce legislation for comprehensive immigration reform that will shorten these timelines. It will also provide undocumented individuals with deep ties to our communities a pathway to citizenship and chance to stay in America. I know this is an issue on the minds of many AAPI families, and I intend to get it done.
Families with roots in Asia have been part of this nation’s history since our founding. We ought to embrace the cultural heritage and economic vitality that they bring to our nation. During my husband’s administration, we launched the first-ever White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, because we recognized that we could do a better job of serving the AAPI community. As president, I’ll reauthorize that initiative. And I’ll continue to stand with the AAPI community, because I believe that we’re stronger together.
When I launched AAPI for Hillary in January, I talked about a remarkable young woman named Cheska Perez. Her father brought her to America from the Philippines. He came here on a work visa. Once he lost that job in the recession, their entire family become undocumented.
Cheska didn’t let her status stand in her way. She worked with the ROTC program at her school. She got herself and her siblings enrolled in DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has let young people like Cheska indefinitely stay in the United States. Now she’s working as a deputy data director for our campaign.
Cheska just wants what so many AAPI immigrant families have discovered in America over the centuries: a chance to build a better life for themselves, and to apply their God-given talents to making America even greater. And she knows that her fate — and that of so many undocumented individuals like her — rests on the outcome of this election.
On November 8th, we all have a chance to help her realize that dream.
Hillary Clinton is the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee.
Editor's Note: NBC Asian America reached out to the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump to write an op-ed ahead of the Nov. 8 election, but did not receive a response.