President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted a Lunar New Year reception at the White House on Thursday evening, as Americans mourned the recent mass shootings in the state of California that included Asian American victims and perpetrators.
Speaking in front of a backdrop of red fans with gold Chinese characters – symbols of good fortune – Biden began with prayers and a moment of silence for the victims before welcoming members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community.
“Jill and I are honored to welcome you to the first Lunar New Year reception of this scale held in the White House, your home,” he said. “This is your home.”
Biden highlighted the “profound hate, pain and violence and loss” the community experienced with the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes that was driven, in part, by inflammatory rhetoric related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That's why I'm proud that with the help of many of you in this room, we signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act,” Biden said, referring to legislation passed in May 2021 that addresses the rise in anti-Asian hate and holds law enforcement accountable for tracking and reporting hate crimes.
A 72-year-old Asian American man is suspected of killing 11 people of Asian descent in Monterey Park on Saturday. And a 66-year-old Asian American man has been charged with killing seven people two days later in Half Moon Bay. The dead include Chinese and Latino farm workers. Motives for the shootings are still being sought.
On Wednesday Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Monterey Park to meet with victims’ families and call for action on gun control.
"We will always, as a compassionate nation, mourn for the loss and pray for those who survive and are recovering,” Harris said. “But we must also require that leaders in our nation, who have the ability and the power and the responsibility to do something, that they act.”
The Lunar New Year event was part of White House outreach efforts to the Asian American community and was “an important symbol of access and inclusion during a time of shock and sadness,” said Janelle Wong, professor of American studies and government and politics at the University of Maryland in College Park.
“The Biden administration has also recognized Diwali and the start of Ramadan, and all of these receptions are shared beyond those who attend, through print and social media,” she told VOA.
Twenty-two million people in the U.S., or 7% of the population, identify as Asian alone or in combination with another racial or ethnic category, and they trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, according to the Pew Research Center.
They are also a key demographic for Biden, who boasted that 13.7% of the people in his administration are members of the AAPI community. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing group of eligible voters. Over the past two decades they have become much more likely to vote for Democrats than for Republicans, supporting traditionally Democratic agendas, including stricter gun laws.
Earlier this month the administration launched a national agenda aimed at addressing the range of disparities that Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities face, through action plans prepared by 32 federal agencies.
The administration is also launching a series of summits to advance economic equity in the AAPI community, aiming to connect them with critical resources and opportunities.