Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.
Gary Locke is the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
As we continue to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islanders Heritage Month, it is important for us to reflect on our past – the difficulties we had growing up in immigrant families, the accomplishments our community has achieved and the barriers we still need to knock down.
Being an Asian American now is certainly different from when I was growing up. In the Ozzie and Harriet era in which I was born, I thought I had to choose between being Chinese and being American. I remembered that most mornings, my grade school teacher would ask us what we had for breakfast. If we had eaten anything that was considered “un-American” – in my case, it was the rice porridge with fish and vegetables that my mother gave me – my teacher would slap our hands with a ruler.
When I was young, I constantly struggled between my desire to be more “American” and my parents’ attempt to make me more “Chinese”. It took the civil rights movement to teach me that I could be both Chinese and American. I could be Chinese-American. I could be myself. I could be loyal and patriotic to the Star-Spangled Banner and still eat with chopsticks.