President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden are hosting a Lunar New Year reception at the White House on Thursday, as Americans mourn over recent mass shootings in the state of California that included Asian American victims and perpetrators.
“Our hearts are with the people of California. They’ve been a rough, rough couple of days,” Biden said Tuesday. “You see what’s happened in California and what’s happened to the Asian American community. It’s been devastating.”
On Saturday in Monterey Park, a 72-year-old Asian American man is suspected of killing 11 people of Asian descent. Two days later in Half Moon Bay, a 66-year-old Asian American man allegedly killed seven people, including Chinese and Latino farm workers. Motives 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 is part of White House outreach efforts to the Asian American community and is “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 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. 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.
In his remarks, Biden highlighted his administration’s 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.
Beginning this month, the administration is launching a series of summits to advance economic equity in the AAPI community, aiming to connect them with critical resources and opportunities.