â€œTogether, South Asian Americans reflect the soul of who we are as a nation,â€ says the President
President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and Kamala Harris, the first American Vice President of Indian descent celebrated Diwali at the White House with prominent members of the Indian American community.
â€œAs we host the official White House Diwali reception, we are honored to light the diya surrounded by members of the most diverse Administration in American historyâ€”led by Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Black American and South Asian American to become Vice President,â€ said Biden.
Read: Biden, Harris greet Indian Americans on Diwali (November 6, 2021)
â€œOn this day, we give thanks for the optimism, courage, and empathy demonstrated by the incredible South Asian community all across America,â€ he said.
â€œTogether, South Asian Americans reflect the soul of who we are as a nation, whether helping us emerge stronger from this pandemic, building an economy that works for everyone, or serving and protecting our communities and our countryâ€ said the president.
â€œBut, even as we celebrate this gathering of light, we knowâ€”as this community has experienced too oftenâ€”that there is always darkness lurking,â€ he said.
â€œAmerican history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that we are all created equal and the harsh reality that that we have never fully lived up to it,â€ he said. â€œBy marking the victory of light over darkness, Diwali is a reminder that each of us has the power to bring light to the world, whether here in America or around the world.â€
â€œWith prayers, dances, fireworks, and sweets, may all who observe Diwali enjoy the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community, and to remember the power in the gathering of light,â€ Biden said.
Recalling the journey of Harrisâ€™ Indian born mother to America, Biden said, â€œI want to thank you for the courage it took for her and for so many of you out there to actually pick up and move your families and start the journey to America.â€
â€œItâ€™s pretty amazing, the sacrifices to leave everything behind and choose to believe the idea that this nation â€” this nation â€” has a singular place in the place of possibilities,â€ he said.
â€œTo make old traditions anew,â€ Biden saidÂ amid applause, â€œand to tell the ongoing story of America, a story that is firmly stamped in the Indian American and South Asian American experience.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why weâ€™re here today,â€ he said recalling that in late November 2016 he had hosted the first Diwali reception ever at the Vice Presidentâ€™s official residence.
â€œIâ€™m an Irish Catholic and opening our home for holidays observed by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs,â€ Biden said.â€œThat night, we were joined by Muslims, Christians, and people representing diversity and diaspora here in America, from all over the world, including then-newly elected Indian American members of Congress,â€ he recalled.
Read: America celebrates Diwali from East to West coastÂ (October 21, 2022)
â€œYou know, that evening back in 2016 came under darkness of the night sky but also darkness from an election of shadow and suspicion,â€ Biden said.Â â€œImmigrant families were vilified and shamed as a prelude to what was to come at the time.Â Yet, that night â€” that Diwali night, we gathered together to cast a light of hope and belonging and purpose,â€ he said.
â€œAnd we gathered that and we bonded a sense of community that I hadnâ€™t seen in a while across race and faith to believe that, in America how we know and how we love.Â You know, itÂ was a gathering of light.â€
â€œAs your President and First Lady and as Vice President, we are honored to host you â€”Â this is the first Diwali reception of this scale, in this house, ever to be held,â€ he noted amid applause.
As Biden lit a traditional diya â€œsurrounded by members of our staff who are part of the administration,â€ Biden noted, â€œWe have more Asian Americans than ever before in history.â€
â€œAnd we also wanted to send this message to all of you here and to millions of fellow Americans across the country who observe this sacred holiday. Itâ€™s a simple message: Thank you, thank you, thank you. Â Thank you for making this celebration of Diwali such a joyous part of American culture,â€ Biden said.
â€œAs we see it across the country: opening homes and hearts and exchange gifts and sweets, and hosting feasts for family and friends, organizing cultural programs that bring us together as a people.
â€œYou know, through all that you contribute, as well beyond, in every part of American life, thank you.Â Thank you for reflecting the soul of who we are as a nation,â€ he said.
â€œAnd what is a soul?Â Iâ€™m often asked this.Â I said I always wanted to restore the soul of the nation,â€ Biden said.Â â€œWhatâ€™s a soul?Â Well, the soul to me is the breath, the life, and the essence of who we are.â€
Read: All American Diwali at Times Square in New York (October 22, 2022)
â€œThe soul is what makes us us.Â Optimism that is tested and en- â€” yet endures,â€ Biden said.Â â€œCourage that digs really deep when itâ€™s needed.Â Truth and knowledge that overcomes falsehood and ignorance.Â And empathy and a willingness to see each other not as enemies but as fellow Americans.â€
â€œYou know, thatâ€™s all of you,â€ he said.Â â€œThatâ€™s the incredible South Asian community all across America: Helping us emerge stronger from this pandemic.Â Building an economy that works for everyone.Â Teaching our children and caring for our elders.
â€œResponding to the cry for action on climate.Â Working to fix our immigration system.Â Defending rights and freedoms.Â Building a more just and equitable country.Â Serving and protecting our communities and our nation.Â Informing, entertaining, inspiring.â€
â€œYou know, together, weâ€™re showing that we can do big things: Supporting our veterans.Â Ending cancer as we know it.Â Taking on gun violence,â€ he said.
â€œBut we know thereâ€™s always darkness lurking as this community has experienced much too often.Â Our history has been a constant struggle between the American ideal that weâ€™re all created equal to the harsh reality that racism and fear have long torn us apart,â€ Biden said.
â€œHate only hides.Â I used to think we could defeat hate, comingout of the Civil Rights Movement, but it only hides.Â It hides under rocks until itâ€™s given oxygen, and it comes out when prejudiced people speak it.Â Violent extremists and â€” a rising threatâ€ he said.
â€œI ran for office to restore the soul of the nation, and Iâ€™ve made it clear that â€” since I was elected â€” hate can have no safe harbor in this country.Â Â Failure to call it out is complicity.Â Silence is complicity,â€ Biden said amid applause.Â â€œAnd weâ€™re not going to to remain silent.â€
â€œDiwali is a reminder that each of us has the power â€” has the power to dispel darkness and bring light to the world.Â Itâ€™s a choice.Â And we make that choice every day,â€ he said.
Read: Diwali to be public school holiday in New York City (October 21, 2022)
â€œItâ€™s true in our lives and in the life of this nation, especially in the life of a democracy, whether here in America or for the families back in India marking 75 years of independence,â€ Biden said.
â€œFew periods have been more challenging to our world than the one weâ€™re in right now,â€ Biden said. â€œWe face an inflection point, one of those moments that only come every several generations where so much is changing and happening â€” technologically, politically, socially, environmentally â€” that the decisions we make today are going to determine the future for the next several decades.â€
â€œNow â€” now more than ever, we need you engaged to do the work of our time, the work for all time,â€ he said.Â â€œWe need you to help fulfill the promise of this nation â€” the same promise of opportunity and equality that brought you and your families here in the first place to this great nation, for the American story depends not on any one of us. Not for some of us, but for all of us.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I hope you take away from this day: the chance to celebrate and connect, to feel the pride of community.Â And, remember, from darkness thereâ€™s power in the gathering of light,â€ Biden said.
â€œYou know, we just have to remember who we are. Weâ€™re the United States of America. Thereâ€™s nothing â€” nothing beyond our capacity when we work together,â€ he said wishing â€œHappy Diwali to all your families.â€
Earlier, welcoming the guests, Jill Biden recalled that Nobel Prize-winning poet Tagore once wrote: â€œThe sky is flushed with the dawn and my path lies beautiful.Â Ask not what I have with me to take there.Â I start on my journey with empty hands and [an] expectant heart.â€
â€œToday, we come here with empty hands and expectant hearts, surrounded by each otherâ€™s light.Â And though at times we will travel through the darkness, we never walk alone.Â Our paths are bright and glorious as we shine together,â€ she said.
Kamala Harris recalled how her mother arrived in the United States at the age of 19 to study.
â€œShe arrived by herself, but it was her goal and her mission to study to become a breast cancer researcher. And in our country â€” in this country, she built a life.Â She earned her PhD, and she excelled in her field.Â And she raised my sister and me,â€ she said.
â€œAnd it is because of her dedication, her determination, and her courage that I stand before you as Vice President of the United States,â€ she said amidÂ applause.
â€œSo, as we all know, Diwali is a holiday of hope.Â As with so many cultures, Diwali reminds us to see the light in our world, in each other, and in ourselves.â€
â€œSo, today, as we celebrate Diwali, let us continue to make real the ideals of our nation â€” the ideals of freedom, democracy, and equality for all.Â Together, let us, all together, light the way toward a better future,â€ she said.
Read: Bidens host largest White House Diwali celebration ever (October 25, 2022)
Biden invitedÂ Indian American lawmaker Ro Khannaâ€™s children on stage during the largest ever Diwali reception at the White House and described them as his â€œimpression of light.â€
â€œRitu and I were touched that President Biden invited our children to join him on stage during the historic Diwali celebration at the White House,â€ said Khanna, US House member representing the Silicon Valley, in a statement. â€œItâ€™s a testament to this Presidentâ€™s belief in the future. The President was right. I did marry up and the kids are our light.â€