HomeAsian AmericansPearl Gala Celebrates Historic Year for AAPIs in Politics

Pearl Gala Celebrates Historic Year for AAPIs in Politics

By Akemi Tamanaha, Associate Editor

On Thursday night Asian American and Pacific Islanders across the country joined the 2021 Pearl Gala, which was held virtually over Zoom, to celebrate the historic achievements of AAPIs in politics.

The Pearl Gala traditionally serves as the inaugural ball for AAPIs, where people gather to celebrate the newly elected president and vice president. It has been held in 2009 and 2013.

This year’s virtual gala honored President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first AAPI and Black woman to become vice president. Tickets to the gala were free, although attendees had the option to donate.

The evening kicked off with a video performance of “Go for Broke” by Jake Shimabukuro. Then Frank H. Wu, the president of Queens College, began his opening remarks by remembering journalist and photographer Corky Lee who passed away earlier in the week from COVID-19. Wu praised Lee for chronicling AAPI stories during a time when AAPIs were often overlooked.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to Corky Lee for recording Asian American history,” Wu said before asking virtual attendees to observe a moment of silence for those lost during the pandemic, those still suffering and those working to keep people safe.

Co-hosts and speakers at the Gala, including several AAPI Congress members, praised Vice President Harris for breaking the bamboo ceiling by becoming the first AAPI and Black woman Vice President.

Vice President Harris herself appeared at the Zoom gala to celebrate this historic moment for AAPIs. She emphasized that her story was “the story of millions of Americans” and credited her mother for teaching her the importance of diverse representation.

“She raised my sister Maya and me to know that though we may be the first, we should not be the last,” Vice President Harris said.

Harris also thanked the AAPI community for their continued support throughout her entire career.

“Thank you for all that you do and I cannot wait to see what we can do together,” Harris said.

The Pearl Gala, in addition to honoring the newly elected President and Vice President, celebrated the work of AAPI organizers and voters.

It was a big year for AAPI political participation. During the 2020 general election, AAPI voters exceeded their 2016 total turnout by 58 percent. The Senate run-offs in Georgia also emphasized the importance of mobilizing AAPI voters. Over $1.5 million dollars were spent on AAPI outreach and Senators Ossoff and Warnock hired AAPIs to their staff.

The gala’s three co-hosts led a toast to celebrate the historic political achievements of the AAPI community.

“Tonight is a tribute to our community,” Francey Lim Youngberg, one of the gala’s co-host, said during the toast.

Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), and several other AAPI members of Congress gave virtual remarks at the Gala. They praised the AAPI community for their work leading up to the 2020 elections and said they are hopeful for a brighter future under the Biden-Harris administration.

“I feel this renewed sense of patriotism,” Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) said in his remarks.

Rep. Kim and several other Congress members emphasized the importance of unity moving forward.

The gala also featured remarks from the AAPIs who were nominated or appointed to President Biden’s cabinet and staff.

Neera Tanden, who has been nominated to lead the Office of Management and Budget, spoke about the importance of public policy. She shared the story of a man she met at an Affordable Care Act (ACA) rally who was able to get life-saving heart surgery after receiving health care coverage under ACA. Tanden hoped the story would encourage people to keep fighting.

“For all of us who can get cynical, who can get discouraged,” Tanden said. “But we’re fighting for a country that really solves our most basic challenges and helps families to get by.”

The speaking portion of the gala ended with Christine Chen, the executive director of APIA Vote. Chen announced that donations from the gala would fund further voter outreach work that needs to be done. The money will go to redistricting efforts, issue organizing, local elections and informational campaigns.

After the gala, attendees were given the opportunity to participate in an informal Zoom social mixer.

If you were unable to attend the virtual gala, a video of the event is still available on Facebook.

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