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At the Inauguration with Amata

Aumua Amata chats with former Commissioner Jacinta Titialii-Abbott, her Pacific Islander predecessor on Pres. Clinton's White House Commission. Aumua was appointed by Pres. George W. Bush as the only Pacific Islander member of his Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. [courtesy photo]

WASHINGTON, DC — Last week President Obama became the third consecutive president to be inaugurated for a second term of office (following presidents Clinton and Bush). It was only the second time in our country’s history this has happened (the first time was nearly 200 years ago).

While most of the inaugural balls and various other events surrounding the oath-taking ceremony were meant largely for celebrating victorious campaign workers, party leaders and elected officials, the ceremony itself and some of the other events were meant for all the public regardless of party. No matter who is sworn in as president, every American observes with great pride this symbol of our democracy once every four years. In war and peace, in good times and bad, the appointed hour is never missed.

For its part, the non-partisan Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) Vote organization conducted pre-inaugural briefings ahead of the APIA “Pearl Gala” held later in the evening. As a member of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from 2001-2004, I was particularly interested in attending the briefing to hear the panelists — which included Members of Congress, advocates and government representatives — talk about APIA participation in the 2012 national elections, their triumphs, lessons learned and challenges we APIAs face in future elections.

I also wanted to make sure there was Pacific Islander representation because too often I have found that the groups that combine Asians and Pacific Islanders tend to concentrate on the far more numerous Asians while forgetting Pacific Islanders. My philosophy always has been that whenever offered a seat at the table, take it.

As I feared, Pacific Islanders were not represented on any of the panels and there were few among us in the audience. However, I am pleased to say that my Pacific island predecessor on President Clinton’s White House Commission, Jacinta Titialii-Abbott, was among the islanders present.

I had not had the pleasure of meeting her before, so it was a real treat to compare the commission’s programs and policies under the two presidents. Although there were no other Samoans present, I also met two Tongan women, who attended the briefing — S. Fatima Taimo Aho flew in from Seattle for the weekend while Sia Puloka is in Washington locally studying for the ministry in the Wesleyan Seminary.

The 113th Congress, the most diverse in history, includes 11 Asian and three Pacific Islander Americans, all of whom belong to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), the chairman of CAPAC, spoke about the Caucus agenda, and her predecessor, U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), who handpicked her to succeed him when she was only a freshman in the last Congress, told us that CAPAC over the next two years would be collaborating on issues with the Hispanic, Black and Progressive caucuses.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus, to which most of the CAPAC members also belong, is the caucus of the most liberal members of the Congress. That includes newly elected U.S. Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) the first openly gay Member of Congress, who spoke to us about the struggles he had to overcome to be elected to the House.

Since leaders of the winning party come to Washington for the Inaugural, it is traditional that the National Committee of that party hold its winter meeting in conjunction with the festivities.

This year was no exception with the Democratic National Committee, as expected, re-electing to another term as chairman U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). I am delighted to report that at the same time our own Tulsi Gabbard (D), the freshman representative from Hawaii, took another leap in her meteoric rise by being elected as DNC vice chair.

Congratulations, Tulsi. Her election should come as no surprise considering that last year she was the first Samoan ever to address a Democratic National Convention and she is the first Samoan American woman ever to be elected to the House.

Although chosen for a party position, she also was quoted in a CNN interview as saying she wanted to focus on being a “voice for moderation and ‘reaching across the aisle’ in Congress.” Tulsi fully understands how the House works and very little can be accomplished when one is in the minority. She understands the importance of working with the majority if you want to move legislation. I welcome Tulsi’s gesture because, as the senior member of the Republican National Committee, I will do my best to open doors for her to her colleagues with whom I have established relationships on my side of the aisle. It would be terrific if we could work together in resolving some of American Samoa’s pressing issues.

Speaking of Tulsi Gabbard, I was also proud to watch her uncle, MSGT Bill Gabbard of Leloaloa, lead the U.S. Army Field Band as drum major in the Inaugural Parade. This is the fifth time he has marched in the parade, which I had the privilege of watching from the presidential reviewing stand in front of the White House in 2005 as his band marched before President and Mrs. George W. Bush.

This year’s parade also featured four state floats: one each from the states of the president’s and vice president’s birth (Hawaii and Pennsylvania) and one each from the states they represented in the U.S. Senate (Delaware and Illinois) when they were elected to national office in 2008.

Seeing the Hawaii float reminded me that my father, Peter Tali Coleman, rode on the Hawaii float in President Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Parade. Hawaii was still a territory that year and American Samoa did not have a separate float, so dad—who was in law school at the time—was invited to represent a Polynesian warrior on the float.

Inaugural Day is a day we all are proud to be Americans and put aside our political differences—at least for a little while.



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