October 15, 2009 9:02:08 am
Barack Obama celebrated Diwali by lighting the ceremonial lamp at the White House amidst chanting of Vedic mantras seeking world peace,becoming the first US President to personally grace the occasion.
“I think it’s fitting that we begin this work in the week leading up to the holiday of Diwali – the festival of lights – when members of some of the world’s greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil,” Obama said in his remarks on the occasion at a White House function held at its historic East Room on Wednesday.
This is for the first time that a US President attended and celebrated Diwali at the White House – thus giving an official recognition to the festival of lights celebrated across the world by millions of Hindus,Sikhs and Jains.
“This coming Saturday,Hindus,Jains,Sikhs and some Buddhists,here in America and around the world,will celebrate this holiday by lighting ‘Diyas’,or lamps,which symbolise the victory of light over darkness,and knowledge over ignorance,” Obama said.
Among those present at the occasion were several eminent members of the Indian community,nearly half a dozen members of his Cabinet and several Indian American members of his administration. The visiting Union Minister of Commerce,Anand Sharma,and Indian Ambassador to the US Meera Shankar graced the occasion.
“While this is a time of rejoicing,it’s also a time for reflection,when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need,” Obama said,minutes before lighting the lamp while Pandit Narayanacharya Digalakote from the Sri Shiva Vishnu temple chanted Vedic mantras.
“While the significance of the holiday for each faith varies,all of them mark it by gathering with family members to pray and decorate the house and enjoy delicious food and sweet treats,” said the US President.
“In that spirit of celebration and contemplation,I am happy to light the White House Diya,and wish you all a Happy Diwali,and a Saal Mubarak,” Obama said amidst a round of applause from the audience invited for the occasion.
Using the occasion,Obama announced to re-establish the advisory commission for Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) and White House initiative created by the former US President,Bill Clinton,10 years ago. Obama signed an executive order at this occasion.
“On a personal note,when I talk about America’s AAPI communities,I’m talking about my own family: my sister,Maya; my brother-in-law,Konrad; my beautiful nieces,Suhaila and Savita; and the folks I grew up with in Indonesia,and in Honolulu,as part of the Hawai’ian Ohana,or family,” he said.
Obama said the AAPI communities have roots that span the globe,but they embody a rich diversity,and a story of striving and success that are uniquely American.
“But focusing on all of these achievements doesn’t tell the whole story,and that’s part of why we’re here. It’s tempting,given the strengths of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities,for us to buy into the myth of the “model minority,” and to overlook the very real challenges that certain AAPI communities are facing: from health disparities to educational disparities,that still exist in some communities,to economic disparities higher rates of poverty in some communities,and barriers to employment and workplace advancement in others,” he said.
Some AAPIs,particularly new Americans and refugees,Obama said still face language barriers. “Others have been victims of unthinkable hate crimes,particularly in the months after September 11th – crimes driven by ignorance and prejudice that are an affront to everything that this nation stands for,” he said.
“And then there are the disparities that we don’t even know about because our data collection methods still aren’t up to par. Too often,AAPIs are all lumped into one category,so we don’t have accurate numbers reflecting the challenges of each individual community,” he said.
Noting that smaller communities in particular can get lost,their needs and concerns buried in a spreadsheet,Obama said: “That’s why I am signing this executive order today,re-establishing the advisory commission and White House initiative created by President Clinton 10 years ago.”
Obama said: “Because when any of our citizens are unable to fulfil their potential due to factors that have nothing to do with their talent,character,or work ethic,then I believe there’s a role for our government to play.”
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