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Our Diversity is our Strength: Independence Day Remarks by Ambassador Hamamoto
July 8, 2016

Remarks by Ambassador Pamela Hamamotowoman at podium


Good afternoon!  Happy Fourth of July, everybody!  It’s great to see you all here on this beautiful day!

Those of you who were here last year will remember the Hawaiian musicians who brought traditional songs and dances from the islands.  It was a celebration of Hawaiian culture and their rich native heritage and aloha spirit.

This year, we continue to highlight American native traditions with American Indian artists coming from various tribal nations across the United States – dancers who will share with us traditions passed down from generation to generation.

Today, we are so pleased to honor the legacy of Native Americans, pay tribute to their strength and their resilience as a people, and celebrate their important role in America’s incredibly complex history.

As we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the birth of our nation, it is important that we take a moment to remember the struggles of all our ancestors, their perseverance, and their sacrifice as they strived to create a more perfect union.

My colleagues and I are representative of this complex history, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve our country alongside them – Ambassador Wood, of African American descent, and Ambassador Harper, our first Native American Ambassador.  And as a Japanese American citizen, with a Japanese father who was just a child in Hawaii during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the painful years of internment that followed for many Americans of Japanese ancestry, I have heard first-hand many stories of our challenging past.

The United States, along with Native peoples, is a nation rich with diversity.  We’ve welcomed immigrants from around the world throughout our history.  And we’ve struggled, time and again, to overcome forces that have tried to divide us.  That struggle continues today, with xenophobia, racial profiling, acts of terror, and acts of hate forcing us to confront yet again those who would betray what America stands for.

Our core values are under attack; our democratic principles are being challenged at precisely the time when global issues demand that we work together.  And yet, as President Obama reminded us all in his first inaugural address, we must always remember that…our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

Yes, our diversity is our strength and I believe that at its foundation, our union is strong.  As Americans, we are bound by a common value system, an ideal based on freedom, justice, equality…of certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, as President Obama himself has acknowledged, “realizing that ideal has never been easy, even within our own borders, even among our own citizens.  But staying true to that story is worth the effort.  It is an ideal to be strived for; an ideal that extends across continents, and across oceans.”

So today, we honor our Declaration of Independence – which, decade after decade, serves as the moral compass to which the United States should strive – espousing respect for people as individuals and respect for diversity of backgrounds, traditions, practices and beliefs.

Even as, 240 years ago, the United States declared its independence from Britain, our nation has always thrived on interdependence with others.  It started by uniting our original thirteen colonies, then our fifty states, then to our support for international agreements, and finally, to our embrace of today’s widespread globalization.  Such interdependence is essential for peace and prosperity, not only for the United States, but for the entire world.

To me, it actually sounds like a Declaration of Interdependence!

Under this framework, and through years of embracing international cooperation and compromise, Geneva has become the capital of multilateral diplomacy.  This is where international standards are set, humanitarian response is coordinated, trade disputes are settled, peace negotiations are brokered, and global pandemics are addressed.  Here in Geneva, perhaps more than anywhere else, people understand how difficult but also how essential it is to bridge differences in cultures, interests and priorities.

Yet while globalization promises to bring extraordinary benefits, it also brings challenges, concerns, and fears.  We cannot give in to these fears – we must continue to invest in multilateral diplomacy.  Our work in Geneva is to harness and direct the optimism, the hope, and the opportunity that this interconnected world offers.

This is no small task.  We are in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War and, rather than unite us in the quest for global action, the issue of mass displacement has divided the international community.  Gender discrimination and gender-based violence continue to disadvantage and harm women and girls in every country of the world.  Threats such as climate change, terrorism, and disease respect no borders.  Fortunately, neither do people’s ideas, hopes, and dreams.

I recently met with a group of young people who took part in the Global Refugee Youth Consultations.  Over half of all forcibly displaced people in the world today are children – many of whom will spend their entire childhoods away from home, and often away from their families.  These consultations were a chance to understand how we can better meet the unique needs of refugee children and young adults.  After what they’ve been through, it would have been easy for them to lose hope.  But they haven’t.

Instead, these young refugees teach us that what matters most is not how different they are, but rather, how similar their hopes and dreams are to those of other young people their age.  They want to engage and to make their voices heard, invoking the very principles of democracy and the Declaration that we celebrate today.

This fighting spirit, this independent desire to move forward; it’s universal…it’s been around for centuries…it’s what has propelled us to where we are today.  My Japanese grandmother had it…a single mom struggling to raise her son in Hawaii during World War II.  Ambassador Wood and Ambassador Harper’s ancestors had it…as they fought to secure a rightful place for their families and their communities amidst resistance and oppression.  And I’m sure many of you can tell similar stories about your own experience and those of your own ancestors.

As President Obama said just last week, “Our democracies are far from perfect.  They can be messy.  They can be slow.  But more than any other system of government, democracy allows our most precious rights to find their fullest expression, enabling us, through the hard, painstaking work of citizenship, to continually make our countries better.  To solve new challenges.  To right past wrongs.”

So as we all work to solve new challenges, let’s recommit to our interdependence, and to our desire to move forward.  The decisions we, the international community, make today – especially right here in Geneva – will shape the world for decades to come.  Let’s hope that when future generations look back, they will say that our multilateral engagement led to better, fairer and more sustainable solutions, and that we worked hard to stay true to our ideals and to a positive common vision for the world.

Happy Birthday, America!