By Betsy Klein and Maegan Vazquez, CNN
President Joe Biden on Monday signed what he described as “long overdue” legislation that could help establish a National Museum of Asian American and Pacific Islander History and Culture.
“It’s about time for a national museum to capture the courage, the character, and the imagination … the dreams and the heart and the soul of the generations of our fellow Americans who came before you,” Biden said ahead of signing the Commission To Study the Potential Creation of a National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture Act into law.
The bill will examine how to make the museum a reality and whether to make it part of the Smithsonian Institution, he said, describing it as a “similar process” to that of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“The diversity of the culture is significant, and the breadth of achievement is equal in significance,” he said, adding that “museums of this magnitude and consequence are going to inspire and educate. More than anything else it’s going to help people see themselves in the story of America.”
The bill, Biden said, comes at a “critical time,” pointing to one year since the Atlanta spa shootings and the 80th anniversary of the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II.
“I look forward, one day, to visiting the National Museum of Asian Pacific American History and Culture with all of you,” he said.
He thanked the members of Congress responsible for the bill, including Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York.
Biden was introduced by Vice President Kamala Harris, who talked about her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who “made sure that my sister Maya and I learned of the important, glorious history of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in America because that, of course, is part of this history of America.”
Harris said Asian American history is both “a story about heroes who shaped our nation for the better” and “a story about some of our country’s darkest moments,” including the Chinese Exclusion Act, the killing of Vincent Chin, the United States’ interment of Japanese Americans, discrimination against South Asians following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and “today’s epidemic of hate.”
“This is also American history,” Harris said. “And we must teach it as it really happened so that we can learn from our best moments and learn from our darkest moments.”
“We must teach it as it really happened … so that we can fight ignorance, dispel misinformation, and work toward a future where all people can live without fear,” she said.
About 24 million people in the US identified as Asian in the 2020 Census, and the population is projected to reach 46 million by 2060 — making them the nation’s fastest growing racial or ethnic group.
Despite the President signing the bill into law, it will likely be years before a national museum of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders opens for visitors. Congress approved a plan to establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture in 2003, but it wasn’t until 2016 that the museum opened its doors to the public.
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CNN’s Harmeet Kaur contributed to this report.