Asian Americans on Friday hailed Pete Rouse as the first White House chief of staff from the community, adding to a record representation in US President Barack Obama’s administration.
Rouse, whose mother is Japanese American, was appointed on Friday to take over as Obama’s right-hand man, succeeding Rahm Emanuel who stepped down to run for mayor of Chicago.
US Democratic Representative Mike Honda, who heads the Asian American caucus in Congress, said that Rouse’s appointment would “bring even more color to a historically all-white house.”
“This is groundbreaking considering that a mere 60 years ago, Japanese Americans were corralled into internment camps at the height of World War II,” said Honda, who himself was interned as a result of his Japanese ancestry.
With elections approaching in one month, Honda said the appointment showed that the Democratic Party “will continue to most aptly and ably represent our increasingly diverse American public.”
Rouse’s mother was born in the US as Mary Mikami, the daughter of Japanese immigrants. The new chief of staff’s grandfather was born in Tokyo in 1864 and moved to Alaska where he worked as a tailor.
Rouse, 64, is a veteran Washington insider who served as Obama’s chief of staff when he was a senator.
A record three Asian Americans serve in Obama’s Cabinet: Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who are both of Chinese descent, and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, who is of Japanese descent.
Jeff Yang, a columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote that Obama could be seen as the first Asian US president, pointing to his “clear comfort with and respect for Asian Americans as colleagues and key team members.”