Yesterday was a very big day for America’s Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In conjunction with a Diwali celebration, President Obama signed an executive order that reestablished an advisory committee and a White House iniative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders. The advisory committee was first established by President Clinton ten years ago, but was eliminated by President Bush in favour of a committee housed under the Department of Commerce that focused primarily on economic issues within the APIA community, ignoring other issues like healthcare, language and education.
Here is video of President Obama’s speech and the signing of the Executive Order:
What I really loved about the speech that President Obama gave was that it discussed the issues facing the Asian American community in language that really suggested familiarity with ongoing concerns. President Obama referenced the “model minority myth” and talked about high prevalence of specific diseases. These are problems that the APIA community has been dealing with for years, and I feel as if for the first time in a long time, they are finally receiving the national attention that our people merit.
Our 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 Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are facing: from health disparities like higher rates of diabetes and Hepatitis B; to educational disparities that still exist in some communities — high dropout rates, low college enrollment rates; to economic disparities — higher rates of poverty in some communities, and barriers to employment and workplace advancement in others.
Some Asian American and Pacific Islanders, particularly new Americans and refugees, 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.
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, Asian American and Pacific Islanders are all lumped into one category, so we don’t have accurate numbers reflecting the challenges of each individual community. Smaller communities in particular can get lost, their needs and concerns buried in a spreadsheet.
In particular, I was delighted to hear President Obama talk about the lack of adequate studies that specifically delve into the problems of the APIA community. Above all issues, I think our community suffers from a general lack of good, high-quality data; we simply don’t know the scope and the depth of the problems we face as a racial/ethnic population. Too often, we still rely on anecdotes and stories; it’s hard to lobby for change when we can’t adequately convince others that there is a problem with concrete facts, figures and numbers.
The missions of the new advisory committee and White House initiative are outlined in the text of the Executive Order President Obama signed yesterday. Listed here are the goals of the White House Initiative:
identify Federal programs in which AAPIs may be underserved and improve the quality of life for AAPIs through increased participation in these programs;
identify ways to foster the recruitment, career development, and advancement of AAPIs in the Federal Government;
identify high-priority action items for which measurable progress may be achieved within 2 years to improve the health, environment, opportunity, and well-being of AAPIs, and implement those action items;
increase public-sector, private-sector, and community involvement in improving the health, environment, opportunity, and well-being of AAPIs;
foster evidence-based research, data-collection, and analysis on AAPI populations and subpopulations, including research and data on public health, environment, education, housing, employment, and other economic indicators of AAPI community well-being; and
solicit public input from AAPI communities on ways to increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Federal programs considering a number of factors, including language barriers.
If even just some of these goals are met by the time the effects of this Executive Order expire, two years from now, than our community will be incredibly well-served. I look forward to seeing what comes from the events set in motion by yesterday. Hopefully by this time next year, we might even have a federally-funded study looking at specific disparities faced by members of the Asian American community!
I applaud President Obama’s intiative in helping the APIA community. As he promised on the campaign trail, as president Barack Obama would return attention to the nation’s must under-served, and most-deserving, people. As Barack Obama said in his speech yesterday, no community should be invisible to their government; yesterday, the president took steps to bring the issues of our community out of the shadows.
APIAVote distributed the following press release regarding yesterday’s signing of the Executive Order on Asian American Pacific Islanders:
APIAVote Lauds the Reestablishment of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
WASHINGTON– Today, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order reestablishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, an executive order established a decade ago by President Bill Clinton to improve the quality of life in underserved AAPI communities through increased participation in federal programs.
“We are heartened by President Obama’s signing of the executive order for the White House Initiative on AAPIs, which shows tremendous commitment to addressing the needs of the AAPI community, including better data collection and disaggregation, as well as increased and substantive access to federal agencies and programs,” said APIAVote Deputy Director, Naomi Tacuyan Underwood, who was present for the signing along with APIAVote Chair and co-founder Daphne Kwok. “We specifically hope to improve working relationships with federal agencies like the Department of Justice and the Election Assistance Commission as well as other federal agencies to improve access to the voting booth for AAPIs.”
As the Executive Order states, the Initiative “will work to improve the quality of life and opportunities for AAPIs through increased access to, and participation in, Federal programs in which they may be underserved. In addition, each will work to advance relevant evidence-based research, data collection, and analysis for AAPI populations and subpopulations.”
The White House Initiative will be housed under the Department of Education to be co-chaired by Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan and Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, and by a yet-to-be-named Executive Director. The Initiative will consist of a federal inter-agency working group comprised of staff from various agencies, which will be overseen by a Commission comprised of AAPI leaders and experts in various sectors. The Commission’s role is to advise the President, through the Secretaries of Education and Commerce, on executive branch efforts to improve the quality of life of AAPIs through the compilation of research and data related to AAPI populations and sub-populations; development, monitoring, and coordination of Federal efforts to improve the economic and community development of AAPI businesses; implement strategies to increase public and private-sector collaboration; and foster community involvement in improving the health, education, environment, and well-being of AAPIs.