CA Gov. Jerry Brown Vetoes #AAPI Data Disaggregation Bill

California Governor Jerry Brown.
California Governor Jerry Brown.

(H/T K. Ramakrishnan)

Yesterday, California Governor Jerry Brown took a stance against the ethnic disaggregation of state-collected Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) data, and in so doing positioned himself against California’s AAPI, Black, and Latino communities, and against the recommendations of many of the institutions directly affected.

In a brief letter, Gov. Brown announced he would be vetoing Assembly Bill AB-176, which called for new state-wide guidelines for the collection of AAPI demographic data requiring at least the inclusion of categories for Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, Fijian and Tongan people; currently, California collects disaggregated data for some “major” Asian groups (e.g. Chinese, Japanese, Indian) but folds the remainder into a category labelled “Other Asian”, rendering these populations largely invisible in demographic analyses. Yet, these populations make up to as much as 15% of the national AAPI population.

Disaggregation of the AAPI identity by ethnicity, from the Center for American Progress. Data: US Census
Disaggregation of the AAPI identity by ethnicity, from the Center for American Progress. Data: US Census

History reveals the importance of data disaggregation in the AAPI community: when disaggregated data are available, we are able to see significant disparities experienced by some AAPI populations. In contrast to prevailing stereotypes of AAPI economic achievement, data disaggregation reveal a broad range in AAPI per capita income and poverty rate which includes many AAPI groups with poverty rates higher than the national average.


Earlier this year, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – LA released a report showing profound disparities in educational attainment for some of the state’s AAPI groups reporting less than 15% holding bachelor degrees — far lower than the average aggregate rate for AAPI’s: 45%.

Not surprisingly, many of the AAPI ethnic groups most negatively affected by these disparities are the same ethnic groups for whom statewide disaggregated data are not typically available. Bill author Rob Bonta — the first Filipino American to serve in the California State Legislature — said for his blog:

“The population of California is uniquely diverse, especially within the API community. There’s no place on the planet like it.  And it’s important that our policy leaders understand this diversity and are sensitive to the fact that APIs are not all the same. While we share some of the same challenges, such as language access issues, racial discrimination, and obstacles born of immigration, each of our diverse communities has different social, economic and educational outcomes that need to be addressed appropriately,” explained Bonta.

Writes “Reading Between the Data: The Incomplete Story of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders” study authors Farah Z. Ahmad and Christian E. Weller for the Center for American Progress:

But population data that are broken down by race and ethnicity often only exist at highly aggregated levels, meaning that groups of people with very different cultural, social, and historical backgrounds end up being lumped into one larger group. For example, people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian descent— among many others—make up the Asian American population, even though their socioeconomic experiences vary widely. Therefore, programs and services targeted toward only the broader Asian American population may struggle to meet the specific needs of some subpopulations.

AB-176 would have mandated important data disaggregation to reveal the extent to which the state of California currently fails some of its AAPI populations. The bill would have directly affected data collection by the state’s publicly-funded universities and community colleges, as well as California’s Department of Industrial Relations, Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and Department of Managed Care. Strikingly, AB-176 enjoyed broad support from impacted academic institutions, including statements of support from the University of California Office of the President and community colleges. The bill was also supported by the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs, as well as by Black and Latino caucuses.

Last month, AB-176 passed with unanimous California State Senate support, and near-unanimous bipartisan support in the California State Assembly; the lone “no” vote that AB-176 ever received was cast by Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper (who made headlines this year for being the Assemblyman to most often vote “no” when faced with a proposed bill in the 2015 cycle; included among his “no” votes was opposition to a bill banning racially offensive school mascot names).

It’s baffling therefore that Governor Brown vetoed this bill — a bill that virtually everyone else involved thought was a good idea. Even more aggravating is Governor Brown’s nonsensical explanation for his veto. He writes in his letter to the California State Assembly:

I am wary of the ever growing desire to stratify. Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow. To focus just on ethnic identity may not be enough.

CSU, community colleges, and UC already provide many ways in which to self-identify, including choosing among several ethnic identities. In the case of CSU, there are 50 choices for API applicants alone. Codifying the collection and reporting of at least 12 API groups several years into the future appears unnecessary, or at least premature.

Governor Brown appears to demand that AAPIs be satisfied with what we already have: or, that the demand for better quality data is uppity. Governor Brown seems completely unconcerned with the fact that at most of the affected institutions, the current range of choices do not encompass the real and documented diversity of the AAPI community. What does it matter to an AAPI respondent that some choices for self-identification are offered, if none are relevant to them particularly?

Moreover, the cost for this new requirement would likely be minimal, while the value to state demographers would be without parallel.

Instead, Governor Brown appears to be adopting an obstinately post-racial stance that asserts that lower quality data is more politically informative — a position that simply boggles the mind.  Governor Brown’s veto signals how little he values creating justice and equality for the state’s growing AAPI community. To oppose this measure is to oppose the very steps needed to actually begin to address many of the inequalities experienced by many AAPIs.

Governor Brown’s approval ratings have been slipping recently, and our community must hold him accountable for this disappointing veto.

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  • GratefulActor

    If you will, to balance out the reporting in this article:

    Bill AB-1088, signed by Jerry Brown in 2011 (, already requires all California agencies to disaggregate data on API subgroups with the more expansive (currently) categories of the U.S. Census as opposed to the limited categories collected by state agencies. It appears the only real difference between AB-1088 ( I could find in AB-176 ( was the specific of inclusion of “student admission, enrollment, completion, or graduation rates” into the Education Code for California colleges, universities and, optionally, the UC’s. So AB-176 requires a data categorization practice that most, if not all, California colleges and universities are already practice? An equally valid take on Jerry Brown’s response is “Let’s pass something more substantive on education when we actually see the results of the 2020 census”.

    And Governor Brown’s approval ratings have taken a hit recently… from Right to Die, Fair Pay, Energy Efficiency and other progressive bills he’s signed into law in California. I, for one, believe that we will see great things (to come) from Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the first Filipino in the California State Legislature. This bill, AB-167, was a suggestive precursor, at best, to laws which will bring real improvement to California’s underserved API communities.

  • AB-1088 did not apply to, and therefore did not standardize, disaggregated data for state universities or community colleges, or Managed Care. Prior to AB-176, the additional categories were not collected for all state university or community college applications, so no, the data categorization in the bill were not already in practice.

    An equally valid take on Jerry Brown’s response is “Let’s pass something more substantive on education when we actually see the results of the 2020 census”.

    Nowhere does Governor Brown take this stance with regard to his veto, and therefore to draw this conclusion would be pure projection and conjecture.

    This bill, AB-167, was a suggestive precursor, at best, to laws which will bring real improvement to California’s underserved API communities.

    How do you expect to bring real improvement if our existing data collection practices render these underserved communities invisible, making it challenging to identify the real problems they face in the first place?

  • GratefulActor

    AB-1088 applied to every state agency, and CCC, CSU and UC are state agencies ( While the data collection with additional categorization is publicly available, it needs to be mined. Work. The State of Higher Education in California: Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Report has been produced every year since 2009, I think. Check out the infographic and you can instantly see where the problem areas are:

    That was my take on Jerry Brown’s statement. What is yours? I’m sure it’s equally valid as well.

    The underserved communities are not being served by politicians proposing bills with catchy acronyms like AHEAD that don’t actually do anything for the underserved communities. Want to find out the real problems they face? Roll up your sleeves. Work. Engage. Discover. Help. This was lazy legislation to me. I know we can do better.

  • I think you missed my point: AB-176 links the categories to the US Census, so the additional categories I’m talking about would be those guided by US Census standards.

    Nor did AB-1088 (in text or outcome) result in disaggregated demographic data being broadly accessible in all reports. In fact, in many reports that these schools have since released, these categories are not reported because AB-1088 does not require that the disaggregated data be reported; as a result, most are then recollapsed back into the larger AAPI heading.

    That was my take on Jerry Brown’s statement. What is yours? I’m sure it’s equally valid as well.

    Brown states unequivocally his position:

    I am wary of the ever growing desire to stratify. Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow. To focus just on ethnic identity may not be enough.

    This isn’t a stated interest to write more meaningful AAPI policy. He states matter-of-factly that he’s against “the ever growing desire to stratify”. He goes on to oppose further collection of disaggregated ethnic data alone.

    To project a more philanthropic ulterior motive is, in my opinion, conjecture; one that ignores Brown’s clearly stated (albeit baffling) rationale.

  • In fact, if you look at Gov Code 8310.5 of current California state law, these are the mandated disaggregated data collection that applies to all state agencies:

    (a) A state agency, board, or commission that directly or by contract collects demographic data as to the ancestry or ethnic origin of Californians shall use separate collection categories and tabulations for the following:

    (1) Each major Asian group, including, but not limited to, Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Laotian, and Cambodian.

    (2) Each major Pacific Islander group, including, but not limited to, Hawaiian, Guamanian, and Samoan.

    For reference, this is the additional groups AB-176 sought to add:

    Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, Fijian and Tongan people

    So, I think you are mistaken in arguing that AB-176 was redundant to AB-1088. The additional subgroups listed in AB-176 are not already required to be collected by all affected departments and boards.

  • GratefulActor

    I agree that AB-176 would make more AAPI subgroups explicit instead of be covered under “Each major Asian group, including, but not limited to” in the case of colleges and universities. My argument on this (and Jerry Brown’s) is that this data is already collected by schools. How else is this report generated every year?

  • GratefulActor

    If I failed to elaborate my argument, it’s my bad. AB-176 is not redundant to AB-1088. My argument is:

    1) Dotting I’s and crossing T-s. AB-176 requires something that is already general practice and more. 50 choices is a lot on the college app. And we already know which specific AAPI groups and what unique challenges they face in education in California:

    Poverty: Hmong, Cambodian, Laotian.
    Limited English Proficiency: Vietnamese, Thai, Korean.
    Early Assessment: Samoan, Hmong, Laotian.
    A-G Completion: Samoan, Native Hawaiian, Other Pacific Islanders.
    CCC Remediation: Cambodian, Filipino, Laotian.
    CCC Graduation: Samoan, Native Hawaiian, Laotian.
    CSU Graduation: Samoan, Laotian, Guamanian or Chamorro.
    UC Graduation: Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander, Other Asian, Filipino and Korean.

    See 8 specific recommendations here

    2) Assemblyman, do more. AB-176 does nothing for what we already know, and almost nothing for what we don’t know enough of. This was the best idea you could come up with? Potential marginal improvement in our understanding? We know AAPI’s make up the largest group in the California CCC, CSU and UC system. It is my opinion that the most effective solutions to be found will involve greater AAPI unity, and not the reverse.

  • GratefulActor

    Oops my apologies Jenn, I missed the end of your reply because I did not tap See More.

    I agree. 12 additional cross-tabs is not significant in and of itself. But to propagate 12 additional cross-tabs across tens of thousands of admissions and department offices, hours training personnel on the 12 additional sub-ethnicities in addition to the 11 under Asian, and hours of additional work for an overworked education system? I can see how that can be significant. Can you? How many subgroups are there under Latino? How many subgroups under Black? There are still large Asian-less gaps in California.

    Yes. I love Jerry Brown and I do not hide it. And I’ll cheer when he does something I like which is more and more often over the course of his career. But I won’t defend him if he does something stupid. Not entirely, but I at least somewhat agree with his decision to close this rabbit hole and redirect our efforts in this area.

  • MonkInSF

    There should not be any ethnic groups data at all. There are poor white or Indian families. There are also rich Latino or American African families. Using race for reference is discrimination.

  • MonkInSF

    We should help poor families regardless their ethnic group.

  • idrum4u

    The new subgroups blatantly discriminate against Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and White. Why?

    Because originally both the State of California and the United States recognized sIx (6) Ethnic or Race Derivations, viz., (1) WHITE (Not of Hispanic Origin) (2) BLACK (Not of Hispanic Origin)
    14 MORE derivations for ASIAN and 5 MORE derivations for HAWAIIAN! Now we have under Hawaiian alone: Native Hawaiian, Fijian; Native Hawaiian, Guamanian; Native Hawaiian, Hawaiian; Native Hawaiian, Samoan; Native Hawaiian, Tongan! To be fair, why didn’t they subdivide BLACK into: Black, North African; Black, Kenyan; Black, Zairean; Black, Zambian?
    Following the same specificity as accorded the Asians and Pacific Islanders, it would only be fair to have: Hispanic, Mexican; Hispanic, Puerto Rican; Hispanic, Cuban; Hispanic, Guatamalan, etc.
    For American Indian: American Indian, Chumash; American Indian, Cheyenne; American Indian, Arapaho; American Indian, Apache, etc. Alaskan Native should have: Alaskan Native, Athabaskan; Alaskan Native, Tlingit; Alaskan Native, Tsimshian; Alaskan Native, Unaligmiute; Alaskan Native, Nunivak; etc. White should be subcategorized into: White, American; White, English; White, French, White, German; White, Italian; White, Russian; etc.


  • GratefulActor

    Agreed MonkInSF