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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