Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • National AAPI Enrollment Week of Action Google+ Hangout

    Please join the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as community leaders from across the country, on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 5:00 PM ET for our National AAPI Enrollment Week of Action Google+ Hangout!

    Approximately 1.9 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) are projected to benefit from new options for health insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. With the open enrollment period for coverage in 2014 ending on March 31, many are still unaware of the health coverage options available to them through the Affordable Care Act. 

    We invite you to join Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health; Meena Seshamani, Deputy Director in the Office of Health Reform; and community leaders as they answer your Affordable Care Act questions. Please join us so you can learn more about the opportunities to improve the health of the AAPI community and find out how to #GetCovered by March 31, 2014.  

    Please submit your Affordable Care Act questions for the Google+ Hangout to the Office of Minority Health at by Tuesday, March 18, 2014, and join the conversation on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 at 5:00 PM ET.

    Gautam Raghavan is an Advisor in the White House Office of Public Engagement.

  • Protecting Employment Rights Across the Country

    The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the nation’s primary employment rights enforcement agency.

    The EEOC enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. We also work to prevent discrimination before it occurs, through outreach, education, and technical assistance. The EEOC also provides leadership and guidance to federal agencies regarding equal employment opportunity programs.

    The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has 53 field locations across the country. We are very lucky to have many enthusiastic EEOC employees in our field offices participating in the White House Initiative on AAPIs’  Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG). 

    Over the past year, the EEOC worked to improve federal access and advancement for the AAPI community. Below are several highlights:

    Language Access

    • For the first time, we generated quarterly reports on whether interpretation services (including those in AAPI languages) were requested or utilized by parties during our mediation program. We also completed an assessment of language capacity and needs for district offices.
    • We participated in 240 events geared at AAPI communities, reaching more than 11,700 individuals, which included distributing brochures in Chinese and Vietnamese in Indianapolis; reaching out to the Cambodian community in Lowell, MA; conducting a bilingual workshop in Chuukese to Micronesian residents; distributing information in Chinese and Korean in Mobile, AL; conducting a workshop to Hmong community members and advocates in Fresno, CA; and attending a town hall meeting with the Burmese community in Indianapolis.  

    Data Collection and Dissemination

    • We updated our EEO-5 survey, which collects labor force data on public elementary and secondary school districts, to make it consistent with OMB’s 1997 Revision to the Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity. The EEO-5 survey now requires public elementary and secondary school districts to allow an employee to self-identify more than one race, thereby permitting individuals who are Asian and Pacific Islander to identify both of those races.
    • Due largely to five new national origin categories added in FY2012, last year we were able to reduce the number of “Other Asian National Origin” entries by 13%.

    Workforce Diversity

    • We published an online practical guide to common issues faced by AAPIs in the federal workforce in an effort to assist other federal government agencies.
    • We participated in the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) Challenge Team Program, a project-oriented, experiential training-based program that develops skills for emerging Federal employee leaders, especially those at the GS-9 to GS-14 levels.
    • We now include Diversity as a critical performance element in performance plans for all EEOC SES (Senior Executive Service), managers, and supervisors.

    Building upon these accomplishments, we are excited to present our agency plan for Fiscal Years 2014-15. The EEOC’s 2014-15 Agency Plan includes goals in the categories of language access, data, and workforce diversity. So far this year, we have already taken steps to achieve these goals, including:

    • Beginning to update our AAPI Fact Sheets, which we plan to post on our website and disseminate to federal government affinity groups, community-based organizations, and Fair Employment Practices Agencies (our state-level partners) by May 1.
    • Beginning to develop a process for forming formal partnerships with AANAPISI’s (Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions).
    • Beginning to develop plans with the Regional Interagency Working Group to schedule AAPI outreach events.

    We are pleased to announce that just this month, the EEOC issued two technical assistance documents that may be important to the AAPI community. These documents, a Question and Answer and a Fact Sheet, address workplace rights and responsibilities on religious dress (e.g., a Muslim hijab, a Sikh turban, or a Christian cross) and grooming (e.g., Sikh uncut hair and beard, Rastafarian dreadlocks, or Jewish peyes), under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  A broad overview of workplace religious accommodation issues can also be found in the “What You Should Know” section of our website. 

    We also encourage you to submit your feedback on EEOC’s agency plan by March 31, 2014.

    Jenny Yang is a Commissioner at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the agency’s Interagency Working Group designee to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

  • The President’s Commitment to Boys and Young Men of Color

    President Obama Delivers Remarks at the Launch of My Brother's Keeper

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks at an event to highlight "My Brother's Keeper," an initiative to expand opportunity for young men and boys of color, in the East Room of the White House. February 27, 2014. (Official White House Photo)

    Last Thursday, I had the distinct privilege to join President Obama at the launch of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative, an effort to expand opportunity for all young men and boys of color. This new initiative is built upon collaboration between leading foundations and businesses, aiming to provide support and pathways for young men and boys of color. 

    As stated by the White House, boys and young men of color — regardless of where they come from — are disproportionately at risk from their youngest years through college and the early stages of their professional lives.  Through disaggregated data, we see Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities who are very much in need.  We are able to see high schools where almost half of Cambodians aren’t earning a diploma, in colleges where only 14.4 percent of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (NHPIs) graduate, and in communities where the average per capita income of Hmong Americans is lower than any racial group nationwide. Beyond high school, only 12.1 percent of the Laotian population, 14.4 percent of the Hmong population, and 14.5 percent of the Cambodian population have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    As the President stated, “This is an issue of national importance -- it's as important as any issue that I work on.  It's an issue that goes to the very heart of why I ran for President -- because if America stands for anything, it stands for the idea of opportunity for everybody; the notion that no matter who you are, or where you came from, or the circumstances into which you are born, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then you can make it in this country.”  By signing a Presidential Memorandum, President Barack Obama established the My Brother's Keeper Task Force that will work across executive departments and agencies to assess and recommend improvements to Federal policies, regulations, and programs that apply to boys and young men of color.

    The Task Force will create an Administration-wide “What Works” online portal to assess and develop recommendations for programs and practices that improve outcomes for boys and young men of color, while promoting incentives for private and public entities to develop and adopt strategies that have been proven to be effective. Additionally, the Task Force will develop a comprehensive public website, to be maintained by the Department of Education, that will assess, on an ongoing basis, critical indicators of life outcomes for boys and young men of color. And the Task Force will recommend to the President means for ensuring this effort is sustained for years to come within government and across public and private sectors.

    With the collective commitment of the President, private philanthropies, businesses, governors, mayors, faith leaders, and nonprofit organizations, we can create strong foundations of opportunity for our young men and boys to help them reach their full potential.  If you are interested in knowing more about My Brother’s Keeper and the AAPI community, please email

    Akil Vohra is Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Department of Justice: Advocating for Civil Rights and Access for AAPIs

    Led by the Attorney General, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is composed of more than 40 offices and divisions responsible for a broad array of issues: national security, law enforcement, civil rights, and the criminal justice system. Among its many roles, DOJ enforces federal criminal and civil laws and provides grants and training to state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners. Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, DOJ has made strides to support Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Over the past year, for instance:  

    • We’re leading the charge on increasing access to federal resources for Limited English Proficient (LEP) communities. Most recently, DOJ released a new tool to help state and local courts assess and improve their language assistance services for LEP individuals who need access to court services. We have also partnered with the Social Security Administration and the White House Initiative on AAPIs to create a video series to help train the federal workforce on providing meaningful access to limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. 
    • DOJ has conducted outreach to the Vietnamese Young Leaders Association in New Orleans and is currently enforcing a Consent Decree that specifically addresses treatment of and services to the Vietnamese community. We’ve also met with Muslim Advocates to hear its concerns about law enforcement’s treatment of Muslim community members in New York. And, DOJ routinely engages with the AAPI community in Seattle in connection with the enforcement of a Consent Decree with Seattle Police Department.
    • From October 2012 through January 2014, our Civil Rights Division conducted 136 outreach sessions that targeted immigrant advocates, legal service providers, workers, and worker advocates. In March 2013, we conducted outreach in San Juan, Puerto Rico with the Asian Community Association, and in June 2013, we conducted outreach in Washington, DC with the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
    • DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women grantees held a number of technical assistance events and trainings addressing the needs of the AAPI community, including issues related to immigration relief, sexual assault, culturally appropriate services, and domestic violence. 

    DOJ’s FY 2014-2015 agency plan for AAPIs builds off of these accomplishments and activities. This comprehensive plan includes ambitious new goals that include:

    • exploring the feasibility of developing a consultation policy with the Native Hawaiian community;
    • conducting an assessment of funding awarded to AAPI-serving organizations;
    • developing a communication plan to increase awareness of agency procurement opportunities for AAPI businesses;
    • surveying federal agencies about their language access goals, challenges, and best practices; and
    • coordinating training on hate crime data collection.  

    DOJ looks forward to its continued partnership with the White House Initiative on AAPIs and fulfilling the promise of justice for all Americans, including the more than 16 million AAPIs across the country. We encourage you to submit your feedback on DOJ’s agency plan by March 31, 2014.

    Grande Lum is Director of the Community Relations Service at the Department of Justice and the Department’s designee to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Interagency Working Group. 

  • 2014 AAPI Heritage Month Theme “I Am Beyond”: Evoking the American Spirit

    Since 1977, the month of May recognizes the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians to the American story. The legislation honoring the significance of our Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage was introduced by some of the finest Asian Americans in U.S. history: Congressman Norman Mineta, Senator Spark Matsunaga, and Senator Daniel Inouye.

    This May, the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center theme for AAPI Heritage Month is “I Am Beyond.” The phrase captures the aspirations of the American spirit, how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America. “I Am Beyond” recognizes Dalip Singh Saund’s election as the first Asian American Congressman in 1957 after campaigning for the rights of all Asian immigrants to become naturalized U.S. citizens. “I Am Beyond” recognizes the civil rights work of Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz in championing for the rights of American workers across communities. “I Am Beyond” recognizes the achievements of Patsy Mink, the first woman of color and first Asian American woman elected to Congress, a woman whose legacy includes the promotion of equal opportunity in education. “I Am Beyond” recognizes the legacy of Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs, a major figure in the civil rights movement who continues to work on empowering communities in Detroit, MI at nearly 100 years old. “I Am Beyond” recognizes the passionate service of Daniel K. Inouye, decorated World War II veteran and long-time Senator, whom President Barack Obama has called “a true American hero” and “my earliest political inspiration.” “I Am Beyond” is the theme of the new Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center exhibition Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, a look at the history, art and culture of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans in the U.S. beyond stereotypes.

    The Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center invites agencies, cities, communities, individuals, organizations, and states across the country to join the commemoration of AAPI Heritage Month. Please join us in recognizing the rich and complex past, present, and future of AAPI communities, our organizations, our leaders and innovators, our artists and musicians, our organizers and activists, our teachers and students, our youth and elders—AAPIs from all walks of life. Create and share your interpretation of the theme through art, music, performance and literature or through an event, video, film or documentary. More details coming soon: For those on social media, please use the #IAMBEYOND hashtag. 

    Konrad Ng is the Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

  • Be Part of the #AANAPISIstory

    WHIAAPI Executive Director and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

    White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Executive Director Kiran Ahuja facilitates an armchair dialogue with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in front of an audience of over 1,000 students at the 2014 East Coast Asian American Student Union Conference. February 21, 2014. (by Lorenzo Paglinawan)

    In his recent State of the Union speech, President Obama offered a set of concrete proposals to “speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.” 

    Crucial to achieving those goals is an investment in education. 

    Higher education leads to higher incomes. Those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, on average earn 63 percent more than those with only a high school diploma.

    A college degree matters.

    Knowing this, the President has made it a top priority to ensure that all Americans who want one will be able to access a complete and competitive education– from cradle to career – and has set a goal for this country: by 2020, American will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

    In order to meet this goal, we must ensure that underserved students who are the fastest growing demographic, but have the lowest rates of college attainment, are not overlooked. Out of all demographic groups in the U.S., Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are growing by leaps and bounds and expanded by 46 percent between 2000 and 2010. Far from being a monolith, AAPIs are extremely heterogeneous and have diverse needs. Many in the community have educational attainment levels far below whites. As an example, only 14.4 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders graduate college.

    So how do we reach out to underserved student populations? 

    One important way is through Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs), a class of educational institutions that have high minority populations and represent the best vehicle to target these communities. Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) are MSIs and have a significant underserved AAPI student population. AANAPISIs provide students with culturally relevant services, curricular and academic program development, and resource and research development. These are all key activities that will assist in retaining and graduating students.

    Last Friday, along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, I had the privilege of speaking to more than 1,000 AAPI students from colleges across the country at the 2014 East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference. It was the perfect opportunity to talk about the importance of higher education for the AAPI community and mobilize this group of student leaders to be part of a larger effort to raise awareness of AANAPISIs.

    The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is committed to supporting AANAPISIs by highlighting federal programs and grants made available for these schools, and hosting webinars and other resources to explain these opportunities. 

    But we can do more. That’s why the White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders is launching the #AANAPISIstory campaign to raise awareness about how we can bring more federal and community resources to AANAPISIs. Using the hashtag #AANAPISIstory on social media, we’re collecting stories in the form of photos, videos, and writing about what AANAPISIs mean to YOU.

    Stories can come from all people from all walks of life—college students, deans, chancellors, professors, business leaders, doctors, lawyers, policymakers and beyond—all who share this common bond of raising awareness of AANAPISIs and are part of the #AANAPISIstory.

    To share your story:

    • Send a photo over Twitter: Take a photo of yourself with your smartphone or camera, using text overlay or holding a sign where you fill in the blank: “I’m part of the #AANAPISIstory because ________” OR “My #AANAPISIstory: _________.” Tweet your photo to @WhiteHouseAAPI. Here’s mine as an example: 
    Kiran Ahuja #AANAPISIstory

    • Send a photo and/or written story through email: You can send your photo and/or a written story to
    • Upload a video on YouTube: Upload a video to YouTube and tweet the public link to @WhiteHouseAAPI or send to

    Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.