Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • 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.

  • Submit Your Feedback on 2014-2015 Federal Agency Plans to Support the AAPI Community

    Last week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) hosted its first National AAPI Community Google+ Hangout and announced the release of the 2014-2015 Federal Agency Plans.

    Twenty-four federal agencies created plans to improve data disaggregation, workforce diversity, capacity building, and language access for AAPIs across the nation. These plans were created to outline how the federal government is actively working to support the AAPI community through concrete objectives, strategies, and benchmarks such as:

    • Disaggregating data to better understand and more accurately define the needs of the AAPI community
    • Improving programs for Limited English Proficient (LEP) AAPIs
    • Opening up the federal workplace to more AAPI applicants
    • Increasing awareness on funding opportunities to the AAPI community

    In addition to plans that were created this year, an Agency Accomplishments Report was released to highlight the major accomplishments of the 2012-2013 Agency Plans. Below are a few of the major highlights from last year:

    To promote public engagement with these outlined agency objectives, WHIAAPI has created an interactive Community Feedback Module to give the public a chance to provide feedback. The module allows users to “like” different agency objectives and submit comments through the “Submit Feedback” option. The site is only open until March 31, 2014 so time is limited to be a part of this interactive feedback tool. You can log onto the website at, register using your e-mail address, and begin commenting today!  Federal agencies look forward to hearing from you on how they can best serve the AAPI community.

    Linda Li is a Program Analyst at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Barbara Goto is Deputy Regional Administrator for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Region 9.  Both are members of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Regional Interagency Working Group. 

  • Reaching AAPIs Regionally: Discussing the Affordable Care Act in Illinois

    Federal Officials and Community Leaders Discuss ACA AAPI Specifics

    Federal officials and community leaders convene in Chicago during the Regional Interagency Working Group Region 5 roundtable to discuss successes and challenges facing AAPIs with the Affordable Care Act February 11, 2014. (by South Asian American Policy & Research Institute)

    The Region 5 Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG) of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) partnered with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the State of Illinois to host a Health Care Roundtable in February. Panel presenters from federal, state, and community sectors discussed the latest updates, successes, and challenges regarding enrollment initiatives under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The roundtable was a unique convening of federal and state leaders, in-person counselors, navigators, and others on the frontlines of health care access issues in Chicago’s AAPI community, including event co-sponsors South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI) and Asian Health Coalition (AHC).

    Participants were given an overview of the Chicago area’s AAPI population, a rapidly growing group that faces unique health disparities. AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in Illinois, with Indian Americans as the largest subgroup.  Representatives from community-based organizations discussed successful outreach and enrollment strategies. They shared anecdotal examples of effectively connecting with Asian and other immigrant communities, including outreach at religious institutions and social events in collaboration with key leaders who have strong relationships with ethnic communities.

    Community advocates detailed the enrollment challenges and discussed potential solutions with federal representatives. For example, WHIAAPI provided ideas of private-public partnerships that may support the efforts of the community organizations that are often the best point of contact for AAPI applicants. Participants suggested that language assistance resources used in the Health Insurance Marketplace call center should also be made available in the identity verification process, to assist applicants with limited English proficiency.

    As the March 31 open enrollment deadline approaches, this regional roundtable provided a critical forum for agencies and community leaders to share successful strategies, describe challenges, and formulate solutions. For those who would like to apply for health coverage through the Marketplace, there are four basic ways to apply. Besides going online, you can use a paper application, visit a trained assistor in your community, or call our Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 to apply and enroll over the phone. Learn more about how to enroll.

    Following the roundtable, the RIWG members provided resources for participants to access additional information about federal government programs. The community leaders appreciated the opportunity to explain their concerns directly to state and federal officials. We look forward to building off this event and continue these candid conversations between federal officials and the AAPI community in the Chicago region.

    Doug Nguyen is the Deputy Regional Communications Director for the Social Security Administration in Region 5. He is also a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Regional Interagency Working Group.