Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Join the 2014 AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony on May 6

    AAPI Opening Ceremony Flyer

    May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time for us to celebrate and honor the accomplishments that generations of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made throughout American history. We highlight their many contributions to the arts, sciences, government, military, commerce, and education in the United States.

    This year, the AAPI Heritage Month theme is “I Am Beyond." The phrase captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.

    On behalf of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), we invite you to join us for our Opening Ceremony on Tuesday, May 6 from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm ET, in DOI’s Yates Auditorium in Washington D.C., where we will kick off the month of May with live performances, special guests and speakers, and remarks from Administration officials. The Opening Ceremony is a free event and open to all.

    • WHAT: AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony
    • DATE: Tuesday, May 6, 2014
    • TIME: 9:00 am – 12:00 pm ET

    Registration for this event is closed. If you are interested in watching the event, tune in to the livestream at

    If you have questions, please contact

    Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Rhea Suh is Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

  • Anti-Bullying Efforts in the AAPI Community

    Did you know that in many cases it is against the law to bully or harass a person in the workplace or at school? And individuals have several avenues to address these issues? According to published reports, nearly 13 million students are bullied each school year and many do not seek a way to resolve these serious issues. A significant portion of these students who experience bullying are Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) students. 

    On Tuesday, April 8, 2014, the New York Regional Interagency Working Group of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative) in collaboration with the New York Public LibraryScience, Industry and Business Library hosted a Google+ Hangout discussion on effective means of dealing with bullying as a young adult in the AAPI community.

    The information presented in the Hangout provided tools that will empower the thousands of kids, teens, and young adults around the country who are bullied. Representatives from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), U.S. Department of EducationOffice for Civil Rights, and U.S. Department of JusticeSouthern District presented information on individual rights and cases that highlighted these rights and the tools individuals have to deal with bullying. Speakers emphasized the importance of constructively confronting the person who is bullying you and speaking with those in charge at school or the workplace, such as a principal or EEOC (workplace), until a resolution to the bullying is obtained. An individual should not be fearful of continuing to seek assistance until this serious issue is resolved. It is very important that a person who is being bullied speak to the authorities.

    Presenters also answered questions from the live audience and those on the Hangout. If you missed the live stream, you can watch the YouTube download

    The Regional Interagency Working Group and the Initiative will continue to work together to combat this serious issue facing AAPI youth. 

    Bertha Fertil is VISN Strategic Planner for the New York/New Jersey Health Care Network (VISN 3) at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • RIWG Roundtable in Los Angeles Yields Positive Discussions and Collaboration with AAPI Advocates

    AAPI Regional Interagency Working Group

    The White House Initiative on AAPIs Regional Interagency Working Group, representing multiple federal agencies, convenes a community roundtable in Los Angeles, April 8, 2014. (by Paul Chang)

    Nearly 100 advocates for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in Los Angeles met face-to-face on April 8 in the first community roundtable in the city hosted by the White House Initiative on AAPIs (WHIAAPI) Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG).

    Asian Americans Advancing JusticeLos Angeles and the Asian Pacific Planning & Policy Council (A3PCON) served as official partners in holding the event and engaging representatives from diverse organizations across southern California.

    WHIAAPI Commissioner Sefa Aina welcomed the group and captured the hearts of participants with stories of his roots in local community organizing. Sefa challenged advocates to champion the needs of their communities and encouraged federal representatives to listen to and address those needs.  

    Sefa Aina Introduces the WHIAAPI-RIWG to Attendees

    Sefa Aina, Vice Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, introduces the WHIAAPI-RIWG program to attendees, April 8, 2014. (by Paul Chang)

    A lively discussion ensued following the introduction of eleven Los Angeles-based RIWG members from federal agencies such as the U.S. Departments of Labor, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, and my agency, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Community advocates needed to know: Who were we, and what could we do for the AAPIs who face discrimination or a lack of access to government services? How do we navigate the process to apply for federal grants? 

    Dedicated RIWG members rolled out the collective vision of working alongside AAPI community groups to tear down real and perceived barriers in accessing services. Advocates offered ideas on how to work together, whether that is in jointly promoting the visibility of local AAPI issues or explaining (in plain-language) government processes to AAPIs. Members shed light on their legal mandate to remedy disparities in access to employment, education, health, and services for veterans.

    The roundtable also included a session on best practices in applying for federal grants. Officials from; the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, Housing and Urban Development; and the Small Business Administration relayed specific grant opportunities along with tips on how to best apply for them, while grantees from the Thai Community Development Center and Advancing Justice shared insight from their experiences. Federal representatives pledged their support to assist advocates through the process.

    The WHIAPPI-RIWG Panel Discussion

    The WHIAAPI-RIWG program included a panel discussion on access to federal services, April 8, 2014. (by Paul Chang)

    AAPIs have not traditionally knocked on federal doors. Everyone in the room understood the cultural and linguistic barriers involved. Yet, a collaborative synergy began to circulate in the room as advocates and RIWG members engaged in dialogue and became better acquainted. The RIWG is local, accessible, and here to help. We have already heard from many community members since the eventa beautiful start to a critical partnership in the interest of AAPIs throughout Greater Southern California.

    Christine Park-Gonzalez is a Program Analyst for Outreach, Training, and Public Relations for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

  • Pūpūkahi I Holomua: Unite to Move Forward

    Region 9 RIWG Members Convene in Honolulu

    Region 9 RIWG members and community leaders convene in Honolulu to discuss the needs of the AAPI community, April 8, 2014. (by Lorinda Riley)

    President Obama’s annual pilgrimage to the islands is a testament to the special draw that so many with a connection to the Islands feel. While Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) make up nearly 50% of Hawaii’s population, they still struggle with troubling health, education, and economic disparities. When President Obama signed the Executive Order to reestablish the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), he stated “no community should be invisible to its government.” It remains critical to open the doors of the federal government to Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities.

    With this in mind, the Hawaii Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG) hosted its first AAPI community roundtable on April 8, 2014. During the roundtable, 86 participants discussed key issues facing the AAPI community, learned about critical federal programs and services, and engaged with federal government officials from Hawaii. Our event, which drew an incredible amount of excitement from the community, brought together community organizations and federal agencies alike. In addition to the more than 20 federal agencies in attendance, community organizations representing language access, religious, education, philanthropy, veterans’ rights, small business, legal aid, civic, and migrant concerns shared their knowledge and experiences.

    Our roundtable began with a call to action by Herbert Lee, a Hawaii RIWG member who emphasized the importance of an open dialogue in order for federal agencies to meet the specific needs of the community. Davianna McGregor, a Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, spoke about the U.S. National Parks Service’s Historic Landmarks theme study on AAPIs, which will help government agencies understand the diversity of the AAPI community. Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of WHIAAPI, welcomed roundtable participants and shared that the Pacific Islander community faces language access barriers— a key focus area of WHIAAPI’s work.

    Breakout sessions provided meaningful dialogue with the AAPI community. Issues discussed included the increased need for small business assistance, especially for veterans, job assistance for the Micronesian community, technical assistance in obtaining grant funding in territories and for community health, and technical issues that prevented Micronesians from accessing health.

    The Hawaii Roundtable was successful due to the level of participation that we were able to garner from our community partners—and we thank all of the participants for taking the time to be with us. The RIWG is truly inspired by the dedication and enthusiasm of the community, and we look forward to developing and implementing an action plan to continue the momentum.

    Lorinda Riley is an advisor for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Herbert Lee is the community outreach and regional planning specialist at the U.S. Department of Labor. 

  • Open Hearts and Open Minds: Guam Regional Summit

    Federal Officials and Pacific Islanders at the Guam Regional Summit

    Dozens of federal officials and Pacific Islander leaders convened for the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Community Tour and Regional Conference at Guam Community College to identify unique challenges Pacific Islanders are facing, April 4, 2014. (by Diana Yu)

    On April 3 and 4, 2014, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) and Payu-ta Inc. (a regional umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations) co-hosted the first WHIAAPI regional summit outside the contiguous U.S. When we arrived in Guam, we were reminded of the challenges of island lifedistance, limited natural resources, higher cost of living, and smaller economies of scale. Despite these challenges, regional leaders were passionate about tackling these issues, working collaboratively, and doing their part to be part of a regional solution.

    We convened in Guam for a dialogue where we were joined by federal officials across a dozen agencies, leaders from national organizations and foundations, and local leaders including Governor Eddie Baza Calvo, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, Guam Legislature Speaker Judith Won Pat, Guam Legislature Vice Speaker BJ Cruz, and WHIAAPI Commissioner Debra Cabrera. The first day comprised of community discussions and visits on topics including: social services; homelessness and veterans; self-determination migration; health disparities; and workforce development and economic development.  

    The second day was the Regional Conference during which the previous day’s discussions were further enhanced through plenary sessions and workshops. Together, we made recommendations and concrete commitments regarding next steps on topics such as: economic and business development; health equity; education; and housing, homelessness, and veterans issues. The regional summit built off momentum from the Micronesian Non Profit Congress, which convened from March 31 to April 2 with representatives focused on addressing environmental and social injustices. In response to the call for opportunities to strengthen local capabilities, federal representatives also presented a workshop on technical assistance and capacity building on April 2.

    While community leaders shared stories of their respective struggles and achieving successful outcomes, federal representatives also highlighted programs, expertise, and technical assistance to address priority needs. Federal officials in particular had an opportunity to learn about the history, natural resources, and spirit of the people as well as the many challenges of island life.

    As diverse perspectives were brought forward, we identified shared and common interests. The time on the ground provided an invaluable way to see and hear firsthand the issues Pacific Islanders face every day and the strong commitment to resolve them. We witnessed what can be accomplished by working together. Our time together was meaningful and transformative.

    WHIAAPI and other federal agencies committed to taking recommendations back to Washington, D.C. and working collaboratively to tackle some of the long-standing issues. This monumental gathering was a testament to the many stakeholders and concerted efforts over the years to not just give a voice to the communities, but also to engage in a dialogue. With the meeting in Guam, a solid foundation has been laid for improving the quality of life for Pacific Islanders.

    Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Lori Faeth is the Acting Assistant Secretary of Insular Areas at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

  • Seeing Success in Hawaii: Duncan’s 50th State as Secretary

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted from

    Students Perform the Hula for Secretary Duncan

    Students at the Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School perform the hula for U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan during his visit in Nanakuli, Hawaii, March 31, 2014. (by Eugene Tanner)

    Andrea, a senior at Hawaii’s Waipahu High School, came to the U.S. just four years ago after emigrating from the Philippines, but now she’s a proud Waipahu Marauder. From her first day in the classroom, she found the “opportunity to explore” and became interested in cancer research and science.

    This fall, thanks to her dedication and the teachers she has at Waipahu, she’ll attend Columbia University on a full-ride scholarship.

    Andrea was one of many students Secretary Duncan met during a visit to Oahu earlier this week, which also included stops at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a discussion with military families and a visit to Ka Waihona o ka Na’auao Public Charter School. During Secretary Duncan’s visit to Waipahu, Andrea presented her AP Biology project“Synthesizing a STAT3 Dimerization Inhibitor Molecule via Retrosynthetic Analysis”and explained the partnership with the University of Hawaii’s Cancer Center that helped her to pursue her research. “What I’ve learned here is if you want to do something, you can find a way to do it,” she said.

    Waipahu High School, located about 20 minutes outside of Honolulu, provides a number of educational programs, with each incoming student picking a “College and Career Theme” to explore. Students at Waipahu High School learn through pathways, which are smaller learning communities that encourage students to identify their career interests and take relevant courses while in high school. They have the opportunity to take classes in programs like creative media, culinary arts, engineering, finance, law and justice administration, and teacher education. Waipahu also offers tuition-free early college courses.

    Michael, also a senior at Waipahu, has seen a growth in his abilities since he started as a freshman. Despite starting on the school’s business track “not knowing anything,” Michael has been able to excel. “I was able to make connections with what I was learning...and I saw a change in my grades,” he said. A recent project allowed him to combine his budding business knowledge with his passion for woodwork by designing a business where he could sell the skateboards he creates using natural wood and varnish. The school has enabled him to able to explore art in other areas, too. Michael was able to help paint words like “courage,” “ambition,” “honor” and “integrity”which he says are “words that encompass who we are”onto the steps of Waipahu High School.

    A focus on relevant, hands-on experiences is a theme among programs at Waipahu. During a tour of the school, students led Secretary Duncan through their research and studies of fish as part of an aquaponics system in the Natural Resources Academy Pathway. Teacher Jeff Garvey, who Secretary Duncan called the “mastermind” behind the aquaponics system, used his private-sector background to build the open-air center and create the chance for students to study aquaponics, which combines fish and plants in a symbiotic, sustainable environment. The program is rapidly expanding as interest grows, including from nearby eighth graders who want to enroll at Waipahu. And despite worries that the system would be hard to maintain, Garvey points to students’ leadership with the center. “Give them ownership, and they take care of it,” he said.

    Waipahu serves mostly minority students, and most are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite those challenges, from 2011-2013, proficiency scores on state tests have risen, as have college-going rates. In that same time, the number of suspensions was nearly cut in half.

    Waipahu’s growing success story is one of many throughout the state of Hawaii. The 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) results indicated that Hawaii was one of the top 5 fastest improving states in the country, with an 8-point increase in math for fourth and eighth grade, a 4-point increase in reading in fourth grade, and a 5-point increase in reading in eighth grade, when compared to 2009 NAEP results.

    To accelerate its reform efforts and better support the state’s educators, Hawaii applied for and received a $75 million grant through Race to the Top in 2010. The grant has empowered the state’s leaders to collaborate in new ways and create plans tailored to their needs to prepare students to be ready for college and careers.

    Through these funds, the state has developed tools, like a classroom data dashboard and teacher-focused reports, to support teachers and school leaders to use timely and actionable data to improve instruction. Hawaii has also created tools to transition to higher standards and training to develop STEM expertise, and the state and community has supported schools that fall within the Zones of School Innovation to provide students with extended learning time, after-school and summer programs, and comprehensive wraparound services.

    And the work is just beginning. State Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi credited the “catalytic nature of Race to the Top” in enabling the state to try new ideas and create new systems“an opportunity we’ve taken with both hands”and acknowledged this is just the start. Gov. Neil Abercrombie echoed that sentiment. “I ask anybody in the state, before you make a judgment about the public schools, see what’s been accomplished in the last three years. By any outside observation, Hawaii public schools are rising, and we’re going to keep on rising,” Abercrombie said.

    Hawaii’s progress is thanks to leadership from state and administrative officials, teachers and principals, who have encouraged their students and provided new learning opportunities, even when there have been challenges and tough transitions. “These are profiles in courage,” Secretary Duncan said. “So much of what is going on here can be a model for the nation.”

    Watch a short video about Waipahu High School.

    Sara Gast is director of strategic communications at the U.S. Department of Education.