Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • HEY! Do you Have Health Insurance?

    This summer, here at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we’ve had the pleasure of working with ten talented interns. 

    White House Initiative on AAPIs summer 2013 interns and HEY! Ambassadors.

    White House Initiative on AAPIs summer 2013 interns and HEY! Ambassadors.

    As a staff member specializing in health policy, I was especially excited to hear that many of the interns were passionate about health and health care access for our community. Interns shared stories about the value of health in their families, and the difficulties some of their loved ones faced when attempting to access care. I heard about the importance of neighborhood community health centers, which tend to provide the cultural and linguistic sensitivity needed to effectively care for our communities.

    These stories especially caught my attention because enrollment in the new Health Insurance Marketplace is beginning soon on October 1, 2013. It’s now more important than ever for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) to understand how to access health care and how the Affordable Care Act impacts the AAPI community. With so many students in the office, it became evident how critical it is for AAPI youth to be informed as well. Many youth do not feel that health insurance is important, yet are unaware of the potential high costs of medical care. Additionally, many AAPI youth are bilingual and are key to ensuring their family members, who may have limited English proficiency, understand how to access health care.

    Seeing this need for youth to get involved and using their experience working with student groups, the interns developed Health Engaged Youth (HEY!). Teaming up with the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans, and the White House Initiative on Historically Black College and Universities, HEY! engages youth about the opportunities to get enrolled and covered through the Health Insurance Marketplace. HEY! also empowers youth to serve as HEY! Ambassadors and spread the word about health insurance coverage to their peers, family, and community. Through these passionate young leaders, we can work together to ensure our community has access to affordable health care.

    To find out more about HEY! and the Health Insurance Marketplace, we invite youth leaders to participate in the HEY! kick-off webinar on August 8th and visit the WHIAAPI website.

    Kate Moraras, serves as Senior Advisor in the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Living in Chardhi Kala: One Year after the Shooting in Oak Creek

    One year ago, a lone gunman entered a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and senselessly murdered six worshippers and seriously injured several others, including Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy, who was shot 12 times at close range while attempting to save others.

    In the last year, individuals and communities around the country have come together in a national conversation about how to respond to crimes of hate and to ensure the safety of all our communities – from Oak Creek to Aurora to Newtown. That conversation continues, and is the reason why the President supports a plan to reduce gun violence through executive and legislative action.

    In addition, the Attorney General recently announced that the FBI will add a number of categories in its tracking of hate crimes, including those committed against Sikhs:

    After a nearly year-long process, in June of 2013, the Advisory Policy Board that advises the FBI on various issues, including statistical reporting under the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, recommended that the FBI Director add a number of categories in its tracking of hate crimes – including offenses committed against Sikh, Hindu, Arab, Buddhist, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness and Orthodox Christian individuals. Director Mueller approved this recommendation. And – as we look toward the future – I’m confident that this change will help us better understand the law enforcement challenges we face. It will empower us to better enforce relevant laws to protect everyone in this country. And it is emblematic of our unwavering resolve to prevent and seek justice for acts of hate and terror.

    On Monday, I stood outside the gurdwara in Oak Creek to remember the six worshippers whose lives were lost in the shooting and stand in solidarity with a broad coalition of faith leaders and civil rights advocates, elected officials and law enforcement, and gun safety advocates and victims of gun violence from Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Newtown. There, I had the honor of sharing a message from President Obama to the Oak Creek community, in which he said:

    As we mark the anniversary of the tragedy at this Gurdwara, we honor the memory of those who were taken from us too soon, pray for their loved ones whose grief remains, and stand with a community whose enduring commitment to living in Chardhi Kala inspires us all.

    In the months and years to come, that Sikh concept of chardhi kala – relentless optimism, even in the face of adversity – will continue to heal and unite the Oak Creek community, and inspire all of us to take action to create a more safe and peaceful future.

    In case you missed it:

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

  • What Do the New CLAS Standards Mean for AAPI Behavioral Health?

    A visit to the doctor can be daunting enough, but imagine how much more challenging it would be if you couldn’t communicate with your doctor or if your doctor didn’t take into account your health beliefs or practices. Language and culture are critical factors to consider in providing high quality health care and services, and with the rapidly growing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population in our nation, cultural and linguistic competency has never been more important.

    Last month, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled the enhanced National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health and Health Care (CLAS Standards), expanding the scope and improving the clarity of the first CLAS standards issued in 2000. The CLAS standards are intended to advance health equity, improve quality, and help eliminate health care disparities by providing a blueprint for individuals and health care organizations to implement culturally and linguistically appropriate services. So what do the CLAS standards mean for AAPIs, behavioral health care systems and practitioners?

    Research shows that there are disparities in behavioral health among racial, ethnic, sexual and gender minority populations. For instance, among individuals admitted for substance abuse treatment, AAPIs were more than three times as likely to report methamphetamines as the primary substance of abuse than for all other races combined, according to data from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS). Studies have also shown that minority populations, including AAPIs, have worse access to behavioral health care, receive lower quality care, and experience poorer outcomes even when they do receive care. Barriers such as stigma, cultural beliefs and limited English proficiency can contribute to these disparities.

    Implementing strategies to improve and ensure cultural and linguistic competency in our behavioral health care systems is a powerful way to address these disparities and ensure all populations have equal access to services and supports. Capacity building efforts focused on improving cultural and linguistic competency and incorporating the CLAS standards in systems can elevate awareness; enhance the ability to monitor program access, service use, and outcomes; and improve quality as a result. Practitioners and administrators can participate in training to better understand clients and be responsive to diverse cultural health beliefs and practices, preferred languages, health literacy and other communication needs. Community leaders can use Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s new Toolkit for Community Conversations About Mental Health to start a conversation about mental health in their communities, and help identify ways to ensure mental health needs are addressed appropriately. On a broader scale, some states have taken steps to weave the cultural and linguistic competency into the fabric of their health systems, by passing legislation to implement the CLAS standards.

    This National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, I invite you to learn more about the enhanced CLAS standards and think about how you can advance behavioral health equity by raising awareness about and incorporating these practices, starting with checking out the Blueprint for extensive explanations of the standards and implementation strategies. The White House Initiative on AAPIs provides information on behavioral health resources for the AAPI community. For instance, you can view the briefing the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the White House Office on Public Engagement held in May to discuss AAPI behavioral health issues and resources. You can also find more information about behavioral health disparities and behavioral health resources on SAMHSA Office of Behavioral Health Equity website and the National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health website.

    Larke Nahme Huang, Ph.D., a licensed clinical-community psychologist, is a Senior Advisor in the Administrator's Office of Policy Planning and Innovation at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  • AAPI DREAM Riders Inspire

    Ed Note: This is a cross post from Homeroom, the official blog of the Department of Education. You can find the original link here.

    Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of young people who are mounting an inspiring fight to overcome barriers and make this country stronger. They are called the DREAM Riders, and they are taking their vital message to the entire country.

    Secretary Duncan meets with DREAM Riders

    Secretary Duncan meets with DREAM Riders (Photo Courtesy of the Department of Education)

    The DREAM Riders are a group of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) who have been granted deferred action through the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. What that means is that, for certain young people who came to the United States as children, the government has deferred action that would remove them from the country, and given them authorization for employment.

    These young people, along with student supporters, are kicking off the DREAM Riders Tour. This tour will take them all over the country with stops in Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and California, among others. The group plans to rally local AAPI youth and students around the need for Congress to pass commonsense immigration reform and lay the foundation for relationships and future collaboration with local organizations and leaders.

    I was inspired by the stories of the DREAM Riders and their friends and family— stories often rooted in hardship and heartbreak as their parents strive to make ends meet — stories of success and struggle as they try to obtain the best education that our country has to offer.

    The DREAM Riders and I discussed the significance of a meaningful pathway to earned citizenship for undocumented individuals and our collective efforts to ensure passage of commonsense immigration reform. The Senate has passed this legislation in a strong bipartisan vote for legislation in the Senate, but the House of Representatives has not yet taken action.

    AAPI communities and families have a huge stake in this debate. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, approximately 1.1 million individuals of Asian descent are undocumented. According to the Department of State, approximately 2 million individuals of Asian descent are currently waiting abroad to reunite with their families in America.

    The future of our country and our economy brightens tremendously under the provisions of this legislation. Earlier this month, the White House released a report highlighting the numerous and varied economic benefits of fixing our broken immigration system, including helping to grow our economy by creating new business and jobs. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill will increase the nation’s GDP 3.3 percent by 2023 and 5.4 percent by 2033. We should not underestimate the economic value of hard-working AAPI immigrant and refugee families: many AAPI immigrants start their journey in the United States as small business owners, investors, and entrepreneurs.

    The efforts of these AAPI DREAM Riders will significantly impact younger generations in their communities. I wish these young advocates the best of luck on their upcoming tour and commend their efforts to ensure that the collective voices of their communities are heard.

    Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education.

  • President Obama Meets with Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

    Last week, President Obama met with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) at the White House to discuss a range of important issues facing the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.  The President thanked CAPAC for their work to expand the middle class within AAPI communities and among all Americans, and said that he looks forward to continuing to work with them.

    President Obama Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus

    President Barack Obama meets with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in Room 350 of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, July 23, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    The President stressed that the Administration continues to urge the House to take action to pass commonsense immigration reform that would secure our borders, crack down on illegal employment, offer a path to earned citizenship for undocumented persons, and modernize our legal immigration system so that it once again addresses our needs and reflects our values as a nation.  He thanked CAPAC for their ongoing efforts on this important issue and both sides agreed on the need to pass immigration reform now to help grow the economy, create jobs and reduce the deficit.  The President urged CAPAC to continue to reach out to their colleagues in the House to find consensus and complete work on this important issue at the earliest possible opportunity.  In the coming weeks, members of the Cabinet and Senior Administration officials will stress the economic need for commonsense immigration reform, including highlighting the economic benefits of reform and the high costs of inaction.

    The President also said that he was proud of his efforts to make the Executive Branch and the federal judiciary more diverse.  CAPAC thanked the President for more than doubling the number of AAPI federal judges currently serving.   The President reiterated his commitment to ensuring that his Administration is composed of highly qualified public servants who reflect the diversity of America.  CAPAC also thanked the President for the ongoing work of the White House Initiative on AAPIs to better connect AAPI communities to the federal government. 

    The President also thanked CAPAC for their strong support in passing the Affordable Care Act and discussed the robust ongoing efforts to successfully implement the law.  Starting in 2014 nearly 2 million uninsured AAPIs will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace.   And, increased funding to community health centers is enabling more AAPIs to receive culturally and linguistically appropriate and accessible care.  The President and CAPAC pledged to work together to ensure that all qualified individuals are able to sign up for the Health Insurance Marketplace.

    The President was joined at the meeting by Office of Legislative Affairs Director Miguel Rodriguez, Director of Presidential Personnel Jonathan McBride, and Executive Director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs Kiran Ahuja.

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

  • Celebrating Forty Years of Advancing AAPI Issues

    Tina Tchen delivers remarks at the OCA National 40th Anniversary National Convention

    Tina Tchen delivers remarks at the OCA National 40th Anniversary National Convention in Washington, D.C., Saturday, July 20, 2013 (Photo by Rui Barros Photography, courtesy of OCA National)

    Since 1973, OCA has brought together diverse and far reaching communities for a common cause: to advance the social, political, and economic wellbeing of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States. Last week, I had the honor of addressing OCA at its 40th Anniversary Gala in Washington, D.C. and paying tribute to the organization’s history and legacy. OCA’s many accomplishments over the last forty years are a reminder that, individually, our voices are often swept into the wind, but when we speak together our words have the power to move mountains.

    Even as we celebrate this milestone anniversary, we are reminded that important work remains to be done. AAPIs have prospered in this country as a direct result of our nation’s immigration system; but, as we know all too well, the system is broken and needs reform. The reform plan passed by the Senate modernizes the immigration system, secures the border, streamlines the process to citizenship, and is projected to add $1.4 trillion to our economy. AAPI immigrant entrepreneurs, small business owners, families, and leaders are key contributors to our nation’s future and growth. In the coming weeks and months, community leaders across the country have an opportunity to use their combined voices to raise awareness about the importance of commonsense immigration reform and the impact it will have on the AAPI community. 

    Our work does not end at immigration reform. One in five AAPIs lacks health insurance. AAPIs are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, but the least likely to seek the necessary preventative care. On October 1st, individuals, families, and businesses will have a one-stop shop to buy affordable health coverage. If all goes well, an estimated 2 million uninsured Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders will be able to access the care they need. Through the implementation plan, we will once again call upon leaders in the community, like OCA, to build knowledge and raise awareness in the community about the host of resources available on

    OCA’s 40-year story reminds us that if AAPIs continue to raise their voices and continue to strive for prosperity, we will succeed, and the landscape of the community will be forever altered.

    Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.