Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • 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: www.apa.si.edu. 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 WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov.
    • Upload a video on YouTube: Upload a video to YouTube and tweet the public link to @WhiteHouseAAPI or send to WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov.

    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 aapi.ideascale.com, 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.

  • New Initiatives to Expand Opportunity for AAPIs & Our First National Community Google+ Hangout

    Last week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) held our first National AAPI Community Google+ Hangout. With the theme “Expanding Opportunity for AAPIs,” we launched several efforts to better connect the AAPI community with the federal government. Joined by federal officials, community leaders, and actor Maulik Pancholy, I was excited by the vast participation and hope you will engage with WHIAAPI on our new initiatives.

    If you missed the Hangout, you can watch it here:

    • Share Your Partnership Ideas on Challenge.gov
      WHIAAPI is calling for submissions on great ideas to work with us to expand opportunities for the AAPI community. Proposals may include innovation, enhanced infrastructure, and effective outcomes for a focused amount of time on a project of choice that serves the needs of the community. The challenge is to think beyond the existing work and to have a proposal that would make a meaningful impact on the community. For instance, is there a hot topic issue that your community-based organization has thoughtful solutions for tackling, but needs government support to pursue, or is WHIAAPI overlooking a critical target population in its current work? Submit your idea for partnering with us through Challenge.gov by March 28, 2014.
    • Submit Your Feedback to Federal Agencies
      On the Hangout, we released a comprehensive report of what federal agencies have accomplished from their 2013 plans to improve access to federal resources for underserved AAPIs. We also released the 2014-2015 federal agency plans. The plans represent the federal government’s commitment to increasing access to services for the AAPI community, with an emphasis on four priority areas: data disaggregation, language access, workforce diversity and capacity building. We’re also inviting you to utilize an interactive tool to provide feedback and “like” any agency objectives by March 31, 2014: aapi.ideascale.com.
    • Get to Know Your Regional Interagency Working Group
      Regional interagency working groups of officials representing more than 25 federal agencies and sub-agencies have been formed and trained to work with AAPI communities. Regional working groups in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles have already hit the ground running. In the last few months, they heard directly from community members about their challenges and have started to demystify the work of the federal government and its programs and services and create new partnerships with community leaders. To connect with your regional interagency working group, email WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov. Please include your name, organization if applicable, and location.
    • Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions
      To meet President Obama’s goal of having America produce the highest proportion of college graduates in the world once again by the year 2020, actor Maulik Pancholy announced the Initiative’s #AANAPISIstory campaign on the Hangout.  The campaign seeks to raise awareness about Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), the educational institutions that provide culturally relevant services and have high AAPI populations, to help meet President’s Obama’s 2020 goal. Using #AANAPISIstory on social media platforms, the Initiative will collect stories in the form of photos, videos and writing about what AANAPISIs mean to members of the AAPI community. To share a story and learn more about AANAPISIs, please visit bit.ly/AANAPISI.
    • AAPI Heritage Month
      During the Hangout, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center director Konrad Ng announced its theme for this year’s AAPI Heritage Month in May: “I Am Beyond.” The theme captures how AAPIs have met challenges and excelled beyond them in shaping the nation. The Center is inviting organizations, individuals and communities across the country to join the commemoration of AAPI Heritage Month and share their interpretation of the theme over social media using #IAMBEYOND.  Visit www.apa.si.edu soon for more information.  Expressions can include, but are not limited to, visual art, literary work, or multimedia. The theme aims to enrich the appreciation of the Asian American and Pacific Islander contributions to the American story.

    We hope to continue the conversation from the Hangout. Let us know how the federal government can best serve the community at WhiteHouseAAPI@ed.gov. WHIAAPI and our partners will strive to reinforce relationships, forge coalitions, bolster institutions and the capacity of community based organizations in order to ensure the federal government better serves us all.

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

  • President Obama Meets Japanese American World War II Veterans

    On February 19, 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, leading the United States government to confine more than 100,000 people of Japanese descent in internment camps across the United States. Almost two-thirds of those incarcerated were United States citizens.

    Despite tremendous prejudice and the internment of their families, more than 33,000 second-generation Japanese Americans (nisei) volunteered to serve in the United States Army during World War II – most notably, in the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team, one of the most decorated units of World War II, and the Military Intelligence Service.

    In 2010, over 65 years later, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law legislation awarding the Congressional Gold Medal – one of the highest civilian awards in the United States – to thousands of these veterans, finally recognizing the sacrifices they made for their country.

    Today, the President met with seven of these surviving veterans, all in their 90s, to thank them in person for their service.

    President Barack Obama returns the salute from one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans during a meeting in the Oval Office

    President Barack Obama returns the salute from Tommie Okabayashi, one of the members of the group of Japanese American WWII veterans during a meeting in the Oval Office to congratulate them on their Congressional Gold Medal, Feb. 18, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Learn more:

    And for more background, read about the Smithsonian Institute exhibit, American Heroes: Japanese American World War II Nisei Soldiers and the Congressional Gold Medal

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