Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • 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.

  • From Living in Fear of Deportation to Now Empowering AAPIs

    Paul Chang Meets with Agricultural Workers

    Paul Chang meets with agricultural workers picking oranges destined for grocery stores. (by Paul Chang)

    I am proud to be the Assistant District Director at the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division and a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders' (WHIAAPI) Regional Interagency Working Group. But this position did not come easily.

    Growing up as an undocumented child, I bounced around multiple schools before finally settling in Monterey Park with my grandmother. Even though I grew up in an ethnic enclave such as Monterey Park, my grandmother and I constantly lived in fear of deportation. But my grandmother was hopeful, reassuring me that community leaders were rallying and fighting for people like me. 

    I received my green card through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and after becoming a U.S. citizen, I worked as an intern at the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. As an intern, I worked side-by-side with investigators on many Wage and Hour cases, including the El Monte sweatshop case in 1995, where 72 Thai garment workers were victims of human trafficking and worked for some of the most visible brands in the United States.

    I realized that not so long ago, I was the one living in constant fear, but now I was here, helping these victims of human trafficking. I was promoted to be an investigator after graduating from college. Today as the Assistant District Director I continue my work in protecting the American workforce, especially the most vulnerable. I am currently working on programs to better coordinate engagement efforts across federal and regional offices and to share information and resources between agencies and with the AAPI community.

    I have also been selected to serve on the WHIAAPI and Federal Asian Pacific American Council challenge team on capacity building, where I am working to find solutions to building and strengthening strategic partnerships between government and the community that are vitally important to all of us.

    Paul Chang is the Assistant District Director at the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division and a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Regional Interagency Working Group.

  • Energizing Northern California AAPI Communities Through the Regional Interagency Working Group

    Region 9 Interagency Working Group

    Members of the White House Initiative on AAPIs Region 9 Interagency Working Group (RIWG) met with community leaders in San Francisco, CA, for its first AAPI Community Roundtable, April 25, 2014. (by Ana Fortes)

    “What can we do for you?” was the question we, the Region 9 Northern California Interagency Working Group (RIWG) posed to community leaders at last Tuesday’s AAPI Community Roundtable. Our event drew 90 representatives from over 70 organizations serving Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, and provided community leaders the opportunity to set the agenda for our RIWG in the coming year.

    After a quick panel introducing the RIWG and its member agencies, we opened the floor to hear from our audience about priority issues, including issues facing Filipino homecare workers, the preference of Korean domestic violence survivors to seek help from community-based organizations instead of shelters, the alarming numbers for AAPI men with HIV, and more. 

    RIWG members led lively interactive sessions on (1) Healthcare and Social Services, (2) Economic Development and Capacity Building, (3) Worker’s Rights, (4) Civil Rights in Education and (5) Environmental Issues. Questions and concerns from the community filled the room, as each breakout group brainstormed ideas for collaborative projects and solutions. Significantly, the issue of capacity building and funding for community-based organizations and nonprofits repeatedly bubbled up in almost all sessions. 

    Our co-sponsor, the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs, helped get the word out to our target audience, and together we turned out an impressive array of health care and social service providers, youth organizations, legal and community advocates, academics, women’s groups, foundations, as well as state, federal and congressional officials. 

    Our other co-sponsor, the San Francisco Bay Area Federal Executive Board, highlighted the amazing work you can get done working collaboratively across federal agencies. We had representatives from the Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Labor (DOL), Occupational Safety and Health Administration; DOL Women’s Bureau; Environmental Protection Agency; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Small Business Administration; Social Security Administration, and DOL Employment & Training Administration.

    Our AAPI Roundtable was a great opportunity to build a network amongst community leaders and our agencies. As an RIWG, we learned that if we work together, we can better serve and engage the AAPI community in ways that we had not considered before. 

    Dr. Tung Nguyen, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, thanked the community for sharing key issues and taking time to have a dialogue with their local federal agencies. Thanks to the Bay Area community, we, the Region 9 RIWG, are energized to work together and make our voice count on behalf of our local AAPI communities.

    Tong Qin is the Director of Asian American and Pacific Islander Outreach and Deputy District Director for the Small Business Administration in the San Francisco District Office and Ana Victoria Fortes is the Program Analyst from the Department of Labor, Women’s Bureau. 

  • New York Regional IWG Google+ Hangout on Anti-Bullying

    Please join the New York Regional Interagency Working Group in collaboration with the New York Public Library – Science, Industry and Business Library on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET for a Google+ Hangout discussion on effective means of dealing with bullying as a youth or young adult in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities.

    Every day, thousands of kids, teens, and young adults around the country are bullied. Data from the federal government shows that nearly one-third of all school-aged children are bullied each school yearupwards of 13 million students. Students involved in bullying are more likely to have challenges in school, to abuse drugs and alcohol, and to have health and mental health issues. Bullying in the AAPI community presents circumstances that can be complicated by linguistic, cultural, and religious barriers. More than half of AAPI students who reported being bullied at school indicated the bullying occurred in the classroom. In fact, AAPI students reported the highest rate of classroom bullying, 20 percent higher than any race or ethnic group.

    The panel will include representatives from the New York Regional Offices of the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Justice – U.S. Attorney’s Office, and U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    Submit your questions for the Google+ Hangout through the link below and join the conversation on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. ET.

    • WHAT: New York Regional IWG Google+ Hangout on Anti-Bullying Efforts in the AAPI community
    • DATE: Tuesday, April 8, 2014
    • TIME: 3:00 p.m. ET
    • LINK:

    Dr. Michelle S. Davis is Regional Health Administrator with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services New York Regional office.

  • Urging the AAPI Community to #GetCovered by March 31

    AAPI Enrollment Summit Atlanta, GA

    A trained assistor helps a community member sign up for health coverage at an AAPI enrollment summit in Atlanta, Georgia, March 18, 2014. (by the Center for Pan Asian Community Services)

    Did you know that 8 out of 10 Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders may be eligible for financial assistance through the Health Insurance Marketplace?*

    Given the importance of having health insurance within the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, last week the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), White House Office of Public Engagement, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and many AAPI community leaders held an AAPI Enrollment Week of Action.

    In a final push, we’re working to make sure our community is well informed about the Affordable Care Act and enrolls in the Health Insurance Marketplace before the deadline on March 31, 2014. If you do not have health insurance and don’t enroll by March 31, you may not be able to get health insurance again until next year. Just call 1-800-318-2596 or visit to sign up. 

    AAPI community leaders and members have been sharing their own stories. Here are some examples of advocates encouraging our communities to #GetCovered:

    MomsRising: Answered My PrayersMaly Xiong, Hmong American entrepreneur and mother of six

    “Living in the one of the richest countries in the world without health coverage can be very stressful. Every night I prayed that my children wouldn’t get sick because we did not have health insurance. I would tell my children not to run around too much to avoid getting injured because we did not have health insurance.  When my children participated in school sports, I told them not to play too hard for fear that they might get injured and I wouldn’t have the money to pay for the medical bills. Can you imagine, as a mother, telling your children not to play?...Receiving health insurance has been a blessing.”

    AsianWeek: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to Benefit from the Affordable Care Act—Dr. Howard K. Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    “As a physician for over 30 years, I have seen the patient benefits of having health insurance as well as the problems of lacking it. Nearly one in five Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) does not have health insurance. Without insurance, AAPIs may have a harder time accessing critical health care, putting them at greater risk of chronic and preventable diseases, such a hepatitis B and certain cancers.”

    Also in: Korea Times

    Korea Daily: Korean Americans to Benefit from the Affordable Care ActDr. Howard K. Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

    “For the Korean American community, one in three individuals lacks health insurance. In addition, Korean Americans are at risk for many preventable diseases, such as stomach and liver cancer. The good news is that the Affordable Care Act provides Korean Americans new options for affordable health coverage that covers a range of benefits, including important preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans.”

    한인 커뮤니티에는 3 1명이 건강보험이 없다. 반면 한인들은 위암과 간암 예방이 가능한 질병에 걸릴 위험이 높다. 반갑게도 오바마케어(Affordable Care Act) 건강보험법은 이러한 한인들에게 저렴한 가격으로 다양한 의료혜택을 받을 있게 하는 옵션을 제공하고 있다.”

    Also in: KoreAm

    NW Asian Weekly: Chinese Americans to Benefit from the Affordable Care ActDaphne Kwok, Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs

    “Betty Li, a young Chinese American woman from Philadelphia, PA is one of them. She stopped by her neighborhood community-based organization, Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition (SEAMAAC) in south Philadelphia after hearing that she could receive enrollment assistance there. Betty works at a small business that doesn’t offer health insurance so both her husband and she have been living without coverage. SEAMAAC, a certified navigator, helped her apply for and enroll in a marketplace plan for both her husband and herself. They will now pay less than a dollar a month for their coverage.”

    India Journal: Indian-Americans to Benefit from the Affordable Care Act—Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of WHIAAPI, and Gautam Raghavan, Advisor at the White House Office of Public Engagement

    “Ms. Patel from Phoenix, Arizona, is one of them. She had previously been denied private health insurance because she had a pre-existing health condition. When she fell and had to go to the hospital for care, she ended up with a bill of over $1000. After the Affordable Care Act went into effect, she went to Asian Pacific Community in Action (APCA) to get help from a certified navigator to enroll in the Health Insurance Marketplace. With APCA’s in-person and assistance available in Hindi, she learned that she now qualified for health insurance through the expansion of Medicaid. Now she has peace of mind and a renewed hope for the future.”

    Asian Journal: Getting to the Heart of the Communities in Nevada to Help AAPIs #GetCoveredRozita Lee, Member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and certified navigator

    “One of my most memorable successes was with a group of Bhutanese refugees who had been in Nevada for several years and were green card holders and permanent residents, but living without health insurance. With interpreters, our team provided assistance in Dzongkha, the official Bhutanese language, helping them successfully enroll in NevadaHealthLink for health insurance. Speaking in a person's language helps them open up and feel comfortable. It was gratifying to see their faces when they realized that they can be insured. To see that sigh of relief and the smile on their faces, knowing that we have helped alleviate their concerns about healthcare, is worth all the time and energy we dedicate to outreach and enrollment.”

    Pakistan Link: Pakistani Americans to Benefit from the Affordable Care Act—Dilawar Syed, Member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs

    “More than 22 percent of Pakistani Americans do not have health insurance, a rate much higher than the national average. That’s why the Affordable Care Act is so important to the Pakistani American community. It will help those without health insurance get affordable coverage and provides new benefits and protections for millions of Americans, including Pakistani Americans.”

    Viet Bao Daily: Vietnamese Americans to Benefit from the Affordable Care Act—Dr. Tung Nguyen, Member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs

    “The good news is that the Affordable Care Act provides Vietnamese Americans new options for affordable health coverage that covers a range of benefits, including important preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs for millions of Americans, including the Vietnamese American community. Early cancer screenings and smoking cessation interventions are just some of the free preventive services provided by health plans through the Health Insurance Marketplace.”

    “Luật Cải Tổ Y Tế sẽ giúp người Mỹ gốc Việt có được bảo hiểm với giá phải chăng và nhiều sự lựa chọn bao gồm những dịch vụ phòng bệnh mà không phải trả phí trực tiếp. Dò tìm ung thư sớm và can thiệp cai thuốc lá là một số các dịch vụ phòng ngừa miễn phí được cung cấp bởi các chương trình bảo hiểm y tế thông qua Thị trường bảo hiểm y tế.

    Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, nearly 2 million uninsured AAPIs now have the ability to get health coverage. We also applaud our community partners in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, and Georgia for holding enrollment summits during the Week of Action. These summits were instrumental in helping hundreds of AAPIs receive in-person assistance, in 17 different languages, and sign up for health insurance. However, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done in the final days left, so spread the word to our neighbors and communities by March 31!

    If you or someone you care about is uninsured, it’s not too late to sign up for quality, affordable coverage – but you’ll want to act today and before March 31. If you don’t enroll by March 31, you may not be able to get health insurance again until next year.

    Sign up today online at; over the phone with help available in 150 languages at the 24/7 call center at 1-800-318-2596; or directly through an issuer, agent, or broker. You can also find in-person assistance in your community at

    * This fact can be found in the report released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on March 18, 2014.

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

  • New Data Sheds Light on Need to Expand Opportunities for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Young Men and Boys

    In February, the President launched his My Brother’s Keeper Initiative to expand opportunity for all young men and boys of color. This initiative builds upon collaboration between leading foundations and businesses to ensure that all young men and boys are able to achieve their full potential, regardless of their background. 

    As an educator who works closely with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth and students on a daily basis, I have seen firsthand the many challenges and barriers that young men and boys of color face. Low graduation rates and bullying are among these challenges. My Brother’s Keeper is an important step in furthering the President’s commitment to improving the quality of life and opportunities for all, including the AAPI community.

    In order to work effectively to address the needs of young men and boys of color, we need to have compelling datadata that is disaggregated and detailed enough to illuminate the areas where the community’s needs are the greatest.

    On March 21, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released the results of its 2011-2012 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC). With data collected from every public school and school district across the country, the CRDC provides a detailed portrait of student equity and opportunity trends locally and nationwide for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (NHPIs).

    The data is disaggregated by seven race and ethnicity categories, and this year marks the first time the CRDC has included disaggregated data on NHPIs and multiracial students. The CRDC shows that during the study, 7 percent of NHPI boys received out-of-school suspensions whereas only 3 percent of NHPI girls received out-of-school suspensions. In addition, in Mississippi, the out-of-school suspension rates for NHPI boys and girls reached 41 percent and 22 percent respectively. Furthermore, in kindergarten retention, boys represented 52 percent of kindergarten students and 61 percent of the kindergarten students retained and 10 percent of NHPI boys were retained in kindergarten.

    With this new disaggregated data, the CRDC joins the U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education: Gaps in Access and Persistence Study as an immensely important tool in shedding light on the experience of young men and boys in our communities.

    The Higher Education study, produced by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics, examines gaps in educational participation and attainment between males and females overall and within racial/ethnic groups. The report includes data on Asian Americans and NHPIs and looks at 46 indicators of important developments and trends in the education of males and females within and across specific racial/ethnic groups to explore the educational achievements and challenges of males and females.

    The incredible opportunities presented by the CRDC and Higher Education study in addressing our community’s needs fuel a growing demand for greater data disaggregation. The data provided in these reports allow us to see a more complete snapshot of the daily needs and challenges our young men and boys face and are a great tool for school officials, federal agencies, policymakers, and educators.

    Boys and young men of color of all backgrounds are disproportionately at risk from their youngest years through college and the early stages of their professional lives. The data presented in the CRDC and Higher Education study paint a complex picture of just how early we begin to see these risks. By observing and understanding these risks, and addressing them through efforts like the President’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, we can work to overcome the challenges young men and boys of color face early on.

    Sefa Aina is Director of the Asian American Resource Center at Pomona College and Vice Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.