Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Our Land of Limitless Opportunities

    Nearly everyone in America has an immigration story to share. Our voices are louder when we speak together, so please share your stories and highlight the work that’s being done in your communities. Together we can achieve commonsense immigration reform. 

    Dr. Nguyen is pictured with his mother, father and brother in 1976, shortly after their arrival to the United States.

    Dr. Nguyen is pictured with his mother, father and brother in 1976, shortly after their arrival to the United States. (by Personal Nguyen Family photo)

    May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. For Vietnamese Americans, this time of year is an anniversary of great importance to us. Most Vietnamese Americans can trace their presence in the U.S. back to April 1975, the end of the Vietnam War. It is a bittersweet memory for us commemorating a time when we left all that we once held dear for an uncertain future. This is the time that we grieve for what was lost but exult in what was found. 
     
    My immigration story started in April 1975 when my mother, my four-year old brother, and I found ourselves stranded on a barge floating in the South China Sea. In the chaos that followed those final days of the South Vietnamese government, we were separated from my father. My memories of those days on the barge included the warm rain that fell down on us and the sound of crying, those of grown men who wept for their lost world and those of children who were scared and hungry. As a ten-year old, I remembered no fear, only the exhilaration that came with a new adventure. Looking back on the experience as a father of three, I can only shudder at the anguish, horror, and fear in my mother's mind.
     
    Unlike many stories with this beginning, ours had a happy ending. We were picked up by a freighter ship, and within hours, we also found my father among four thousand other refugees. Reunited, my family began life in the U.S. in Pennsylvania, where there was no time for fear because survival kept us busy. Comfort could not even be found in food since ingredients for our familiar Vietnamese dishes were nowhere to be found. So, seeking warm weather and fish sauce, my parents were among the first groups of Vietnamese Americans to relocate to Santa Clara County, California, now home of the second largest Vietnamese community in the U.S.. Life for my parents remained hard; they were small business owners who worked 12 or more hours every day except for Christmas, New Year's, and Tết (Lunar New Year).
     
    My parents’ journey and accomplishments laid the foundation for my own professional and personal path, which steered me to my current position as Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and as a Commissioner on the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. These are professional successes that amidst the storms and tears on that barge in the South China Sea, no one could have foreseen.
     
    My story as a refugee to where I am today is not uncommon. There are many similar stories among Vietnamese Americans and other AAPI groups. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2011, approximately 58% of the refugees admitted to the United States were from Asian countries. Many immigrants contribute to the success of the U.S. through innovation and hard work. America gave my family and me a second chance, and continues to be a welcoming land of opportunity for everyone to achieve the American dream. America offers everyone the hope of limitless opportunities. Let us come and let us stay, for in return, we will bring the fresh perspectives and the blood, sweat, and tears that a great nation needs to continue to grow.
     
    Immigrant stories are never finished. The stories of Asian, African, European, Middle Eastern, Mexican, Central American, and other immigrants to this country must tell what their descendants are accomplishing now, as those are the next chapters in their stories. The accomplishments of our descendants are the immigrants’ reward for giving up everything we knew for a future that is limitless for ourselves and our children.
     

    Dr. Tung Thanh Nguyen is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Dr. Nguyen is also a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. 

  • White House Forum on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell addresses the White House Forum on AAPI

    Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell addresses the White House Forum on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, May 9, 2013 (by Department of the Interior)

    On Thursday of last week, nearly 400 Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) from all walks of life gathered at the Department of the Interior for the White House Forum on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage, where we discussed ways the Department, especially the National Park Service, can better tell the story of the AAPI experience in America and the contributions this vibrant community has made to our country and its culture.

    As a first generation Korean-American, the forum was especially meaningful for me. My parents left Korea in the aftermath of the Korean War. They came to this country with $200 in their pockets and three sets of clothes each. Even with no relatives or friends to greet them and little knowledge of English my parents nevertheless harbored big dreams. They believed that with hard work, a commitment to education, and playing by the rules, they and their children would prosper. And because of their perseverance and courage, we did. I know they are proud that their daughter is now serving as an official in the Obama Administration.

    This isn’t just the story of my parents, or the story of Asian Americans, however: it is the story of America. This is why it so important that the National Park Service, which is our nation’s story teller, explores ways to commemorate and interpret the journey of the millions of AAPI pioneers who came to these shores and the role they had in building America.

    During the forum, our new secretary, Sally Jewell, pledged her support for the AAPI Theme Study. “Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have long been leaders in every aspect of our social fabric – in government, business, science, medicine, the arts, education and our armed forces,” Secretary Jewell said. “From Angel Island where more than one million Asian immigrants arrived on these shores, to the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroads across the country, to the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, these stories are all important threads in the great American tapestry.”

    AAPI leaders from across the country discussed our community’s progress, and how our stories really constitute the fabric of the larger American story. We also discussed National Park Service’s efforts, over the coming months, to guide the theme study scholars in developing narratives that will connect tangible places to so many intangible stories. The Service’s National Historic Landmark program will use the theme study to guide future nominations of National Historic Landmarks and National Register properties.

    It was a proud day for me to see so many distinguished AAPI leaders coming together to honor those who went before us and to ensure their story is told for future generations.

    Click here for more information about the theme study, or if you would like to get involved, please email us AAPI@ios.doi.gov.

    Rhea S. Suh is the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior.

  • White House Initiative on AAPIs meets with Economic Agencies

    White House Initiative on AAPI meets with Agencies

    White House Initiative on AAPI’s meets with Economic Agencies at the Export-Import bank, May 8, 2013 (by Marveen Paransothy)

    Last week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders participated in a roundtable discussion with representatives of various economic agencies of the U.S. Government. The discussion focused on what agencies can do to continue to support the economic development of Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

    With 1.5 million AAPI-owned businesses in the United States, having AAPI-owned businesses engaged in international trade can help contribute to the overall economy. Many AAPI-owned businesses have strong ties across Asia and are in a prime position to help export goods, create jobs here at home and support the President’s National Export Initiative to double exports by 2015.

    The Initiative emphasized the importance of fostering economic linkages between AAPI-owned businesses in supporting the Administration’s rebalancing efforts across the Asia-Pacific region and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Agency representatives expressed their interest in working closely with the Initiative to co-host forums to introduce the community to the President’s economic agenda as well as display the various federal resources available to AAPI-owned businesses to start and expand their businesses globally.

    Adil Kabani is the Economic Policy Advisor with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Raising Awareness about Mental Health and Suicide Prevention in the AAPI Community

    White House AAPI Mental Health Briefing (May 10, 2013)

    The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) and the White House Office of Public Engagement Briefing on Suicide Prevention and Mental Health, May 10, 2013 (Photo by WHIAAPI).

    The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the White House Office of Public Engagement hosted a briefing today on mental health issues and suicide prevention for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.  As May is both AAPI Heritage Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month, it was a timely occasion to bring these issues to the forefront.  The event convened government officials, community leaders, students and health care advocates for a discussion about the Obama Administration’s efforts to prevent suicide and address mental health issues within the AAPI community.

    Mental health concerns are not prominently or routinely addressed in AAPI communities, however, these issues are primary contributors to overall health and well-being.   National studies show that the prevalence rates for mental health conditions are generally the same or slightly less for AAPIs compared to the general population.  However, the burden of mental health conditions for AAPI families and communities is often greater due to limited access and engagement in mental health services, lower rates of treatment and poorer quality care leading to worse outcomes. AAPI families are often reluctant to seek care due to the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health conditions, difficulties in finding appropriate services and lack of understanding of both the mental health condition and the complex service system.  Higher rates of uninsurance also impede attempts to access mental health treatment. 

    The briefing also highlighted AAPI-serving community mental health programs, suicide prevention initiatives such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and government resources.  Also featured was the California Reducing Disparities Project Asian Pacific Islander report “In Our Own Words,”   which outlined effective strategies for reducing AAPI behavioral health disparities and provided specific program examples.

    During this month of celebration of the AAPI community, this event was a fitting opportunity to recognize and re-dedicate ourselves to the ongoing work to increase awareness of mental health, address disparities and improve the wellbeing of AAPIs across the nation.  Please visit the Office of Behavioral Health Equity and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website to learn more about mental health and substance use among AAPIs, and to access a new data spotlight on AAPIs and suicide

    Larke N. Huang, Ph.D. is the Director of the Office of Behavioral Health Equity at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

  • President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Meet in Washington, D.C.

     

    The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) meet with members of the White House Initiative on AAPI’s Interagency Working Group at the White House

    The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) meet with members of the White House Initiative on AAPI’s Interagency Working Group at the White House. May 7, 2013. (by WHIAAPI)

    Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of chairing a meeting of the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in Washington, D.C. The Commission is composed of 20 individuals who hail from all over the nation from New York to California, Hawaii to Guam – and from a wide range of backgrounds business, education, civil rights, farming, health, philanthropy, sports and so many more. We serve as the eyes and ears of the Administration, relaying issues and recommendations from AAPI communities to the Administration.

    This meeting came at an exciting time – as we kicked off Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and reflected on the Commission's and Initiative’s past accomplishments and progress. We set the direction for the Initiative's work over the next four years, met with Administration officials about the Affordable Care Act and Commonsense Immigration Reform, and discussed the challenges that still remain.

    On May 7, we were invited to a meeting of the Interagency Working Group (IWG).. The IWG is comprised of senior-level Administration officials from across the federal government tasked with creating and implementing agency plans to increase AAPI participation in and access to federal programs.

    At the meeting, we learned about four new sub-committees within the IWG focused on language access, research and data, capacity building, and workforce diversity. The chair of each sub-committee explained specific issues they would target and set forth concrete goals. Also, the launch of the Regional IWG was announced at the meeting.& The Regional IWG, currently comprised of forty federal representatives representing 11 agencies and sub-agencies from across the country, will help link federal programs and resources directly to the community.

    We appreciated the time to meet with IWG members to learn about issues facing our communities, and to discuss possible solutions. Collectively, the Commission left rejuvenated understanding the great work that the Administration is doing and committed to carrying out in the future, and understanding our role to make the goal of AAPI inclusion a reality.

    Daphne Kwok is Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Vice President Biden Addresses the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Community

    Vice President Joe Biden is introduced by representative Judy Chu, before speaking at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Gala Awards Dinner, at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC.

    Vice President Joe Biden is introduced by representative Judy Chu, before speaking at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Gala Awards Dinner, at the Washington Hilton in Washington, DC. May 8, 2013. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

    On Wednesday night, Vice President Joe Biden delivered keynote remarks before nearly 1,000 Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) national, state, and local community leaders at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Gala Awards Dinner.

    In his remarks, Vice President Biden paid tribute to the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who both the President and Vice President eulogized last December.  The Vice President also emphasized that by striving for possibility, equality, and justice for future generations, the AAPI community continues to embody Senator Inouye's legacy. Finally, the Vice President described the importance of commonsense immigration reform to the AAPI community and to strengthening the American economy and growing the middle class.

    Danielle Borrin is Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and Deputy Director of Office of Public Engagement in the Office of the Vice President.  Gautam Raghavan is Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.