Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Minority Serving Institutions: Educating All Students

    Earlier this month, I had the distinct privilege to speak about the importance of Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) at a convening organized by the newly established Center on Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania. College presidents and administrators, foundation leaders, advocates, practitioners and researchers came together to learn and share best practices. What was unique about this convening was having a diverse set of MSIs in one room together -- learning from and about each other, sharing best practices on a range of critical education issues, and promoting collaboration. 

    At the convening, I reiterated the numbers we know too well: By the end of this decade, our nation will need an additional 1.5 million college graduates to meet the demands of our economy, and yet, the reality is we will have 6 million workers without a high school degree who will be unable to find jobs.   

    MSIs play an important role in achieving President Obama’s goal to lead the world with the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020. They enroll more than 2.3 million students and a significant proportion of minority students in this country, and are also responsible for more than 20 perecent of all degrees needed to meet the President’s 2020 goal. Some MSIs hold a unique status in the U.S. -- like HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) or Tribal Colleges and Universities -- while others must meet specific percentages of minority and low-income students enrolled in their institutions.  These types of MSI institutions include Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs), Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Native Hawaiian Serving Institutions, among others. 

    MSIs are educating the fastest growing student populations in the country, and are accomplishing this goal through culturally sensitive and relevant curricula and environments that encourage students to develop a sense of identity and self-worth. They prioritize students in need and are developing innovative programs focused on remediation, first year and transfer students, retention and much more. I learned about many of these initiatives at the MSI Convening. 

    The convening was a reminder of the important role MSIs play in our higher education system, both in meeting President Obama’s goal for college attainment and in educating diverse students across the country. 

    Kiran Ahuja is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs.

  • Working Together to Strengthen our Community Health Centers

    On a recent trip to California, as part of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Strong Start, Bright Future back-to-school bus tour, I had the opportunity to visit Operation Samahan (Tagalog for “working together”), a community health center located in National City, CA that predominantly serves the Filipino American community and low-income, uninsured families and individuals.

    During my visit, I learned about the organization’s humble beginnings forty years ago, when a group of volunteer doctors and nurses met in a barber shop in downtown San Diego. Frustrated by the lack of culturally and linguistically competent health care services available to their own families and communities, they began seeing Filipino American and Latino patients, focused on providing primary and preventive care. The demand for their services rapidly grew, and Operation Samahan was born. The health clinic has since grown to six sites throughout the County of San Diego and provides a comprehensive spectrum of health care and preventive services.

    Community health centers such as Operation Samahan play a vital role in delivering health care services in communities with historically high rates of uninsured Americans – and are equipped to do so in a culturally and linguistically competent manner. These health centers are also on the front lines of helping uninsured residents enroll in new health insurance options available in the Health Insurance Marketplaces under the Affordable Care Act. And because of the Affordable Care Act, many uninsured Americans are gaining coverage through Medicaid and the Marketplaces. A number of these newly insured individuals will be turning to community health centers for health care – especially culturally and linguistically competent services. Increasing the capacity of community health centers across the country to meet these new demands is critical.

    Just last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a new $150 million investment under the Affordable Care Act to help health centers provide more individuals and families across the country with access to quality health care services. This investment will help support a total of 236 new community health center sites nationwide that provide essential health care services, such as primary and dental care, to approximately 1.25 million additional patients. 

    Several health centers that are focused on Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, including Operation Samahan, will receive these new investments:

    • Korean Health Education, Information and Research Center, Los Angeles, CA
    • Asian Americans for Community Involvement of Santa Clara, San Jose, CA
    • Operation Samahan, National City, CA
    • Nhan Hoa Comprehensive Health Care Clinic, Garden Grove, CA
    • Hamdard Center for Health & Human Services, Addison, IL
    • Asian Human Service Family Health Center, Chicago, IL
    • MQVN Community Development Corp., New Orleans, LA
    • Asian Service Action, Akron, OH
    • Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Atlanta, GA
    • American Samoa Government Department of Health, Pago Pago, AS

    These funds will be important to help improve access to quality health care services for all Americans.

    Maria Pastrana Lujan is an Advisor on Community Engagement at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Tune In: White House Diwali Celebration

    First Lady Michelle Obama dances with students during Diwali

    President Barack Obama watches as First Lady Michelle Obama dances with students during a Diwali candle lighting and performance at Holy Name HIgh School in Mumbai, India, Nov. 7, 2010. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

    Tomorrow, the White House will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, for the fifth time since President Obama took office. This year, First Lady Michelle Obama will provide remarks and light the diya, or lamp.

    Watch the First Lady’s remarks live at  starting at 4:00 p.m. EST

    And check out this statement from President Obama on the Observance of Diwali.

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

  • Once Undocumented, Now an Immigrant Advocate

    As a first-generation American whose own family emigrated from the Philippines, I always relish the opportunity to hear personal stories of immigration. As Filipino American History Month comes to a close, I want to share a story from Angelo Mathay, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law fellow at the National Immigration Law Center. This past summer, Angelo shared his immigration experience during an immigration reform briefing at the Department of Education. The story that Angelo shared is one that reminds me that while we all have our different backgrounds, our stories hold a diverse set of experiences, perspectives, and voices from which we can all learn.

    Before practicing immigration law and becoming a key advocate for social justice and equality, Angelo was born in the Philippines and when he was six, he and his mother set out to find a better life in the United States.

    The next thirteen years were unrelentingly harsh for Angelo. He and his mother, who overstayed their tourist visas, found themselves moving frequently between apartments in California’s Daly City, a major Filipino American community. While his mother worked tirelessly day after day, Angelo struggled with English in school as early as second grade. He recalled at the briefing in June, “I would heat up leftovers my mother had set aside for my dinner and wait for her return.  And when she arrived, my mother always made sure I had completed my arithmetic, reading, and writing homework.  She knew how valuable an American education would be to provide a better future for us both.” Despite their everyday obstacles, they never let go of their dream to “render [their] presence in the country a legal right, not a fleeting reality.”

    With hard work and perseverance, Angelo took on the challenge of pursuing higher education. He explained, “Though I lacked a social security number to obtain loans and scholarships, thanks to California Assembly Bill 540 — signed into law just before my freshman year — I was able to qualify for in-state tuition and attend UCLA.”  Finally, at the age of 19, Angelo was able to become a naturalized citizen thanks to a petition by his new stepfather.

    Angelo now believes that through his work on immigration, he had “the privilege of working with the community that [he] was once a part of – undocumented youth.” As of August 2013, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services recorded 552,918 DACA requests had been accepted with 430,236 approved, including many from Filipino youth.  Angelo continued, “The DACA experience shows that with an active, supportive legal community and responsive governmental agencies, we can build the road to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring citizens.” 

    However, the goal of fixing our broken immigration system doesn’t end with DACA.

    In a speech on immigration last week, President Obama discussed the bill that passed the Senate with bipartisan support earlier this year, noting that it addresses "the core challenges of how we create a immigration system that is fair, that’s just, that is true to our traditions as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants." And, if the bill were to become law, it would grow our economy by $1.4 trillion over the next two decades while cutting the deficit by nearly $1 trillion.

    As an undocumented immigrant, Angelo Mathay has escaped “poverty, violence and discrimination.” Yet he dreamed bigger. He worked harder. He recognized that his challenge was an opportunity, saying “The decision to leave the Philippines was no more mine than being born, but the ensuing years taught me several invaluable things: how to overcome adversity, preserve hope, and fight for what I believe in.”

    AAPIs are a rapidly growing immigrant population in the U.S. In 2011, 25% of the foreign born population in the United States came from Asian countries. Asian immigrants also make up 11% of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, living and working in the shadows, unable to fully participate in our society. This is an issue that is of tremendous importance to the AAPI community. Now is the time for us to fix our country’s broken immigration system.

    Victor Diaz Zapanta is a communications advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Join a Google+ Hangout on November 6 to Discuss the Health Insurance Marketplace in Vietnamese

    Join a Google+ Hangout on November 6 to Discuss the Health Insurance Marketplace in Vietnamese
    Maria Pastrana Lujan is an Advisor on Community Engagement at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

    The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders invites you to join our Google Hangout and chat about the Health Insurance Marketplace in Vietnamese on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm ET.  You can submit your questions during the event via the Google+ ‘Ask a Question’ feature, via Twitter at @WhiteHouseAAPI, or before the event via email. More information on the in-language Hangouts can be found at WHIAAPI’s website, and more information about the Affordable Care Act can be found at

    Learn About the Health Insurance Marketplace in Vietnamese.

    Gia Nhập Google Hangout vào Thứ Tư, Ngày 6 Tháng Mười Một để đối thoại về Thị Trường Bảo Hiểm Sức Khỏe bằng tiếng Việt
    Maria Pastrana Lujan là Cố Vấn Giao Liên về Sáng Kiến của Tòa Bạch Ốc về Người Á Châu và Đảo Thái Bình Dương.

    Sáng Kiến của Tòa Bạch Ốc về Người Mỹ Gốc Á Châu và các Quần Đảo Thái Bình Dương (AAPIs) kính mời quý vị cùng tham gia vào Google Hangout và đối thoại về Thị Trường Sức Khỏe của chúng tôi bằng Tiếng Việt vào Thứ Tư, Ngày 6 Tháng Mười Một, Năm  2013,  lúc 3:00 chiều (giờ Miền Đông- ET).  Quý vị cũng có thể nêu ra các câu hỏi của mình trong dịp  này qua mục ‘Ask a Question’ (Đặt một Câu Hỏi), của Google+ hoặc hỏi trước qua email, hoặc Twitter tại @WhiteHouseAAPI.  Để biết thêm thông tin về các Hangout bằng ngôn ngữ bản xứ,  quý vị có thể vào trang mạng của WHIAAPI, và tìm hiểu thêm về Đạo Luật Chăm Sóc Sức Khỏe Với Lệ Phí Thấp tại

    Tìm hiểu về Thị Trường Bảo Hiểm Sức Khoẻ bằng tiếng Việt.

  • Learn About the Health Insurance Marketplace in Vietnamese

    I’m excited to announce that we will be continuing our Google+ Hangout Series on the Health Insurance Marketplace, with the next session to be held in Vietnamese.  Having come to the United States as a refugee from Vietnam and now providing medical care and conducting research on Asian American health, I know that the Vietnamese community faces challenges in accessing quality health care. One in five Vietnamese Americans lacks health insurance coverage. Vietnamese Americans are also among the highest limited English proficient populations in the nation. Over half, or 53 percent, of all Vietnamese Americans report speaking English less than very well. So, access to information on health care in Vietnamese is critical to increasing health insurance coverage and access to health care among Vietnamese Americans. 

    During the Hangout, there will be a live question and answer period with Vietnamese-speaking representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They will respond to your questions and provide information on how to obtain health care coverage through the new Marketplace.

    The Vietnamese in-language Hangout will take place on Wednesday, November 6, 2013 from 3:00 - 4:00 PM (EST). We hope you will join us by watching live at a local viewing party or online by joining our Google+ Hangout.  You may also submit your questions in advance by emailing or tweeting them to @WhiteHouseAAPI. More information about the in-language Hangouts can be found on the WHIAAPI website, and more information about the Affordable Care Act can be found at

    We hope you will join the conversation – in Vietnamese!  Our goal is to bring greater awareness of health care to the AAPI population, so that all people can achieve their full potential for health.

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

    Tìm Hiểu Về Thị Trường Bảo Hiểm Sức Khoẻ bằng Tiếng Việt 

    Bởi Bác Sĩ Nguyễn Thanh Tùng

    Tôi rất phấn khởi khi tuyên bố là chúng tôi sẽ tiếp tục các đợt Google+ Hangout về Thị Trường Bảo Hiểm Sức Khoẻ, với buổi trình bày kế tiếp sẽ được nói bằng Tiếng Việt.  Sau khi đến Hoa Kỳ với tư cách là người Việt tị nạn và  hiện đang cung cấp dịch vụ chăm sóc y tế và nghiên cứu sức khoẻ của người Mỹ gốc Á Châu, tôi biết rằng cộng đồng Việt Nam hiện đang đương đầu với những khó khăn trong việc tiếp cận sự chăm sóc sức khoẻ có phẩm chất . Một trong năm người Mỹ gốc Việt  không có bảo hiểm sức khoẻ. Người Mỹ gốc Việt cũng thuộc thành phần các sắc dân có trình độ tiếng Anh giới hạn trên toàn quốc. Trên phân nửa, hoặc 53%, người Mỹ gốc Việt cho biết là họ nói Tiếng Anh không khá . Vì thế, việc thu thập tin tức về chăm sóc sức khoẻ bằng Tiếng Việt là điều trọng yếu để gia tăng số người Mỹ gốc Việt có bảo hiểm sức khoẻ và được sự chăm sóc sức khoẻ. 

    Trong  chương trình Hangout, sẽ có phần hỏi và đáp trực tiếp với các đại diện nói bang tiếng Việt từ Bộ Y Tế và Dịch Vụ Nhân Sinh Hoa Kỳ. Họ sẽ trả lời thắc mắc của quý vị và cung cấp tin tức về cách để có được bảo hiểm sức khoẻ qua Thị Trường mới.

    Buổi Hangout bằng Tiếng Việt sẽ diễn ra vào Thứ Tư, Ngày 6 Tháng Mười Mot, 2013 từ 3:00 - 4:00 CHIỀU (GIỜ MIỀN ĐÔNG- EST). Chúng tôi hy vọng quý vị sẽ tham gia bằng cách gia nhập Google+ Hangout cùng với chúng tôi để xem phần trình bày trực tiếp được tổ chức tập thể ở địa phương hoặc trên mạng.  Quý vị cũng có thể gởi trước các câu hỏi của mình qua email tại hoặc gởi qua Twitter đến @WhiteHouseAAPI. Để biết thêm tin tức về các Hangout bằng ngôn ngữ bản xứ quý vị có thể vào trang mạng WHIAAPI, và có thêm thông tin về Đạo Luật Chăm Sóc Sức Khỏe Với Lệ Phí Thấp ở

    Chúng tôi hy vọng quý vị sẽ tham gia cuộc đối thoại – bằng Tiếng Việt!  Mục tiêu của chúng tôi là đem lại cho các sắc dân AAPI ý thức cao hơn về việc chăm sóc sức khoẻ , để tất cả mọi người có thể đạt được hết tiềm năng sức khoẻ của họ .

    Bác Sĩ  Nguyễn Thanh Tùng là một thành viên trong Uỷ Ban Cố Vấn của Tổng Thống về người Mỹ gốc Á Châu và Đảo Thái Bình Dương. Bác Sĩ Nguyễn cũng là Giáo Sư Y Khoa tại Trường Đại Học California ở San Francisco.