Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • AANAPISIs: Serving a Critical AAPI Student Population

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Department of Education's blog. See the original post here.

    Recently I had the distinct privilege to join Education Secretary Arne Duncan when he met with Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander education stakeholders to discuss a number of education issues affecting the community. They presented a range of issues, such as the importance of data disaggregation, addressing bullying/harassment, and serving native populations, as well as the significance of Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) in educating low-income, first generation college students, and helping to achieve President Obama’s goal of having the highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.

    Attendees requested a clear statement that AANAPISIs are indeed within the same class of institutions as Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other minority-serving institutions under the Higher Education Act. Community members relayed that because of this lack of clarity, higher education institutions, advocates, and even federal agencies were uncertain whether AANAPISIs could qualify or apply for federal grant opportunities across the federal government.

    In response to these concerns, the Department has updated its website. To the extent federal agencies utilize this statutory authority to target grants and programmatic opportunities, we recommend and encourage listing “Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs)” along with the other classes of schools delineated under the HEA. In addition, the website clarifies that the specific definition of “Minority Institutions” (MIs) applies only to the Minority Science and Engineering Improvement Program (MSEIP) and other programs that reference the same MI definition, which includes Pacific Islanders but not Asian Americans.

  • WHIAAPI Launches E3! Ambassadors Program for Young Leaders

    Every summer, young Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) leaders from across the country come to Washington, DC to intern and work in the nation’s capital.  Monday, July 11, marked the beginning of AAPI Youth Leadership Week, a chance for young leaders to engage in discussions about public service and important issues facing the AAPI community. This year, we were proud to kick off AAPI Youth Leadership Week with a tour of the “Beyond Bollywood” Exhibition and roundtable discussions with Konrad Ng, Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and Chris Lu, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor. Both Konrad and Deputy Secretary Lu described their career paths, reflected upon the challenges they faced along the way, and shared some of their best advice and guidance.

    On Thursday, July 17, the White House Initiative on AAPIs and the White House Office of Public Engagement hosted an AAPI Youth Forum with the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU), gathering 100 young AAPI leaders at the White House. The Youth Forum began with keynote remarks by Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and continued with presentations and workshops on four focus issues: education, mental health, pathways to public service, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Participants also had the chance to discuss issues unique to their region and develop targeted action plans.

    Participants at the White House AAPI Youth Forum

    Participants pose for a picture at the White House AAPI Youth Forum with ECAASU. July 17, 2014. (by White House Initiative on AAPIs)

    As a result of last year’s Youth Forum, the Initiative launched its 2013-2014 Healthy Engaged Youth (HEY!) Ambassadors Program, encouraging young leaders to conduct outreach around the Affordable Care Act (ACA) within their campuses and communities. At this year’s Youth Forum, WHIAAPI launched its 2014-2015 E3! Ambassadors Program, which seeks to “Educate, Engage, and Empower” young leaders to increase awareness and outreach around the four aforementioned focus issues.  Hosted on, a portal for the federal government to post challenges that seek innovative solutions from the public, E3! affords young leaders the opportunity to brainstorm and implement their own unique ideas to help improve the quality of life and opportunity for young AAPIs.

    100 Young AAPI Leaders Gather for the White House AAPI Youth Forum with ECAASU

    100 young AAPI leaders gather for the White House AAPI Youth Forum with ECAASU. July 17, 2014. (by White House Initiative on AAPI's)

    Up to 150 applicants will be selected as E3! Ambassadors, who will serve for one academic year between September 1, 2014 and May 31, 2015. E3! Ambassadors will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with Administration leaders, including Initiative staff and members of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and Regional Interagency Working Group.

    Please visit the Initiative’s website to learn more about E3! and the four focus areas, and help spread the word that the application deadline is August 17. Whether you’re applying to E3! or not, I encourage you to join the Initiative in its comprehensive efforts to educate, engage, and empower young AAPI leaders across the nation.

    Jason Tengco is a Senior Advisor at White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

  • TUNE IN: AAPI Youth Forum

    Tomorrow, July 17, 2014, the White House Office of Public Engagement and White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) will host an AAPI Youth Forum to engage young AAPI leaders in the work of the White House and the White House Initiative on AAPIs.

    Tune in from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. EDT for remarks by Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady. Following her remarks, you will hear from members of the Administration about education, mental health, pathways to public service, and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

    To watch the event, tune in to the live stream from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. EDT at


  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Converge for Community Roundtables in Pennsylvania and Colorado

    When people think about Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, coastal states like California or New York might come to mind. However, Pennsylvania and Colorado are also home to a dynamic and growing number of AAPIs. Included in this mix are the more established groups such as Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and Filipino Americans mingling with recent immigrants from countries including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Bhutan. Although it is made up of a wide variety of cultures and nationalities, more often than not the AAPI community is thought of as a homogeneous group. For this reason, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) as well as the Regional Interagency Working Groups (RIWGs) are committed to giving underrepresented groups within the AAPI community a voice and the help that they need.

    We recently hosted regional roundtables in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Region 3) and Denver, Colorado (Region 8). Representatives from several federal agencies and local community and business leaders were able to convene and discuss issues that affect the AAPI community in these two regions.

    At the roundtables, the RIWGs introduced community members to the resources available within each agency before shifting to listening mode. Some federal agencies that attended the roundtables included the Department of Health and Human Services,  Social Security Administration, Department of Labor, Small Business Administration, General Services Administration, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Community members then spoke about the health, small business, immigration, and civil rights issues that sit front and center in their daily lives.  Many issues arose that are shared with various communities across the country – language access for limited English proficient communities in government, judicial, and health services, the shadow of the model minority myth and the attendant need for greater data disaggregation for the AAPI community, and concerns about immigration reform and protections for undocumented individuals.

    Roundtable participants in both regions engaged in dialogue about topics of concern in their areas. In Philadelphia, there was talk about increasing access to small business loans from the Small Business Administration and increasing collaborations with the local Asian American Chamber of Commerce, as well as steps that could be taken to increase awareness about critical immigration policies without instilling fear. 

    Federal Officials Meet in Philadelphia to Discuss Resources Available to AAPI Community

    Federal officials from Region 3 share resources available to the community in Philadelphia, PA on June 26, 2014. (by Bessie Chan)

    In Denver, there were discussions over the emerging Bhutanese and Burmese communities and a strong interest in building the community infrastructure to enable greater communication and delivery of services for the diverse and geographically dispersed AAPI community in Colorado. 

    Federal Officials Meet in Denver to Discuss Resources Available to AAPI Community

    Representatives from federal agencies and local community and business leaders discuss issues that affect the AAPI community in Denver, Colorado and Region 8 on June 27, 2014. (by Clarence Low)

    Collectively, both the Region 3 and Region 8 RIWGs will take the community’s feedback and create a plan to reach AAPI communities with the federal programs that can help address their issues.  Whether a nonprofit wants to obtain a grant in order to run more efficiently or an individual needs in-language assistance to sign up for health insurance, we are here to make sure that communities get the services they need.  These roundtables encourage continued collaborations between the RIWG and the local AAPI community, and we’re excited to take the next steps to further those partnerships.

    Nina Ahmad is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs. Stephen Chen is a Supervisory Attorney for the Department of Education and leads WHIAAPI’s Region 8 Interagency Working Group.

  • AAPIs Supporting Veterans Through Action and Service

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the Joining Forces blog. See the original post here.

    As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, Americans everywhere will gather to celebrate the birth of our nation with a traditional fireworks display, a nice barbecue, or by spending time with family and friends. The Fourth of July is also a time to honor the patriotism and dedication of our military and their families.

    There is no greater debt than the one owed to our service members, as well as the families of those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms we enjoy. I often reflect on those who have given us so much throughout history, as well as the thousands of service members who are still in harm’s way today. We should never forget that the freedoms we sometimes may take for granted in our nation were paid for in lives.

    I recently met a veteran who embodies this spirit and more. Saif Khan honors veterans the best way he knows how — through action. Saif invests in our nation by leading a non-profit organization dedicated to helping veterans and their families with employment opportunities. He believes that the best way to show appreciation for our veterans is to "pay it forward" for our next generation, and provide support for those returning home to their communities. 

    Saif emigrated to the U.S. from India as a child and joined the Virginia Army National Guard after high school. He served as a Combat Engineer in Mosul, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2004 to 2005. Since returning from Iraq, Saif has been a strong advocate for veterans, and has worked with senior military leaders and legislators to identify problems returning veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan face. Saif has also been active in helping military families with employment opportunities; in May, he organized a career resource fair to match veterans and military families with recruiters from local law enforcement and emergency response agencies.

    Veterans and military families meet with recruiters at a Veterans Career Fair in Arlington, VA on May 15, 2014.

    Veterans and military families meet with recruiters at a Veterans Career Fair in Arlington, VA on May 15, 2014. (Photo courtesy of American Veterans Committee)

    Saif and the many thousands of Americans who have dedicated their efforts to supporting our returning veterans fill me with pride, hope, and a sense of optimism for our nation. It’s important that we ensure no veteran has to fight for a job at home after they fight for our nation overseas. As more and more AAPIs answer the call to serve, we must follow Saif’s example and ensure returning veterans have the opportunity to prosper in their hometown communities. It’s imperative that they have access to employment resources, educational opportunities, and health and wellness services when they return home. President Obama has made it a national priority to ensure that military members and their families are cared for, and many organizations are engaging in the type of work Saif does every day.

    Getting Involved with Joining Forces

    Three years ago, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden started Joining Forces to show their appreciation for the incredible families across America who do so much for our country — not just with words, but with real, concrete action. Joining Forces is a national initiative to engage all sectors of society to support our service members. The initiative brings attention to the unique needs and strengths of America’s military families and showcases the incredible skills and experience of veterans and military spouses. Joining Forces encourages concrete actions and for all Americans to "step up" and show their gratitude to our service members and their families through action.

    In April, the First Lady and Dr. Biden launched the Veterans Employment Center (VEC) website. The VEC is the result of extensive interagency collaboration between the Department of DefenseDepartment of LaborDepartment of Veterans Affairs, and other federal partners. It is designed to provide veterans and transitioning service members a “one-stop shop” website to post resumes, translate their military skills, and search for jobs. Additionally, the VEC enables employers to post jobs and search veteran resumes for potential hires — it’s a huge leap ahead, both for veteran job seekers and for employers looking to hire veterans.

    This Fourth of July, we should remember that the fiber of the American mosaic is woven by diverse communities represented in our Armed Forces. In the coming years, we must focus on supporting the hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking opportunities after returning to their local communities. Saif is the perfect example of an AAPI leader who is doing this. He is "paying it forward" for America every day, and our nation will be all the better for it. 

    To learn more about how you can support military members and their families, visit the Joining Forces website at

    Lt. Col. Ravi Chaudhary is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Reflecting on 50 Years of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

    President Barack Obama Delivers Remarks on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas

    President Barack Obama delivers remarks as First Lady Michelle Obama, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and LBJ Presidential Library Director Mark Updegrove, listen at right at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas, April 10, 2014. They attended a Civil Rights Summit to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson) October 4, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

    Today, July 2, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark legislation signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

    Thanks to the law, the civil rights movement that spurred it, and the progress made since, new doors of opportunity have opened for all Americans, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

    AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the United States, and the community’s needs are diverse and complex. AAPIs continue to face challenges such as employment discrimination, hate crimes, limited English proficiency, and more.

    That’s why in 2009, President Obama reestablished the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). The Initiative works to improve the quality of life for AAPIs through increased access to and participation in federal programs ranging from education and health to economic growth and immigration. Under President Obama, the Initiative has reached over 30,000 people at more than 200 roundtables, stakeholder meetings, and summits in 25 states, the District of Columbia, and the Pacific Islands. Across the federal government, the Initiative has worked to increase awareness of how to report discrimination, bullying, and harassment. It held in-language Google+ Hangouts on the Affordable Care Act in Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin Chinese. And the Initiative is working across federal agencies to implement, monitor, and enforce the language access requirements of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Executive Order 13166.  

    The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is an important opportunity to look back and celebrate the great accomplishments of the civil rights movement. It is also a moment to recommit to the work that remains, as noted by President Obama in a proclamation celebrating the occasion:

    As we reflect on the Civil Rights Act and the burst of progress that followed, we also acknowledge that our journey is not complete. Today, let us resolve to restore the promise of opportunity, defend our fellow Americans' sacred right to vote, seek equality in our schools and workplaces, and fight injustice wherever it exists. Let us remember that victory never comes easily, but with iron wills and common purpose, those who love their country can change it.

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