Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • A Collective Focus on Behavioral Health in the AAPI Community

    Federal and community experts convene at the AAPI Behavioral Health Forum, May 9, 2014.

    Federal and community experts convene at the AAPI Behavioral Health Forum, May 9, 2014. (by Darren Shim)

    How do we begin to address behavioral health issues within Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities compounded with the need for cultural sensitivity and access to resources? This was the crux of a recent dialogue between community organizations and federal officials involved in advancing the behavioral health of the AAPI community.

    During last month’s AAPI Behavioral Health Forum, a Vietnamese woman shared her story of cross-generational trauma, stemming from tragedies experienced during the Vietnam War; a third generation Japanese-American woman described her lack of a sense of belonging associated with her schizophrenia; another Japanese-American woman reflected on her family’s need to deny the cause of death when her cousin died by suicide. These stories were a sobering reminder of the challenges associated with the lived experiences of AAPI individuals, families, and communities with mental and/or substance use disorders.

    Throughout the day, federal and community experts discussed current efforts to elevate AAPI behavioral health issues in communities across America and advance behavioral health equity. Forum participants assessed the questions, challenges, and opportunities for each of the four issue areas – data, integrated care, workforce development and community engagement. While exploring these issue areas, participants thought critically about possible next steps to build and strengthen efforts to improve AAPI behavioral health and serve the AAPI community in a culturally and linguistically competent manner.

  • Unemployment Challenges for AAPI Workers

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

    As part of our commemoration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the department has been sharing the latest data highlighting the status of Asian-American and Pacific Islanders in our nation’s labor market.

    Secretary Perez kicked off the blog series by talking about the overall employment situation for AAPI communities, and Deputy Secretary Chris Lu followed with a discussion on the importance of expanding opportunities through education for AAPIs. I’m turning to a topic that doesn’t get much attention – AAPIs, when facing unemployment, tend to remain unemployed for a long time.

    Asian-Americans, as a group, have the lowest unemployment rate (5.2 percent in 2013) compared to the nation as a whole (7.4 percent in 2013). This fact may mask the challenges Asian-Americans experience when faced with unemployment. While Asians are less likely to be unemployed, those who are face longer durations of unemployment (20 weeks) compared to whites (16 weeks) or Hispanics (15 weeks).

    Median Duration of Unemployment in 2013

  • Working with Community Leaders to Improve Educational Outcomes for AANHPI Students

    Arne Duncan Meets Community Leaders to Discuss Challenges Among AANHPI Students

    Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who chairs the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, meets with community leaders from across the country to discuss educational challenges among AANHPI students. (by Bernadette Rietz)

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

    May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time for us to celebrate the accomplishments of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders (AANHPIs) and their contributions to this great nation. This year’s theme for the month is “I am Beyond,” which captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.

    As chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, it is important that I hear directly from AANHPI leaders who work with our students and their families every day. Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with community leaders who came from as far as Guam and Hawaii to discuss important issues that face AANHPI students around the country and in the Insular Areas. I was honored to have many key leaders at the Department of Education who have made working with AAPI populations a critical part of their work.

  • Combating the Silent Epidemic of Hepatitis B in the AAPI Community

    AAPI CDC infographic

    As part of CDC and Hep B United’s Know Hepatitis B campaign, this infographic provides information in a visual and easy-to-understand format.

    As May is both Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and Hepatitis Awareness Month, we are reminded of the staggering impact of Hepatitis B in the AAPI community. AAPIs comprise approximately five percent of the U.S. population, but account for more than half of Americans with chronic Hepatitis B.  In fact, one in 12 AAPIs is living with chronic Hepatitis B.

    As a result of unprecedented coordination and collaboration among federal partners brought about by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)’s Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, which was just updated last month, we can now leverage a number of new tools to support our ongoing awareness efforts. The Plan is the nation’s first comprehensive cross-agency effort to combat viral hepatitis. The Action Plan is also a core element in HHS’s 2014-2015 agency plan for the White House Initiative on AAPIs – we encourage you to submit feedback on the agency plan by May 31.

    To help increase awareness of Hepatitis B, one tool, created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in partnership with Hep B United, is the multi-lingual Know Hepatitis B campaign, which works with community organizations across the country to raise awareness among AAPIs about the importance of Hepatitis B testing and vaccination. The campaign includes many resources, including PSAs, posters, fact sheets and infographics, available in English, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Burmese, Hmong, Khmer, and Lao, to help expand the availability of culturally and linguistically appropriate Hepatitis B education and outreach materials. In addition, flyers, newspaper ads, and posters are also available for community partners to tailor for their local populations. 

    Another tool is the CDC’s online hepatitis risk assessment, which we encourage people to share with their loved ones and community members. People should consult with their health care providers about getting tested for hepatitis.

    Broader dissemination and use of these tools, as well as tailored outreach to AAPI communities, will hopefully reduce the disproportionate burden of Hepatitis B in the AAPI population. Working together, we can make strides in breaking the silence on this epidemic.

    Dr. Howard K. Koh is Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Pursuing the American Dream with Dignity

    Ed. note: This blog was cross-posted from the United States Department of Labor.

    Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a time for all of us to reflect on the heroes whose struggle and sacrifice have too often gone unrecognized. It is also a time to look to the future, to the challenges AAPI communities still face and how we can address them together. We recently had the opportunity to reflect when we inducted Chinese Railroad Workers into the Labor Department’s Hall of Honor – the first time AAPI leaders have received this tribute.

    This week, I had the opportunity to look to the future when I met with eight inspirational young people of Asian heritage who have benefited under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (known as DACA), a program implemented in 2012 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. DACA offers two-year relief from deportation and the ability to obtain temporary work authorization to certain undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and who meet several other criteria.

    These young people have overcome remarkable obstacles. Many hold down two jobs to support their families and save for college. Some work long hours and attend school at the same time, while others have been forced to live apart from their parents for seven or more years because of the mixed immigration status of their families.

    One senior at the University of Maryland described how his parents, immigrants from India and Bangladesh, came to the U.S. to escape religious persecution. Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, from the age of 1, he learned English by watching the “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” Although his parents were able to obtain work permits, they were eventually denied refuge and deported to India. DACA has allowed him to remain in the country, and he now works at a pharmacy and takes care of his younger brother. He misses his parents, but when asked about returning to India says, “I don’t know what it’s like to live in India; I grew up in this culture.”

    Many told stories of their families emigrating because they were told that they were going to be able to live and work in the country legally, only to realize that they had been scammed. They spoke of the loss of dignity, and of childhoods filled with the fear of deportation. Many of these young people and their parents were mistreated by employers − working in unsafe environments, paid below the minimum wage and regularly threatened with deportation. In the words of one DACA recipient, “everything stops because of that fear of being deported. [DACA] gave me a sense of normalcy, and now I have options.”

    I was struck by the remarkable optimism that these young people had about their future. They embody the qualities of what it means to be American – hardworking, courageous, innovative and resilient. And for all of them, DACA has changed the course of their lives, giving them a path to upward mobility, normalcy, and safety.

    I am heartened that over a half million young people have obtained DACA status. But there is more work to do. There are potentially another half million eligible individuals who have not sought DACA, and the first wave of DACA recipients from the fall of 2012 are soon going to need to renew their two-year status. DACA also does not fix our broken immigration system.

    That is why President Obama and this administration are doing everything we can to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. We need reform that creates an earned path to citizenship, strengthens our borders, protects workers and holds employers accountable. We need reform that keeps families together and brings the system into the 21st century.

    Despite facing so much hardship, these youth have contributed to our nation’s strength and vitality. They deserve more than the uncertainty and anxiety of their current status; they deserve the embrace of the nation they know as home.

    Let’s get this done.

    Tom Perez is the Secretary of Labor.

  • Expanding Opportunity for AAPI Communities Through Education

    Ed. Note: This has been cross-posted from The Huffington Post.

    For Asian-American families, there is nothing more valued than education. As we celebrate Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, it is important to reflect on where our communities stand on educational achievement and where we can improve.

    In 2010, President Obama made a commitment to double the number of college graduates by 2020 because he understood that a post-secondary education is essential to preparing Americans for the jobs of the future. As the employment report for April 2014 showed, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor degree or higher was 3.3 percent, nearly half the rate of someone with only a high school education (6.3 percent). Over the next decade, the number of jobs that require more than a high school diploma will increase significantly faster than jobs that require only a high school diploma.

    According to new data compiled by the Labor Department for 2013, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders overall have done well in obtaining a college education, with over 53.4 percent of their population holding a bachelor degree or higher. This is substantially higher than the next closest group, whites, where 31.9 percent have a college degree. As with every other race, obtaining a college degree means facing lower rates of unemployment. For AAPIs, having a college education means shaving nearly 2 percentage points off the unemployment rate compared to AAPIs with only a high school education.

    While the overall educational attainment rate is high, AAPIs are not a monolithic group, and wide disparities exist among different subgroups. Indian-Americans have the highest rate of college graduates (76.1 percent), followed by Korean-Americans (58.7 percent) and Chinese-Americans (56.8 percent), while Vietnamese-Americans trailed significantly with only 29.5 percent holding a college degree. Of particular concern are Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, among whom only 26.5 percent have a college degree and nearly one-third have only a high school education.

    This disparity in educational attainment rates should serve as a call to action. Even though the AAPI community as a whole is prospering, what can we do to ensure that everyone in our community is able to access the American Dream?

    Here at the Labor Department, we are committing significant funds this year to offer job training services that lead toward an associate or bachelor’s degree, including $450 million in funds as part of the next round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training program. We’re also working with Registered Apprenticeship sponsors and colleges to turn years of apprenticeship training into college credits. These are just a few of our programs that will help AAPIs advance their educational and employment goals.

    We also need to fix our broken immigration system to encourage more highly educated foreign-born workers to come to the United States. If we are to compete in a global economy, we must continue to attract and retain the world’s brightest minds. Too many foreign students – many from Asian countries – come to the United States to further their education but must return home when they cannot obtain a green card or immigrant visa. As part of President Obama’s immigration reforms, he has called for “stapling green cards” to the diplomas of foreign graduates students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.

    This month is an appropriate time to reflect on the accomplishments of the AAPI communities – from earliest achievements of the Chinese Railroad Workers completing the nation’s first transcontinental railroad to today’s success in nearly every industry and aspect of American society. But we must continue working to make sure all members of our communities are able to succeed. 

    Chris Lu is the deputy secretary of labor.