Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Creating Partnerships and Coalitions to Serve a Diverse Community

    Teresa A. Crawford

    Teresita Batayola is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    Forty one years ago, idealistic community volunteers and student activists came together to create a free clinic for low-income, isolated Chinese and Filipino elderly in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District.  As waves of immigrants and refugees sought refuge and a home in the Seattle area, ICHS stepped up to embrace new populations with high-quality, affordable healthcare.  That tradition of activism, volunteerism and inclusiveness continues to be vibrant today.

    During the movement for health care reform and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, ICHS networked with coalitions around the state to organize, provide patient stories and testimonies, and contact national and state legislators.  Once the Affordable Care Act passed, ICHS advocated for Washington State’s adoption of expanded Medicaid and the establishment of the State’s Benefit Exchange through postcard and phone-in campaigns, meetings with elected officials, patient stories, media visibility, and engagement of non-traditional health care partners. However, elation for Washington’s decision to expand Medicaid and create a Health Benefit Exchange was short-lived as ICHS quickly shifted gears to prepare for outreach and enrollment. 

    ICHS knew that enrolling patients, families and community members into the new programs would be a challenge due to the number of immigrants and refugees who had limited English proficiency, varying immigration status, the mixed eligibility for members in the same family, the lack of understanding about insurance and western health care, and uneven financial abilities to maintain coverage.  Nevertheless, the ICHS team of community advocates, health educators, eligibility workers and others began planning outreach and enrollment even with the uncertainty of any funding available.  Thankfully, ICHS successfully obtained funding from the federal government and a private foundation to hire 6 In-Person Assisters.  ICHS leveraged the funding to obtain training and certification for 25 staffs to provide in-person assistance. 

    ICHS’ in-person assisters, community advocates, health educators, and eligibility workers worked to actively help anyone learn about health reform and apply for insurance. All of these staff are bilingual and bi-cultural and provide enrollment support in at least one Asian or Pacific Island language, including Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Samoan, and Vietnamese. ICHS also partnered with community based organizations, faith-based organizations, grocery stores, community centers, and libraries to meet the community need, sending staffs to train others and scheduling field enrollment sessions in addition to appointments in ICHS clinics.  An example of a key partnership is with the City of Bellevue’s mini City Hall located in a shopping center.  The mini City Hall provided space for the in-person assister and assistance with Russian and Spanish languages, while another partner, Chinese Information and Service Center, provided Chinese interpretation.  ICHS staffs remained positive throughout enrollment even when faced with the challenges of appointments longer than an hour due to interpretation and the complexity of individual or family status, combined with the technical challenges of the Exchange.

    Teresita Batayola is the Chief Executive Officer of International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Seattle, Washington.

  • They Helped Build a Railroad−and a Nation: Honoring the Chinese Railroad Workers

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

    Chinese Railroad Workers Poster

    (by United States Department of Labor)

    One hundred forty-five years ago tomorrow, May 10, the word “DONE” was telegraphed to Washington D.C., sending word that the final spike had been driven in to complete the First Transcontinental Railroad. It was one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century, connecting the country from coast-to-coast, facilitating commerce and opening the door for massive economic expansion. Before its completion, cross-country travel took six months. The railroad reduced it to a single week.

    But too often lost in discussions of this awe-inspiring achievement is the contribution of the approximately 12,000 Chinese laborers who took on the grueling task of completing the western section of the track.

  • “We Are Beyond”: Celebrating AAPI Heritage Month at Our Opening Ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden

    Vice President Biden Addresses AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony

    Vice President Joe Biden addresses the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Opening Ceremony, at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C., May 6, 2014. May 6, 2014. (Official White House Photo by David Lieneman)

    This week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the U.S. Department of the Interior hosted the 2014 Opening Ceremony for AAPI Heritage Month. The Opening Ceremony was the first in a series of events to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month.

    We were honored to be joined by Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke about the importance of the growing AAPI demographic, and the pressing need for immigration reform. As Congressman Mike Honda, Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and Congresswoman Judy Chu, Chair of CAPAC, remarked, the Vice President has been one of the biggest advocates for the AAPI community. We were also honored to be joined by Rhea Suh, the Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Chris Lu, the Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department Labor, and a former chair of the Initiative. To watch the video click here.

    For me, the most exciting part of the event was to be ceremonially sworn into the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs. The Commission, which is charged with improving the quality of life for AAPIs through increased participation and access to federal programs, advises the President on innovative ways to engage AAPIs across the country. During the event, U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan ceremonially swore in 14 new and two returning Commissioners.

    U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan ceremonially swears in members of the President's Advisory Commission on AAPIs

    U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan ceremonially swore in 14 new and two returning members of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, May 6, 2014. (by Edmund Chiang)

    To open the program, the Initiative’s Executive Director Kiran Ahuja and Deputy Director Audrey Buehring led an interactive monologue to highlight the Initiative’s work and included a social media “selfie” with Commissioners and audience members.

    This year’s theme for AAPI Heritage Month was “I Am Beyond,” a phrase that captures the aspirations of the American spirit and the rich and complex diversity of the AAPI community. In light of the theme, DJ Yoon, the Executive Director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, Maulik Pancholy, an acclaimed film, television, and stage actor, Helen Zia, an influential activist and journalist, Mary A.Y. Okada, the President of Guam Community College, and Konrad Ng, the Director of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, participated in a panel discussion about “I Am Beyond.” In addition, spoken word artists George Yamazawa Jr. and Maxie Moua, ukulele singer Kama Hopkins, dancer Mike Song, and beatboxer KRNFX performed their own interpretations of the theme.  

    Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Director Konrad Ng Moderates a Panel

    Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Director Konrad Ng moderates a panel with actor Maulik Pancholy, activist and journalist Helen Zia, and National Korean American Service & Education Consortium Executive Director DJ Yoon, and President of Guam Community College Mary A.Y. Okaha to discuss the “I Am Beyond” theme, May 6, 2014. (by Gaolunha Vang)

    Dancer Mike Song and beatboxer KRNFX perform at AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony

    Dancer Mike Song and beatboxer KRNFX perform during the AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony, May 6, 2014. (by Gaolunha Vang)

    AAPI Heritage Month serves as an opportunity to celebrate and re-dedicate ourselves to the ongoing work of improving the community. As a returning Commissioner, I am deeply grateful to the previous Commission, and the leadership of former Chair Daphne Kwok. To highlight this Commission’s tremendous work, a report on its accomplishments was released this week. In the last four years, we’ve hosted over 200 national gatherings, roundtables, opening dialogues, and workshops, reached more than 30,000 people, held 24 federal agencies accountable through annual Federal Agency Plans, and launched the Regional Interagency Working Group as a platform to connect regional federal representatives with local community leaders. Within the past four years, the AAPI population established itself as a civically engaged and politically important community. However, we know that there is much work to be done. As the new Chair of the Commission, we will continue to build upon our efforts by opening the doors of government to the AAPI community. Together, the community will push towards better health, immigration policy, education, and jobs. Together, we will be beyond.

    Dr. Tung Nguyen is Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Tune in Tomorrow: AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony

    AAPI Opening Ceremony Flyer

    Tomorrow, May 6, 2014 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) and the U.S. Department of the Interior will host an Opening Ceremony to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month.

    The event will highlight the many contributions AAPIs have made to the arts, science, government, military, commerce, and education in the United States, and will feature performances, special guests and speakers, the ceremonial swearing-in of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, and remarks by Vice President Joe Biden. Click here for a schedule.

    To watch the event, tune in to the live stream from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. EDT at www.doi.gov/live.

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

  • Olympic Medalist and Miss America Share Their "I Am Beyond" Stories

    Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, and Julie Chu, four-time Olympic Medalist of the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team, participated in a women’s armchair conversation

    Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, and Julie Chu, four-time Olympic Medalist of the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team, participated in a women’s armchair conversation at the White House, April 21, 2014. (by Darren Shim)

    On April 21, 2014, the White House Office of Public Engagement, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), and White House Council on Women and Girls hosted an armchair conversation with Julie Chu, four-time Olympic Medalist of the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey Team, Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014, and Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama & Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

    We were able to sit down with Nina and Julie before the event and listen to their "I Am Beyond" stories, the theme for this year’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The phrase captures the aspirations of the American spirit and how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the stereotypes and everyday challenges facing immigrants, refugees, or even indigenous populations in America.

    As an Indian American, Nina Davuluri has used the Miss America organization platform to show young girls and women that you should always be proud of who you are and where you come from. “When I started competing, I really wanted to change the idea or perception of who the girl next door was,” she said. “For me, the girl next door was evolving as the diversity of America evolved.” It was her goal to finally reach out to a new demographic of young women.

    Julie Chu, who was the flag bearer for Team USA during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony, explained to us that it was not always easy playing a sport that typically only boys played.  “Being one of the only girls playing boys hockey growing up, I faced challenges and adversities from some of the boys I played against,” she said. “But what hockey taught me was resiliency. Not really allowing those things to stop me from chasing my dreams.”

    As the first Asian American woman to play for the U.S. Women’s Ice Hockey team, Julie wanted to build a lasting legacy for young women and “create opportunities for the next generation to be able to pursue whatever they are passionate about.”

    Julie Chu and Nina Davuluri at the women's armchair conversation

    Chu displays one of her Olympic medals and Davuluri holds her Miss America 2014 crown prior to a women’s armchair conversation at the White House, April 21, 2014. (by Darren Shim)

    These incredible women are nothing short of amazing and have paved the way for the younger generation to find, explore, and pursue their own passions and interests. Their “I Am Beyond” stories are testaments to the power of hard work and dedication and how a dream can one day grow into something that can inspire and change those around you.

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

  • Celebrating the Diverse AAPI Experience: 2014 AAPI Heritage Month

    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)

    Last month, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and I had the pleasure of visiting Ka Waihona o ka Naauao Public Charter School, a Hawaiian-focused public charter school on the coast of Waianae. Clad in colorful lei, we discussed the importance of preserving the Hawaiian language and the role it plays in improving student outcomes with charter school educators and learned how to make poi (a staple food) with the students.

    To us, the trip reaffirmed the deep diversity of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. The model minority myth, which conveys the sense that all AAPIs are highly successful, masks the diversity within the community and the real differences that exist in socioeconomic status, educational attainment, health, and other areas. Not only are we committed to promoting and releasing relevant data that informs our policy decisions such as the Civil Rights Data Collection and promoting data disaggregation at the local, state and federal level to fully understand the AAPI community, but we also need to continue our efforts to build capacity among AAPI institutions, ensure linguistic access to federal resources, and encourage involvement in public service and civic engagement opportunities.

    Today marks the first day of this year’s AAPI Heritage Month. This month, hundreds of community and government leaders will join to celebrate and re-dedicate themselves to the ongoing work of improving the well-being of the AAPI community. Together, we will reflect on the theme of “I Am Beyond”— a theme that captures the depth, breadth, and dignity of the AAPI experience.

    AAPI Opening Ceremony Flyer

    We invite you to the AAPI Heritage Month Opening Ceremony on Tuesday, May 6, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM ET, at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. The Opening Ceremony, which will kick off a month of events to celebrate the AAPI community, will include the Swearing-In Ceremony of the new President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, performances from #IAMBEYOND artists, and a panel of leaders who have excelled in their respective fields.

    You can RSVP to the Opening Ceremony here.

    Please continue to share your AAPI experiences and inspire us through the #IAMBEYOND hashtag. We hope that you join us in reflecting on the rich and complex past and present of AAPI communities, and in striving towards a better future. Learn more about AAPI Heritage Month.

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