Changing Faces, Changing Government

I am hapa, half Chinese and half German.  To complicate my ethnicity even more, my mother – though ethnically Chinese – was born and raised in Vietnam.  When I was growing up, I often struggled with my ethnicity and my identity.  Because I look white, I never felt accepted by the Asian American community.  And because I was raised by a strong Chinese mother, I didn’t identify with American culture. 

More recently, I realized that I actually relate to most Americans.  Because most of us have a common story, a common thread.  Our families came here to achieve the American dream.  Immigrating to this great nation of ours with hardly a dollar in their pockets, they worked hard and paved the way for the next generation to have better opportunities. 

That’s the beauty of our country.  It is the Land of Opportunity.  And because it is the Land of Opportunity, the demographic is constantly changing as people from all walks of life, from countries near and far, come to create a new life for themselves. 

The growth of the AAPI population is a major contributor to this demographic shift.  You’ve heard the latest Census numbers by now, but it’s definitely worth repeating.  AAPIs represent the fastest growing race.  And in the next 40 years, the AAPI population will more than double to reach almost 36 million.

What does this changing face of America really mean?  At the White House Initiative on AAPIs, it means we are moving nimbly to meet the needs of emerging communities with a whole new unique set of issues.  It means we are going beyond business as usual to build lasting partnerships with not only grassroots organizations but also local governments, philanthropies, and the private sector.

In the past two years, we have reached out to more than 25,000 AAPIs.  You told us your concerns, but more importantly, you showed us your ideas.  We took those ideas back with us to the federal agencies, and we’ve been working with these agencies to meet your needs.  As a result, the agencies have made real progress in improving data collection, analysis, and dissemination of AAPI-specific information; ensuring linguistic and culturally competent access to Federal programs and services; and increasing outreach and participation in Federal grant opportunities and programs. 

For example, the Department of Health and Human Services continued to oversample Asian Americans through the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in order to release disaggregated data by late 2013. 

Also, the Department of Justice collaborated with the Department of Education and National Virtual Translation to release a technical assistance video series titled “Overcoming Language Barriers.”  Additionally, select multilingual employees of the Department’s Civil Rights Division have begun a Division-wide effort to have their language skills assessed by the FBI Language Testing and Assessment Unit to ensure the quality of language interpretation offered within the Department.

The U.S. Department of Energy incorporated metrics into funding programs to track minority participation; conducted robust outreach to business associations, utilizing a corporate enterprise system to capture and track small business awards to AAPI-owned businesses; incorporated AAPI businesses into its Small Business Advisory Group; and leveraged its Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization to target areas of high Asian American populations where there are DOE offices and facilities.

These are just a few examples of the changes that agencies are driving.  For a more complete picture of what the agencies have done to address the needs and concerns of AAPIs since creating implementation plans one year ago, click here.

Now imagine if we replicated these agency models across the entire federal government.  Imagine if we aligned community, federal, and philanthropic investment.  Imagine if we made this a country where – as President Obama said – “no matter who you are, no matter where you came from, no matter what you look like, America forever remains the place where you can make it if you try.”  We can.  We’ve only just begun.

Audrey Buehring is Deputy Director at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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