Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Blog

  • Rebuilding Livelihoods in the Philippines Post-Typhoon Haiyan

    Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) blog. See the original post here.

    On November 8, 2013, Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in the Philippines and affected 16 million people, killing thousands and displacing millions.

    Entire villages and cities were destroyed, but the rebuild effort began quickly thanks to a global response.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. military were the first to deliver life-saving support, including the provision of emergency shelter, food assistance, relief commodities, and water and sanitation support. To date, the U.S. Government has provided over $90 million in aid.

    Seven months later, humanitarian efforts are ongoing. An estimated 5.6 million workers have seen their livelihoods affected and many of them still need assistance. Schools opened on June 2 but thousands of children returned to classrooms that have been destroyed or damaged. Millions of people still require shelter.

    Late last month, I had the opportunity to see the recovery efforts firsthand during a visit to the island of Leyte, home to Tacloban — the epicenter of the storm. Tacloban City was completely obliterated, leaving only tents, makeshift “squatter” living conditions and other sorts of temporary housing all around, with signs of destruction in between.

    But massive clean up efforts had taken place over the last six months with piles of somewhat organized garbage and debris scattered everywhere. Organizations and work crews were still cleaning up while I was there, repairing houses that could be fixed, and building new homes from scratch.

  • Sharing Federal Career Opportunities with AAPI Youth Through the New York Regional Interagency Working Group Youth Conference

    Students and career advisors convene at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House

    More than 240 students and career advisors convene at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York, NY to learn about internship and career opportunities in the federal government. (Photo by Darren Shim)

    The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community is the fastest-growing racial group in the country. From 2000 to 2010, our community has grown by 46%, and by 2020, almost one out of every five (19.5%) Americans will be of AAPI descent. While the ethnic makeup of our nation is diversifying, AAPI leadership and representation in the federal government is lacking. Currently, only 5.6% of the federal workforce is of AAPI descent and AAPIs represent a mere 4.4% of the Senior Executive Service (SES). The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative) is committed to collaborating with community organizations, federal agencies, and college and university students to increase the AAPI voice in all levels of the federal government.

    On Thursday, May 22, 2014, I had the privilege of speaking at the New York Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG) Youth Conference for college and university students interested in careers in public service and the federal government. More than 240 students and career advisors attended, representing over 20 universities and colleges throughout the region. The conference provided a valuable opportunity for students to connect with representatives from government agencies and learn about the assortment of programs and career opportunities that they offer. It was exciting for me to meet so many talented and driven students.

  • Honoring the Legacy of Yuri Kochiyama

    Today, we honor the legacy of Yuri Kochiyama, a Japanese American activist who dedicated her life to the pursuit of social justice, not only for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, but all communities of color.

    Mary Yuriko Nakahara was born in 1921 in San Pedro, California. She and her family spent two years in an internment camp in Jerome, Arkansas during World War II, and the similarities she saw between the treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II and African Americans in the Jim Crow South inspired her to dedicate her life to activism on behalf of marginalized communities. In the early 1960s, Yuri and her husband Bill Kochiyama, a decorated veteran of the all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, enrolled in the Harlem “freedom schools” to learn about black history and culture. Soon after, Yuri began participating in sit-ins and inviting Freedom Riders to speak at weekly open houses in the family’s apartment. She was a strong voice in the campaign for reparations and a formal government apology for Japanese American internees through the Civil Liberties Act, which President Ronald Reagan signed into law in 1988.

    Yuri leaves behind a legacy of courage and strength, and her lifelong passion for justice and dedication to civil rights continue to inspire young AAPI advocates today. I am moved by her leadership and her unwavering commitment to building coalitions to improve the quality of life and opportunities for all Americans, regardless of background.

  • Meeting the Needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander Businesses and Entrepreneurs

    More than 1.5 million businesses in the United States are owned by Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. These firms account for $508.6 billion in spending power nationwide and have resulted in the creation of more than 2.8 million jobs. A vast majority of these companies are small and are fueled almost exclusively on creatively, ingenuity, business innovation and an unparalleled level of entrepreneurial spirit that cannot be found anywhere else in the world.

    They include a robotics company designed to entice young people to consider careers in science, technology and engineering; a brick and mortar Boba tea shop that will introduce new flavors and customer enhancements to widen its appeal; a fashion design company that draws inspiration from the cultural diversity of America; and, a shoe designer who incorporates recycled and repurposed paper to create an environmentally friendly consumer product.

    On May 5, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) teamed up with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) by holding a roundtable discussion to address some of the key issues facing business owners, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders in the greater Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

    AAPI business leaders in a roundtable discussion

    Sach Takayasu, President and CEO of ACE, and Bill Imada, member of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs, joined over 50 AAPI business leaders in a roundtable discussion at the U.S. Department of Commerce. (by Darren Shim)

    AAPI business leaders at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

    Christopher James, SBA’s Associate Administrator of Native American Affairs; Alejandra Castillo, MBDA National Director; Audrey Buehring, WHIAAPI Deputy Director; and Antwaun Griffin, International Trade Administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Domestic Operations meet with AAPI business leaders at the U.S. Department of Commerce. (by Darren Shim

    The dialogue between the AAPI business leaders and federal leaders was direct, open, and honest, and included conversations that focused on including small business leaders on international trade missions; having ACE and regional business associations and chambers serve as direct resources to all federal agencies; encouraging the SBA and MBDA to identify, recruit and hire more AAPIs to work within existing Small Business Development Centers and MBDA Business Centers; offering more in-culture and in-language services for the growing number of small businesses established by immigrants from Asia and other parts of the world; and, by working with federal agencies to collect and share disaggregated data pertaining to AAPIs that will ensure that will allow federal agencies and the AAPI business community to develop strategies and tactical plans to address the needs, interests and aspirations of the AAPI business community.

    On May 29, WHIAAPI, along with MBDA and the Export-Import Bank, co-hosted the Asia-Pacific Economic Forum Opening Symposium which convened over one hundred business leaders interested in doing business in Asia. It was an excellent opportunity for both senior level government officials and business leaders to learn and discuss ways to better utilize resources in the federal government and the Asia-Pacific region.

    A highlight of the event was the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between WHIAAPI and MBDA. The MOU will solidify a partnership between the two agencies and marks the beginning of future programs such as a possible business development program that would provide a range of federal business development services for AAPI businesses to be more successful overseas.

    Memorandum of Understanding

    Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Alejandra Castillo, National Director of the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA), sign a Memorandum of Understanding (by Darren Shim)

    The roundtable discussion and symposium were very successful because all parties were engaged, supportive and focused on finding equitable solutions.  Representatives agreed that they must continue to look to each other to find ways to improve access to capital, stimulate economic development and growth, advance U.S. exports, facilitate federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, forge stronger public-private partnerships, and to collect, source and analyze data to ensure that all businesses and communities have the same opportunities to strive for business success.

    Bill Imada is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

  • Closing the Pay Gap for Asian-American Women

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

    Throughout Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month in May, the Labor Department shared the latest data available on the employment status of AAPI workers. Secretary Perez discussed the overall employment situation for AAPI workers, Deputy Secretary Chris Lu wrote about the importance of education and Assistant Secretary Portia Wu described the challenges of long-term unemployment. There’s another issue that I’d like to discuss, one that this administration – and the Labor Department in particular – has made a top priority: equal pay.

    As the director of Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, my job is to enforce the civil rights of the nearly 22 percent of American workers who are employed by companies that profit from contracts or subcontracts with the federal government. At OFCCP, we make sure that those workers get a fair shot at employment and a fair shake when it comes to placement, promotions and pay.

    When taken as a whole, AAPI workers have the highest level of earnings compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Half of full-time AAPI workers earned $987 or more per week in 2013, approximately 14 percent higher than the median weekly earnings of white workers.

  • 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.