Over 60 advocates and leaders in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in the Fresno, California area attended the first community roundtable on July 10 hosted by the White House Initiative on AAPIs (WHIAAPI) Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG). And further North, the RIWG in Seattle hosted a roundtable on July 14. In Seattle, there is a strong and proud AAPI community that has unique needs, much like Fresno. These roundtables presented the perfect opportunity for the community to connect with their local federal agencies.
The RIWG of Seattle hosted four workshops that focused on: small business development, immigration/ education, worker protection and human and health services. These workshops were facilitated by speakers from Small Business Administration (SBA), United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Department of Labor (DOL), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Speakers from these agencies engaged the audience and discussed available federal resources for AAPIs in these areas.
Similar activities occurred in Fresno as community leaders and advocates engaged in an open dialogue with RIWG panelists to discuss such issues.
- Access to grants and loans for community based organizations
- Struggles of Southeast Asian Americans, who represent a majority of AAPIs in the Fresno community and their struggles to overcome the “model minority” myth
- Agricultural challenges of AAPI farmers, including cultural and linguistic barriers
- Educational concerns and challenges for AAPIs
- Real and perceived barriers to accessing federal services
- Awareness for federal employees to be more culturally sensitive towards AAPIs
Throughout the day, the audience, which included both community members and federal employees, were able to engage in a healthy discussion. By having these discussions, community members were able to have their questions answered, and allowed federal employees better recognize the specific needs of the AAPI community. RIWG members appreciated the dialogue, reiterated their commitment to the AAPI community and encouraged advocates to continue to reach out to them.
At the end of the Seattle roundtable, we were able to have a report back that summarized the highlights of the day. Through the report back, one could finally understand the purpose of a roundtable when the community begins to feel that their voices are heard by their local federal agencies and the barrier between federal employees and the AAPI community has been lifted.
Advocates and community leaders left equipped with an arsenal of literature to add to their toolkit, a contact list of RIWG members, and continued support and commitment from RIWG members and their colleagues in attendance. The inaugural Fresno WHIAAPI RIWG roundtable as a success, as community leaders and advocates were able to bring to the table issues concerning Central Valley AAPIs and connect with federal resources. In Seattle, the roundtable fostered the relationship between the community and their federal agencies that will ultimately to the development of a stronger AAPI community in Seattle. There is a bright and prosperous future that lies ahead for the both the AAPI communities of Seattle and Fresno.
Ed Chu is the Associate Regional Administrator for the Seattle Area Environment Protection Agency and a member of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders’ Region 10 Interagency Working Group. Tuan Nguyen is the central California Area Director for the Social Security Administration and a member of the White House Initiative on AAPIs’ Region 9 Interagency Working Group.