White House Briefing on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

In April, the White House hosted a National Philanthropic Briefing focused on introducing foundation leaders to the strengths and challenges of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and its director, Kiran Ahuja, also challenged the participants to think about the possibilities for the future of AAPIs in the United States.

If you have not been paying attention, you might wonder why the White House would focus on the AAPI community. First, AAPIs are the fastest growing minority population in America. Between 2000 and 2012, the population has grown by 42.9 percent and it is projected to grow another 134 percent to over 35.6 million in the next 40 years. Understanding this community is vital to the future of the United States. Of note, the AAPI community is remarkably diverse in terms of ethnicity. It is 22 percent Chinese, 19 percent Filipino, 16 percent Indian, 10 percent Vietnamese, 9 percent Korean, 6 percent Japanese, and 18 percent other (including those who are Pakistani, Cambodian, Hmong, Thai, Laotian, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Indonesian, Nepalese, Sri Lankan, Malaysian, and Bhutanese).

The White House briefing worked hard to dispel myths around the AAPI community, including those that purport that AAPIs are all successful, financially secure, and well- educated. Although the strengths of the AAPI community were lauded, the briefing brought attention to the many challenges that various sectors of the community face. For example, there was a call to improve overall health outcomes for AAPIs by improving access to quality health-care facilities and services. Currently, nearly half of the 1 million people with chronic Hepatitis B are AAPIs. And the death rate of AAPIs attributable to this infection is 7 times greater than for whites. Leaders of the White House gathering called for more culturally and linguistically competent health centers to serve the needs of AAPIs.

With regard to economics, leaders called for growth in AAPI communities, expansion of federal employment opportunities, and improved AAPI workers’ rights. They would like to ensure that AAPIs have equal access to government programs and services. In addition, they called for the expansion of language access and increased enforcement efforts to combat job discrimination. Why? AAPIs who become unemployed remain unemployed longer than any other ethnic group. And, one in three AAPIs is Limited English Proficient (LEP) or lives in a linguistically isolated household.

In terms of education, leaders at the White House briefing called for increased access to federal educational opportunities and the support of AAPI-serving colleges and universities. Currently only 16 percent of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders have a college degree. Moreover, nearly 50 percent of AAPI students are in community colleges. Increased access to four-year colleges and universities is vital.

One of the most creative and interesting aspects of the White House National Philanthropic Briefing on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders was a Prezi presentation focused on the future of AAPIs. For those of you interested in this community, I urge you to check it out. As viewers, we are asked, what if we….

…supported projects that focus on ensuring educational success for late-entry immigrants in public schools?
…provided grants to health centers to pilot programs that aim to eliminate ethnic and racial disparities in healthcare?
…trained current and future medical providers, including medical students, residents, and practicing physicians, to learn to deliver culturally competent care to LEP patients?
…convened with government agencies to establish and develop strategic alliances around cultural competence, language access, and other needs faced by local immigrant communities?

These are all great questions and we should not only ask them about the AAPI community, but other racial and ethnic communities with diverse strengths, challenges, and needs. Ensuring that all Americans have access to education, health care, and employment benefits all of us.

This post was co-authored with Thai-Huy Nguyen, a Ph.D. student at the University of Pennsylvania.

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