This week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) brought together the President’s Advisory Commission and the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on AAPIs to discuss how the agencies are working with the AAPI community to win the future. When the President unexpectedly stopped by our meeting to receive the agency plans for the AAPI community, he stressed the important role the agency plans play in helping all communities achieve the American dream.
As a Native Hawaiian, I was pleased to hear about the innovative steps that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are taking – steps that will help AAPI communities live longer, healthier lives on their way to the American dream.
HHS is committing to train AAPIs to become ambassadors in their communities using the “train the trainer” model for prevention education. And USDA is planning to integrate data on culturally relevant foods into mainstream agency nutrition informational products. Imagine prevention education going viral in the Native Hawaiian community, where people are over 5 times as likely to experience diabetes. Picture a food pyramid that includes alternatives to dairy products, which are often not part of the AAPI diet.
Agencies are also ensuring that AAPIs have the tools to reach the American dream. Although the misperception that all AAPIs excel in school – especially in math and science – still persists, agencies are acknowledging that education disparities exist for the AAPI community, and they are tackling the issues head-on.
To help AAPIs finish college, the Department of Education is strengthening its Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AANAPISIs) program. AANAPISIs provide targeted services to AAPI students – often non-native English speakers – to increase participation and degree attainment rates.
To fortify math- and science-based curricula, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is making NASA content available to AAPI educators and offering distance learning programs. In addition, NASA is promoting its Minority Innovation Challenges Institute, a virtual training ground that can increase the participation of AAPI students in NASA technical challenges.
Finally, agencies are providing more opportunities for AAPIs to attain the American dream. The Department of Commerce is proposing to increase the number of small and medium AAPI businesses that exporting to a second or additional country by providing export-related training and business-to-business networking sessions to minority-owned companies.
With an emphasis on language access and cultural competency, the Department of Labor is aiming to build the AAPI workforce by identifying and encouraging replication of “promising practices” in engaging AAPIs in the public workforce system.
Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu and Initiative Executive Director Kiran Ahuja expressed their hope that in October – the two-year anniversary of the Initiative – we will be able to report back to the AAPI community on the measurable progress that has been made on the agency plans. With these goals in mind and many more, I look forward to doing just that.
Kamuela Enos serves on the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and works as the Director of Community Resource Development at MA`O Organic Farms in Wai`anae, Hawai`i.