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Empowering the Next Generation of AAPI Community Advocates

Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, reflects on the Initiative's work to engage young AAPI leaders through a recent briefing at the White House and shares the story of the Initiative's student intern.

Last week, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders kicked off the New Year by hosting a briefing for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) student leaders.  The purpose of this briefing was for Administration officials to engage a new generation of AAPI community advocates on the Obama Administration’s agenda to ensure all Americans have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

As Executive Director of the Initiative, I have had the distinct honor of working with many young leaders committed to serving AAPI communities and making positive change.

With our roots tracing back to nearly fifty different countries, the AAPI community is one of the most culturally diverse groups in the United States.  Our everyday challenges are as different as the places we come from, and with the rapid growth of the AAPI population in the last decade, it has become increasingly important to address these issues and barriers.

Today, significant portions of the more than 16 million AAPIs live in poverty, face significant health disparities, and struggle with accessing linguistically-appropriate services and resources. To tackle these pressing issues, we must make sure that every generation, especially the younger generation, is activated and engaged in developing strategies and being part of the solutions.

The Initiative’s outstanding student intern, Bessie, put this into perspective with her own personal story:

As an intern at the Initiative, I have had the opportunity to work on diverse projects like bullying prevention, diversity in federal employment, affordable healthcare, and a host of other issues central to improving the lives of AAPIs.  The experience has opened my eyes to the importance of having AAPIs in public service.

My parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s.  They left Hong Kong to pursue graduate degrees in the United States, and eventually settled in Maryland, where they raised a family of five children.  Growing up, I was generally unaware of the significant barriers and challenges AAPIs face in this country.  Because my parents were able to provide me with a comfortable living, I believed that all AAPIs were as lucky as myself and were doing fine.  But starting college opened my eyes to the vastly different experiences of AAPIs.  My new friends helped me realize that across the country, the AAPI experience varies greatly.  They were the children of refugees; they were first in their families to go to college; and their own family experiences and struggles were much different than mine. 

Enlightened with this new perspective, I recognized the need to become more active and more engaged.  At the Initiative, I’ve had an invaluable opportunity to meet passionate individuals committed to tackling these diverse issues through public service and leadership.  And there is still much work to be done in improving the lives of AAPIs.  That is why I encourage my AAPI peers to think about a career in public service.

Like Bessie, make your 2012 New Year’s Resolution a commitment to be a more engaged member of the AAPI community!  Join an AAPI student group, volunteer at a community organization, or just stay involved in making your community a better place.  Or take a more direct approach and apply to be a White House Intern (deadline for Summer 2012: January 22), a Presidential Management Fellow (application for Class of 2013 opens fall 2012), or apply to be an AAPI Initiative Intern (deadline: March 15).  For more information on our work at the Initiative, visit us at

Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.