As a native Houstonian, I was raised in a community with a large Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. My exposure to the rich cultural and linguistic diversity of AAPI communities continued during the decade I spent in New York City, where I also had the opportunity to work with AAPI organizations at the local level. At the most personal level, I have had the profoundly joyous experience of being a proud aunt to two incredible children of Chinese and Korean descent. So, while the Census would not count me as an AAPI, this community has always been an integral part of my life.
Through my work with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I’ve been able to broaden my experience and gain a national, more holistic perspective on the scope of the challenges and opportunities that exist in this community. My involvement in the Initiative has been one of the highlights of my time in the Administration. It has been such an honor to serve on the Federal Interagency Working Group and learn about the impressive work that’s being done across the administration in support of Executive Order 13515. In addition, it has been a privilege to connect with the leadership of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs and gain a better understanding of their grassroots efforts to improve the lives of AAPIs throughout the country.
My role in the Initiative has positioned me to engage more closely with AAPI employees at my agency. They have taught me so much about their different backgrounds, and they have patiently introduced me to some of the unique elements of the 45 AAPI languages and dialects they speak. Best of all, they have shared their compelling narratives about why they chose careers in public service and how the Social Security Administration’s mission continues to inspire them.
Social Security is America’s most valued and successful domestic program, and few government agencies reach as many people as we do. As part of our plan to increase AAPIs’ awareness of our programs, we recently hosted a conference call/web chat in the Initiative’s Weekly Web Chat Series. During this April 2012 chat, we gave an overview of Social Security benefits and explained the programs and services that are available for older adults, individuals with disabilities, and survivors of deceased workers. We shared information about our online applications, and we discussed the various services we provide to Limited English Proficient populations.
The Social Security Administration is committed to serving all populations. We recognize the great diversity of the American public, and we strive to meet the rapidly changing needs of those we serve. We are thrilled to work with the Initiative to enhance our service to AAPI communities and to achieve our shared goals.
As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, may we be encouraged by our successes and inspired by the many possibilities that remain.
Aviva R. Sufian is a Senior Advisor at the Social Security Administration and is the agency’s designee on the Initiative’s Federal Interagency Working Group.