On Saturday, June 15, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hosted a forum with Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) faith-based and community leaders at Wilbur Wright College in Chicago, Illinois. This convening kicks off a series of similar forums across the country and was designed to connect federal officials with AAPI faith-based and other community leaders to share key Administration policies on economic growth, immigration, education, and civil rights. Ultimately, members of the Chicago community were provided an opportunity to discuss local concerns with federal and local leaders, and gained a better understanding of resources and services available to AAPI groups.
The event opened with welcoming remarks from Unmi Song, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Unmi outlined President Obama’s commitment to faith-based communities and reiterated the President’s message that “instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together.” The Chicago forum was also attended by two other members of the President’s Advisory Commission, Amardeep Singh and Sunil Puri.
The morning discussion focused on economic growth and immigrant integration. Speakers from the Chicago Mayor’s Office of New Americans, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) discussed issues ranging from the major economic themes affecting the AAPI community to their respective agencies’ methods of promoting immigrant integration and offering practical advice, including discussion of SBA’s Community Advantage Program, and USCIS’s new website.
The afternoon discussion panel concentrated on civil rights and education issues. Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Department of Education addressed educational and workforce discrimination, and how faith-based communities can take advantage of federal resources and programs. The Department of Justice Community Relations Service specifically discussed the federal government’s vigorous efforts in responding to the 2012 mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
The event concluded with an open dialogue session, allowing conference attendees to share perspectives about a range of issues. Participants brought up concerns relevant to their specific pocket of the faith-based community, while others mentioned their organizations’ effective practices at engaging AAPIs.
At the end of the day, attendees walked away with newfound connections and knowledge of federal efforts to assist AAPIs.
Akil Vohra is a Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.