Earlier this year, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), in coordination with Payu-ta Inc. (an umbrella organization of non-governmental organizations in the Pacific region), held its first Community Tour and Regional Summit outside the contiguous U.S. at Guam Community College, where I serve as President and Chief Executive Officer. During this convening, community leaders shared stories of their respective struggles and challenges, while federal representatives highlighted programs and technical assistance to address the community’s needs.
We are proud to have convened 200 community leaders and 25 federal officials from agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Small Business Administration, and the Departments of Commerce, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, and Veterans Affairs. Federal representatives heard community recommendations regarding next steps on topics such as housing, veterans issues, economic development, education, and health equity, and vowed to tackle those issues upon return to Washington, D.C. and their respective regional offices.
To ensure follow-up on the recommendations from the Guam Regional Summit, today, WHIAAPI, in collaboration with the Office of Insular Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, is launching a Pacific Island Task Force comprised of officials from the agencies represented at the Summit and members of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs. The Task Force will function for at least one year with the goals of engaging agency officials around the specific needs of Pacific Islanders in order to increase opportunity and access to federal programs, developing capacity building and technical assistance support for non-governmental organizations in the Pacific region, and promoting data disaggregation and generation with federal partners.
The Task Force will issue a comprehensive report regarding their findings next year. The framework of the Task Force will mirror the existing infrastructure of the Initiative’s Regional Interagency Working Group (RIWG), with the goal of promoting effective coordination and engagement efforts across federal offices.
This Task Force and its focus on non-governmental organizations in the region marks a new stepping stone for the Pacific region. This is part of the Obama administration’s ongoing efforts to ensure that the voices, experiences, and challenges of Pacific Islanders are recognized and addressed.
Dr. Mary Ann Young Okada is Vice Chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.