Illinois is home to about 670,000 Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) – an extremely diverse group of Americans with cultural heritages including: Bangladeshi, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders, Nepali, Pakistani, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Sri Lankan, Thai, Tibetan, and Vietnamese.
With this immense diversity comes needs that are critical to understand and address. The federal government can play an important role in addressing those needs. On October 29, I had the privilege, alongside federal representatives from 12 agencies, to hear from more than 70 AAPI community leaders at the WHIAAPI Region 5 AAPI Community Listening Session. Our goal was to clearly understand the diversity of needs of the Chicago and Illinois AAPI community and to develop tangible recommendations on how our Region 5 Interagency Working Group can address these needs.
The session explored a breadth of topics: housing, education, health, human services, environment, immigration, labor, workers’ rights, economic development, and business. AAPI community leaders participated in in-depth and valuable discussions with federal representatives about the challenges they face in Chicago and throughout Illinois, including language access needs to assist limited-English proficient (LEP) consumers to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act and a desire for more information on federal grant and contracting opportunities.
We also had the great honor of having Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel drop by and listen to community leaders’ questions and comments.
This Listening Session was not the first time that WHIAAPI hosted an event in the Chicago area. In June 2013, we hosted a community forum at Wilbur Wright College to connect federal officials with AAPI faith-based and community leaders. And that August, we partnered with Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth to host our second community forum in Chicago around the impact of the Affordable Care Act. In July 2014, WHIAAPI hosted a roundtable to inform community leaders about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In response to hearing the needs of the Chicago community during the Listening Session, WHIAAPI will tailor technical assistance in the near future to better connect the community with federal opportunities. As WHIAAPI is committed to improving the quality of life for AAPIs across the country, including in the City of Chicago and the state of Illinois, I look forward to working closely with all of the AAPI leaders across the region in the near future.
Billy Dec is a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.