This week, on May 12, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hosted the first-ever White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington, DC. Nearly 2,000 community members, federal officials, and guests from over 40 states and the Pacific Islands came together to connect with one other, share their experiences and stories, and gain tools to mobilize their communities to continue expanding opportunity for AAPIs everywhere.
Recognizing the important role of the federal government in serving AAPIs – now the fastest growing racial group in the country – six Cabinet Secretaries and multiple federal agency leaders joined the Summit and highlighted their work benefiting the AAPI community. As part of the event, we also released a fact sheet with these agency accomplishments.
During this historic gathering, President Obama shared a video message with participants:
We were proud to announce Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, as Co-Chair of the Initiative, who will be serving alongside Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
In addition, we introduced three newly appointed members of the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs: Jacob James Fitisemanu, Jr., Sanjita Pradhan, and Paul Watanabe. They join 16 members of the Commission who were appointed last May and represent the diverse AAPI community for the Administration.
Throughout this summit, we heard the same clear message across federal government: we are working hard to better reach and serve the dynamic and diverse needs of our nation’s growing AAPI community. That is precisely why WHIAAPI focuses on building bridges between government and advocacy groups, institutions, and local communities. To further these goals, we focused our plenaries, fireside chats with government leaders, nearly 25 panel discussions, and brown bag lunches – on highlighting and addressing issues that impact AAPI communities around the country. Topics discussed spanned the gamut, from bullying and harassment in schools to the power of immigrant and refugee voices to social entrepreneurship.
Our day was also filled with celebration of the AAPI community’s diverse cultural arts. We were energized by traditional Hawaiian chanting by Kamana’opono Crabbe and Japanese taiko drumming by Nen Daiko; we were moved by the collaboration of Paula Fuga, Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole, and Shawn Pinental on their connection to the worldwide Polynesian voyage Mālama Hōnua; and we were brought to our feet by the booming sound of bhangra by Red Baraat and the one-of-a-kind dance styles of Jabbawockeez, a predominantly Asian American dance crew.
The day’s events and discussions were truly a reflection of the AAPI community’s incredible diversity. The last panel of the Summit, for example, included actors Sakina Jaffrey, Maulik Pancholy, Harry Shum Jr., B.D. Wong, and Hudson Yang, who shared their stories and experiences and discussed important issues regarding reinventing perceptions of AAPIs in the arts and entertainment.
The White House Initiative on AAPIs has come a long way in the past six years of this Administration. We have made incredible progress in strengthening community outreach and access to federal programs and services, helping build capacity and providing other resources where needed, and working closely with government agencies to better address and serve the diverse needs of our growing community.
This Summit was a powerful moment for us to take stock of some of the Administration’s important accomplishments, celebrate President Obama’s leadership, showcase federal policies and programs that have supported the AAPI community over the past six years, and outline efforts for the next two years and decades to come.
This spirit of reflection and recommitment to action is the reason the Summit took place in May, which is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The Summit and AAPI Heritage Month both illustrate the significance and accomplishments of the AAPI community, but also stress the importance of continuing to work towards improving the quality of life and opportunities for AAPIs and all Americans.
We are reenergized by this historic White House Summit on AAPIs. We will continue to build on the ideas and innovation that we shared at the Summit and, with support from the growing AAPI community, we will keep pushing to ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for all to achieve the American dream.
Kiran Ahuja is Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders