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White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

May 14, 2010

Kiran Ahuja

Yesterday, I attended a webinar hosted by SAALT with Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative (WHI) on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs).  The two goals of the webinar were to learn about the WHI and provide ways for the participants to be more engaged.  My personal goal was to hear more about Kal Penn!  (Just kidding!  But not really – see below…)

The webinar began by sharing the mission of the WHI.  Since Asian Americans are fairly new to the U.S., there is still a great deal of work to be done in order to integrate our community into the services provided by federal government agencies.  The WHI seeks to improve the quality of life for AAPIs and increase our participation and access to federal programs through 23 federal agencies.  It turns out that there are a lot of assumptions out there about the “model minority” myth and needs of Asian-Americans.  The WHI raises awareness about Asian-American communities in different federal agencies with regard to a wide range of issues such as health care, education, veterans’ affairs, employment etc.

The Initiative was created under President Clinton by executive order and reauthorized under Presidents Bush and Obama with new executive orders.  It is currently housed in the Department of Education along with other initiatives concerned with groups of color.

One of the major themes that came up in the webinar was the fact that there is a lack of data and/or disaggregation of data to understand the true needs of Asian American communities.  We at SAPP have faced the same challenge – there is virtually no data on the giving patterns of South Asians in the United States.

Here are a few examples of what the WHI is working on right now:

  • Reviewing an executive order on language access and Title VI.
  • Raising awareness about funding that is available to correct disparities in health care  under the new bill.
  • Translating information from BP and federal agencies for Vietnamese and Cambodian fisherman in the Gulf region.
  • Rolling out a Commission in early summer that will have a close relationship with a federal interagency working group on Asian-American issues.
  • Putting the agency plans on the website.
  • Planning a community engagement tour.
  • Ramping up the use of social media, including a blog and an upcoming video contest.

The call would not have been complete without mention of Kal Penn, of course!  Kiran and the WHI work closely with Kal Penn (who is in the White House Office of Public Engagement).  Kal’s team is focused more on communications about the President’s ideas and reforms and how they might affect Asian-Americans, while Kiran’s group is more focused on federal agencies.

It is important to note that the WHI does not have resources or grant opportunities – rather, their role is to help Asian-American communities get access to funding through other agencies.

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