Need to Disaggregate AAPI Data Reemphasized at Summit

WASHINGTON ― President Barack Obama reinstated the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) with the goal of connecting different AAPI communities across the nation with federal agencies in 2009. President Obama, as has been oft-noted, was born in Hawaii, the first and only president to have done so. As such, he is the first president to represent the AAPI community.

WHIAAPI hosted a national summit Tuesday to discuss areas of concern for the AAPI community. Under Obama, more Asian Americans have been appointed to upper-level administrative positions than in any other presidency. Although Obama did not attend the conference, he did speak in a pre-recorded televised address at the morning opening program.

Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the goal is never “is never just data and counting.”Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the goal is never “is never just data and counting.”“Generation after generation, Americans like you have helped to build this country, helped to defend this country, and helped to make America who we are,” Obama said. “I want to thank all of you for the work you do in your own communities, from helping non-English speakers sign up for health care, to helping young DREAMers, to encouraging eligible immigrants to become American citizens.”

One of the more pervasive misconceptions about the AAPI community is the “model minority myth,” which paints a picture of AAPI individuals as uniformly wealthy, highly educated and successful. Although it is true that many Asian Americans are doing rather well, at least according to a Pew Research Center study on Asian Americans from 2012, others face significant challenges. According to the study, Asian Americans have the highest level of educational attainment, as well as the highest median income, out of all other racial groups in the United States.

Yet simply relying on such data and not looking any further glosses over the experiences of AAPI communities and individuals who are struggling with issues of poverty, war or disease. As many AAPI advocates have pointed out, the “model minority myth” does not do justice to the diversity of the AAPI experience. The term “AAPI” is used to describe people from countries and cultures as diverse as Korea, China, Thailand and Nepal, all of which contain further multitudes of cultures within their borders.

Some AAPI communities still need additional assistance, and more can be done to help them. At the morning opening “fireside chat,” for example, Julian Castro, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the American Housing Survey will break down the AAPI community by country of origin for the first time ever, in order to understand the AAPI community better. Castro said those efforts would also extend to HUD assessments of youth homelessness as part of President Obama’s Opening Doors initiative, which is intended to end youth homelessness by the year 2020. HUD homelessness assessments will also allow AAPI youth to select their country of origin in an effort to identify particularly vulnerable communities.

At the Summit’s afternoon fireside chat, Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that one of the most important things the Department of Education can do for the AAPI community is simply to “disaggregate the data.”

“For me the goal is never just data and counting,” Duncan said. “There has to be action behind it. And what we have to do is dispel the model minority myth. The best way to do that is disaggregate the data. And yes, let’s celebrate the successes, but let’s not hide or sweep under the rug those communities where we have devastating levels of poverty and tremendous lack of opportunity.”

Duncan also noted that WHIAAPI launched an AAPI-specific anti-bullying campaign in concert with other federal agencies, including the Department of Education, in late 2014. The AAPI Bullying Prevention Task Force is designed to counter bullying and harassment that AAPI students face in the nation’s classrooms. WHIAAPI also started up the E3! Ambassadors campaign in 2014, a youth ambassador program that selects and appoints young Asian Americans leaders who are tasked with improving the lives of Asian Americans across the country.

The day’s afternoon breakout sessions were organized around themes such as educational “equity,” “immigrant and refugee voices,” and “social entrepreneurship.” At the breakout sessions, AAPI advocates discussed issues of concern with federal officials. The sessions were partially off limits to the press ― media could attend, but could not quote or allude to any conversations held during the session. According to press materials, this was so that individuals present at the sessions could speak freely.

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.