In March, I had the opportunity to visit various cities along the West Coast to both hear about how Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are using federal resources to fulfill some of their communities’ needs and also to learn about prevalent issues each community is facing. During this tour, I met with leaders of educational institutions, businesses, and community-based organizations, as well as federal employees who serve local AAPIs, and learned of the diversity of needs across all these communities.
The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI) team and I kicked off the tour by visiting Pierce Community College in Lakewood, Washington, a two-year Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution (AANAPISI). We met with Chancellor & CEO Michele Johnson, the AANAPISI team, and Pierce students to learn how this institution serves their AAPI student population.
Next I visited Cal State East Bay, a four year funded AANAPISI, and met with President Leroy Morishita, one of the few college presidents of AAPI descent, to discuss their efforts to improve student outcomes. President Morishita shared how Cal State East Bay’s Transfer Asian Pacific American Student Success has helped retain AAPI students and assisted them in reaching their academic goals.
Later the team visited Delano High School in Delano, California, a rural school that has a 17% AAPI student population. From listening to students and faculty at Delano High School their successes is attributed to school administrators that clearly understand the needs and concerns of the AAPI community.
I also appreciated hearing from AAPI business owners and employees in companies from the Silicon Valley area as they shared concerns including access to capital for growth and hitting the bamboo ceiling in their careers to which I responded with resources that the federal government can provide on our WHIAAPI website.
KCAL Insurance invited me as a keynote speaker to their regular convening of Chinese business leaders. This visit allowed me to engage and hear how these concerns are also an issue in Southern California. For this and other business roundtables, we collaborated with the Minority Business Development Agency and National ACE to also focus on economic drivers and new opportunities for AAPI businesses. Later, I heard from labor advocates and small business owners of Advanced Beauty College – which primarily trains Vietnamese nail salon workers – about the growth of the beauty industry, and also the obstacles and challenges for workers in this field and industry.
In Fresno, California we visited the Southeast Asian community, specifically the Hmong, where I shared our goals for this Administration. In Southern California, our visit to Khmer Girls in Action, an organization founded to empower young Southeast Asian women, and EPIC (Empowering Pacific Islander Communities) was touching as each participant in the meeting shared her story struggling with challenges as a young Southeast Asian or Pacific Islander woman. At the South Asian Network (SAN) meeting, they shared what efforts they have undertaken to assist South Asians in Southern California. Along with their clients, we discussed immigration challenges and hate crimes, and I shared with SAN resources we have relating to healthcare and language access.
In order to learn about more general issues Washingtonians face, I sat down with Michael Itti, Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. I then had the opportunity to hear directly from the Seattle AAPI community at the Filipino Community Center. They raised concerns about the census, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and broader support of immigrants. At ASIAN, Inc., I heard from the San Francisco AAPI community where they brought up issues related to language access and data disaggregation. They were also interested in learning more about federal grants. The last stop of the tour was in Los Angeles where the local community brought up similar issues I’ve heard throughout this West Coast tour. These issues include data disaggregation, the 2020 census, immigration, capacity building for nonprofits, and growing small businesses.
The week long tour was meaningful in many ways, but most importantly, it provided multiple opportunities to connect with community members and leaders and hear the sentiments of key issues they are facing. Our Regional Network played a key role during the week by deepening community relationships on these key issues. This tour contributes greatly to how I plan to shape our office’s work to further our mission with improving the quality of lives of AAPIs.
Holly Ham is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.