Celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Hosts Forum to Commemorate and Learn

A community member asks a question during the round-table discussion.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (Initiative) hosted a Community Leaders Forum at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on May 17 to commemorate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

The gathering at ED headquarters in Washington, D.C. provided an opportunity for community leaders from across the nation to engage with senior-level federal officials to discuss issues impacting the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Over 175 leaders in fields ranging from businesses to nonprofit service organizations attended.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos welcomes everyone to the Community Leaders Forum.

The event kicked off with a cultural oli — a Hawaiian chant — and a hula dance. This was followed by an introduction from  Holly Ham, the Initiative’s executive director, who spoke about the “State of AAPIs in the U.S.” She highlighted the heterogeneity of the community, citing the disparity in bachelor’s degree attainment, which is 2.3 percent for Marshallese and 72.7 percent for Indian Americans. Ham also addressed some ways in which the Initiative is working to support underserved AAPIs. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos then welcomed attendees and wished everyone a happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

After the plenary session, attendees broke up for six topical roundtable discussions with senior-level federal officials to talk about subjects of special interest to AAPIs. The areas of focus and the federal participants for each of them were as follows:

Education and Career Development.  The conversation covered the role that data disaggregation plays in education for AAPIs. Participants: Jason Botel, principal deputy assistant secretary, delegated the authority to perform the functions and duties of the assistant secretary of ED’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education;  Michael Wooten, acting assistant secretary of ED’s Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education; and Laurie Rowe, senior policy advisor, U.S. Department of Labor.

Business and Jobs. Discussion included the different needs of first- and second-generation AAPIs, and ways the federal government can help small businesses. Participants:  Derek Kan, under secretary of transportation for policy, U.S. Department of Transportation;  Edith McCloud, acting national director, Minority Business Development Agency, U.S. Department of Commerce; Charles Manger, associate administrator, Office of Small Business Utilization, U.S. General Services Administration; and Jason Chung, deputy assistant secretary for public affairs, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Immigration. The roundtable addressed (1) the relationship of AAPIs with hate crimes and human trafficking (and reporting them); (2) the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program; (3) the support of faith communities; (4) family unification; (5) the U.S. Department of Homeland and Security’s immigration and customs enforcement oversight concerns; and (6) refugee status. Participants: Uyen Dinh, deputy assistant secretary, Office of Legislative Affairs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Robert Moossy, Jr., deputy assistant attorney general, Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice.

Health Care and Housing.  Attendees talked about how communities in which residents live affect their health care. Discussion also touched on the benefits of  community health workers;  how the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  has fought gentrification by working with local officials; private and public partnerships; and providing more resources for Hepatitis B awareness. Participants: Matthew Lin, deputy assistant secretary for minority health,  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; and Bryan Greene, general deputy assistant secretary, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, HUD.

Workforce Leadership. Roundtable members discussed the importance of having mentors and of using resources. Participants, who shared federal resources that their offices provide, included Jeffrey Pon, director, U.S. Office of Personnel Management;  and Charlotte Burrows, commissioner, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Census. Attendees discussed the pros and cons of data disaggregation and talked about ways to support AAPI youths. Participants: Karen Battle, chief, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau; and Jennifer Kim, assistant chief, Decennial Census Management Division, U.S. Census Bureau.

The forum ended with a representative from each session providing a brief summary of its roundtable’s discussion, followed by closing remarks and a thank you from Executive Director Ham.

This forum was the first of many interactions the Initiative will have with the AAPI community. Continue following us on social media to learn about future events.

A community member reports back to the rest of the attendees what was discussed at her round-table.

Mokihana performs a cultural oli chant and a hula dance.

To learn more about other Initiative events that took place during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, click here.


Akil Vohra is Director of Strategic Initiatives of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

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