Growth of Asian American Pacific Islanders in the Arizona Desert

Executive Director Holly Ham with the Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders board of directors and executive team at the Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders’ Awards Gala

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders team recently headed to Arizona to engage with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community on the topics of workforce leadership, business and jobs, and senior healthcare.  I joined Executive Director Holly Ham and Senior Advisor Debra Suarez as we met with community leaders, were inspired by their stories, and humbled by their experiences.

On Saturday evening, July 14, Holly joined over 200 participants at the Asian Corporate & Entrepreneur Leaders’ Leadership Awards Gala in Scottsdale to deliver the keynote address. She highlighted her experiences as a young immigrant to America, her leadership roles in private enterprise and the federal government, and what service means to Americans. The following day, we visited the Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church, where  a welcoming, compassionate congregation greeted us before the morning service. Infants, teenagers, adults, and seniors joined together in a heartwarming display of community and culture.

To fulfill its mission of helping those in need within the greater Phoenix metropolitan area, the Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church holds health clinics and health information sessions throughout the year. Our team learned about the church’s history and its services during a lunch with church elders. Following our meal, we met with a few of the church’s staff and a small group of seniors. We discussed Phoenix’s healthcare industry, its impact on AAPIs, and the work that this church is doing to make a tangible difference in the lives of many AAPI seniors. We also learned that language access and transportation are the main obstacles these seniors face in the Phoenix area.

A member of the Greater Phoenix Chinese Christian Church talks about the obstacles he faces as a primary caregiver and the resources he wishes were available to him

On Monday morning, our team met with AAPI entrepreneurs, small business owners, and representatives from the local AAPI Chambers of Commerce to discuss business and jobs. The learning process was mutual; they told us about their experiences navigating the business landscape of Arizona, and Holly shared information about some of the administration’s work to help small businesses grow. Specifically, we learned about the “missing millionproblem affecting AAPI small business owners — that their businesses grow to the $750,000 or $900,000 revenue mark, but just can’t seem to get to $1 million. Productive dialogues, much like the one we had that morning, are critical to ensuring that our work directly benefits our community members.

Members of the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Arizona participated in a breakfast meeting with entrepreneurs and small business owners

After breakfast, we were joined by Paul Chang, regional network co-chair, and by representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to tour two senior-serving facilities in Phoenix. First, we visited Hong Lok, a provider of affordable senior care housing. There, we met with residents, staff, and healthcare providers, learning how they keep their senior community healthy and engaged.

Executive Director Holly Ham tour Hong Lok’s senior housing and met with the residents

Next, we visited SunTree Center, a day program that cares for adults with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, brain injuries, or other chronic illnesses resulting in memory loss. The center provides individualized care, including social services, nursing, art therapy, schooling, assistance with daily living, and more. A significant portion of the center’s patients are AAPI elders. Both Hong Lok and SunTree Center exemplify community-based care, and we were honored that they welcomed us to their facilities.

Executive Director Holly Ham and SunTree founder Van Nguyen speak to a senior participant at SunTree Center


To better understand the breadth and scope of Arizona’s AAPI community, we invited leaders from the region’s public, private, and academic sectors to participate in an evening meeting. Over a dozen representatives from several organizations joined us, sharing their perspectives on the region’s  AAPI needs related to access, provider training, and jobs in the health industry. This meeting also encouraged cross-industry conversations, allowing members of different sectors to talk about their special challenges and obstacles.  We  discussed resources for the AAPI senior population, issues related to training and credentialing of linguistically and culturally competent caregivers, and potential models for public-private partnerships.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders team listens to community leaders discuss AAPI health concerns

Flying back to Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning, I reflected on my few days spent with the AAPI community of Phoenix. During every meeting and every visit, I was fascinated by and appreciative of the community members’ thoughtful perspectives. These visits remind us of the real people affected by our work. Our whole team will remember the strength of Arizona’s AAPIs as we continue to champion business and jobs and healthcare resources for AAPI communities across the country.


Sai-Kit Jeremy Lee is an intern at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.