White House adds new initiative for Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian visibility

By Sakshi Venkatraman, NBC News |

The White House announced a new initiative Thursday, bringing to the table items that grassroots organizers have long been pushing for — among those, disaggregation of data under the ‘Asian’ umbrella and a more diverse array of language options in federal programs. 

Spearheaded by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders also aims to address the impacts of Covid-19 on Asian American livelihoods, including businesses that suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to tackling a wide scope of challenges impacting communities that have been historically overlooked and underserved,” Becerra said in a statement

Asian American civil rights organizations commended the move and hope the initiative will be used as a tool to support lower-income, underrepresented AAPI communities. 

“At a time when many Southeast Asian Americans are grappling with the physical, mental, and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing systemic injustices, this is an important opportunity for our voices to be included in the decisions that impact our lives,” Quyen Dinh, executive director of the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center, said in a statement. 

Community leaders said they hope the initiative will foster inclusion and education of the general public on historical and present-day issues impacting these communities. Tracking hate incidents, providing career opportunities and focusing on the unique needs of LGBTQ Asians are also high on the priority list, they said. 

“While Covid-19 has hit all Americans with unprecedented challenges, we appreciate the Administration’s recognition of the difficulties that are unique to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders,” Marielle A. Reataza, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, said in a statement.  Community-building and rebuilding are truly necessities during this time, and we look forward to the progress needed to serve and heal our communities.”

Data disaggregation, one of the issues mentioned in the announcement of the White House’s new initiative, has been an ongoing conversation for scholars of Asian American issues. The Department of Education currently requires schools to aggregate student data across 48 ethnicities under the label “Asian,” according to AAPI Data