Obama Restores Initiative on AAPIs & Celebrates Diwali

obama-diwali_1502926cPhoto: GETTY 

Obama recently signed an Executive Order reestablishing the President’s Advisory Commission and White House Initiative on Asian American and Pacific Islanders, first created by Clinton a decade ago.

Reading through the transcript of the President’s remarks, I have to give props to him (and his speechwriters) for offering thoughtful acknowledgment to the AAPI community, instead of the usual “thanks for working so hard and being industrious and keeping your head down” tokenism rhetoric spouted by most politicians.

In fact, Obama spoke against buying into the model minority myth, and recognized multiple barriers faced by the AAPI community — from health disparites (i.e. diabetes and Hep B), high dropout and low college enrollment rates, poverty, language barriers, violation of voting and civic rights, and even the often overlooked but extremely important need for collection of data on AAPIs and disagreggation by ethnicity and other variables so we’re not invisible or lumped together. Finally. He also condemned post-9/11 and ongoing hate crimes, which usually elicit barely a blip on CNN and in the papers. 

Obama further gave a nod to our folx as “leaders” “who’ve helped build this nation for centuries”…thanking railroad laborers, farmers and veterans like those in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the 442nd, who fought despite their families’ internment. Mr. President continued to bust through stereotypes by naming musicians, athletes, and public service pioneers like His Awesomeness Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, and Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs Tammy Duckworth.

Obama also made it personal: “When I talk about America’s AAPI communities, I’m talking about my own family: my sister Maya; my brother-in-law Konrad; my beautiful nieces…and the folks I grew up with in Indonesia, and in Honolulu as part of the Hawai’ian Ohana…”

He called AAPI history “uniquely American” while understanding our reality as a transnational community, with “roots that span the globe”, and by describing Diwali holiday as celebrated by “some of the world’s greatest faiths…Hindusm Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world…”  Obama is the first US president to personally take part in a White House ceremony for the festival of lights, lighting a diya inside the executive mansion and bowing before a Hindu pandit. It’s refreshing to hear what has usually been portrayed as Other and un-American unapologetically supported by our most powerful leader.

To boot, AAPI community advocates South Asian Americans Leading Together, Asian American Justice Center,  Southeast Asia Resource Action CenterAPIAVote, Organization of Chinese Americans, and others released statements applauding Obama’s signing. One step closer to earning that Nobel Peace Prize.


2 thoughts on “Obama Restores Initiative on AAPIs & Celebrates Diwali

  1. I’m torn on disaggregation. I’m Chinese, and I’m certainly not Vietnamese, Japanese, Hmong, Cambodian, Filipino, or whatever. But at the same time, I think our communities could really benefit from standing together, from some form of Pan-Asian American movement. We’re partially invisible because we bicker between each other. Divide and conquer – the best part? The white man didn’t even have to do it (like in Pakistan / India) – we did it to ourselves.

    That being said, I think that it’s great that Obama did this!


  2. Thanks for your thoughts!….Yeah, I was more referring to disaggregation in terms of data collection and reporting, rather than pan-Asian solidarity for political and social advancement. The latter – I completely agree with you – is valuable and necessary to fight for equality. It’s research that either leaves out AAPIs altogether (or classifies us as “Other”)…or clumps us together into one homogenous Asian group that is harmful.

    We know generally that the realities and needs of the 4th gen Japanese American community is very different from a Cambodian refugee experience or a Native Hawaiian one. The same can be argued along lines of income, language proficiency, years in the US, etc etc…so the more that data is complex and can distinguish among our differences, the more likely resources can be channeled appropriately to meet the diverse needs of our communities, instead of perpetuating the “model minority” stereotype.


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