Inside the Transition: AAPI

Uploaded by ChangeDotGov on 16.01.2009

We, more than anything, want to be part of this process. This is a really good start and thank you.
Great, Thank you. And if you have names you want to submit. I'm Parag Mehta. I'm the public liaison
for the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities at the Presidential Transition Team.
There are more than 15 million Asian American and Pacific Islanders in the United States.
They represent two distinct categories; they're the Asian Americans who are immigrants and refugees
and their descendants from about fifty different Asian nations.
And then the Pacific Islander communities--these are the native people of Guam,
American Samoa, Hawaii, and the northern Marian islands.
These leaders came together to meet with the Presidential Transition Team
and talk about their priority issues and personnel recommendations for presidential appointments.
We had more than 75 leaders from across the country there in person and joining by phone.
The meeting was hosted by Chris Lu, who serves as Executive Director of the Transition Team.
He is a Chinese-American who served as Barack Obama's Chief of Staff in his Senate Office
and will be the White House Cabinet Secretary, which is the liaison to every cabinet agency in the administration.
You need to look no further as a testament to Barack Obama's commitment to diversity
than the fact that both of his Chiefs of Staff in the Senate office were Asian Americans.
I think that gives you a sense of his commitment to this issue.
The AAPI community came in here first with a lot of praise.
In particular, they were very happy about Steve Chu being nominated for Secretary of Energy.
Steve, as you might know, is a lab scientist from Berkeley, California,
and General Eric Shinseki, who is going to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
General Shinseki is a Japanese American who is a war hero himself.
It did not escape our notice that Rich Shinsecki was named on Pearl Harbor Day.
He is a Japanese American. The irony of that was really quite superb and very meaningful.
Or the fact that the Secretary of Energy is a Chinese American scientist from a lab.
We thank you. And then I've been trying to let people know
that the level of White House appointments is historic as well.
We have never had as many Asian Americans in substantive positions in the White House
and we're really looking forward to working with all of you as we go forward.
For a long time the AAPI community has been seen as a sort of a model minority.
People think of Asian Americans as highly educated, highly successful in this country,
a group that probably doesn't need a whole lot of attention from government.
Truth is, that there are a lot of disparities in our community's face that never get talked about.
So this group of leaders wanted to come in and talk about some of the key issues
that they wanted to see addressed in the Obama-Biden administration.
In coordination with many of the organizations represented here today,
we conducted an exit poll of 16,600 Asian American voters
and we heard from thousands of them that they needed language assistance,
translators, interpreters at the polling places.
We have to make sure that people who don't speak English have an ability to access,
and in our communities, 60 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have limited English proficiency.
That's particularly important when we talk about health care and job opportunities.
This group wanted to make it very clear that they had priorities
when it came to being vigilant about Civil Rights, especially in a post-911 era.
I want to just quickly talk a little about the fact that since 911, South Asians, Arab-Americans, Sheiks, and Muslims
have really been targeted by both governmental initiatives as well as public actions.
In 2003, for example, the FBI reported a 1,400 percent increase
in incidences of violence against Muslims, and these incidences continue to this day.
What we hope to do is have the Obama-Biden administration
implement new processes within the departments that actually talk to communities
that are being affected prior to the implementation of these policies and guidelines.
So a number of mid-level folks in the Department of Homeland Security and DOJ
have done that already and we want to see these sorts of meetings continue and flourish.
The census comes up, I think, in almost every meeting we have here
because in 2010 we're going to count this country, and AAPIs want to make sure that when we count
the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, that we count them correctly.
In order to understand our needs and our disparities and our concerns,
you have to count us correctly; you have to count the individual populations.
We also talked about issues like the digital divide. We talked about the importance
of making sure that technology makes it out to our folks in the Pacific Islands.
A lot of people don't realize this, but the people, the native peoples who live in Guam and Samoa
and even in Hawaii face huge disparities when it comes to accessing education
because they don't have broadband, they don't have Internet, they don't have the computers.
The President-elect likes to joke that he is himself an honorary Asian American.
Many people know that his sister, Maya, is half-Indonesian
and his brother-in-law, Conrad, is Chinese Canadian.
This is the modern American family, and I think the diversity that you are seeing
in the Obama-Biden administration reflects the changes that are happening in our country.
I am starting to call this the White House initiative on AAPIs 3.0.
So we know that in this new administration
that Asian American, Pacific Islanders issues will be integrated like they never have been before.
We are really interested essentially in the essence in the White House initiative on AAPIs
to focus on underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander communities,
to have that high level of focus across federal agencies to keep it broad.
My parents came to this country as immigrants back in 1972, before I was even born,
and one of the things that makes me really proud of the way we have run this administration and this transition
is that we're going to see Asian Americans throughout the government,
not just doing Asian American specific work. But visibility is really important for our community
because we are still a relatively new minority to most Americans.
We're a community that people are getting to know better and better every day
and to see Asian Americans working throughout the Obama administration really is good for us
because it shows to our community that we have a seat at the table and a voice in the decision making process.