AAPI Ahuja with Secretary Chris Lu

Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) with Chris Lu, the White House Cabinet Secretary and co-chair of the White House Initiative on AAPI



Houston, Texas – Calling the “unmet needs” of Indian Americans “the crux” of the initiative, Kiran Ahuja, the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), told India America Today, “We have taken some very positive steps forward.”

With a record number of attendance of over 500 AAPI community members converging on the University of Houston, including Indian Americans from cities throughout the state of Texas, Ahuja stressed the need to break the Asian American community into sub-groups, saying, “Data collection and disaggregation are particularly important,” to get a “real good sense of those unmet needs.”

One of President Barack Obama’s longest-serving advisors, Chris Lu, the White House Cabinet Secretary and co-chair of the White House Initiative on AAPI, joined Ahuja on February 23 to speak with Tejinder Singh, Editor of India America Today, reiterating the resolve of President Obama, “to do everything possible to get the immigration reform done.”

Repeatedly we have heard the words “unmet needs of Asian Americans, especially Indian Americans” mentioned in AAPI literature and in introductions. How far have these unmet needs been met? What are you planning to do to further meet these needs?

Kiran Ahuja: Well, I think this is really a good question that is the crux of what we are trying to accomplish with the new initiative and I think we have taken some very positive steps forward. Let me just explain it in couple ways.

One I mentioned in my speech, about the importance of data collection and disaggregation and that’s particularly important because if we do not continue to break out the Asian American communities into sub-groups, so we have Indian and Pakistanis and Chinese and Vietnamese and Koreans, we won’t get a real good sense of those unmet needs.

We won’t truly understand that there are significant health disparities in Indian communities around diabetes and heart disease and unless we have a good understanding of them we won’t be able to talk, even begin to talk about the type of solutions that are needed.

So that is something we have been working on across the federal government We have brought in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). They have issued a paper to all the fellow agencies that actually talks about best practices of how to really start moving in that direction.

Another piece is that we have really, within our initiative, emphasized the importance of language access. So here at this conference we are providing interpretation services, but I do think that we would like to encourage more of our federal agencies to think about language interpretation and translation.

Just as last week we had USCIS, which focuses on immigration and citizenship, talk and hold a citizenship workshop on Vietnamese in California. We had one also, I think they did a number of months ago, that was in Mandarin.

They are going to do more of those, so knowing that these issues are in our community, I think this is particularly important. Those are actually our really large cost cutting issues in the disaggregation of language access.

Now this mentions one of the things is around healthcare, so as you know, that is really one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation of our era, of our time. We are going to see millions of individuals come on the healthcare issues and we think particularly within this initiative this is important for our community to know about the laws and regulations and know about the opportunities. That’s something we have been focusing on and will continue to focus on, working in partnership with health and human services, so for us it’s making sure the community knows that this is happening very soon for all Asian American communities.

I think this is particularly important. The Korean American community has the highest rate of uninsurance of any racial or ethnic group and that’s because many of us are small business owners. So I think if you again want us knowing that there is like, I think Chris mentioned, like one out of six of Asian Americans lack health insurance. So this is particularly of importance to us. We want to make sure that the community knows about it.

These are just examples, because I can literally go through every single issue and say this is where we are making progress. May not be something that’s like on a billboard, but we are seeing that slow incremental progress that takes place in government and I think that we would like to do these types of events to make sure we continue to get the recommendations, continue to encourage the community to reach out to us and put that pressure on us on what we need to keep on doing and pretty much keep that fire lit under us to continue the work that we are doing.

Just a quick one. In the last elections, Asian Americans, including Indian Americans, voted overwhelming for President Obama. Has the White House defined the expectations of this community and what is the White House doing to clear these expectations?

Chris Lu: The President has a long-standing relationship with the Asian community that goes back to his birth in Hawaii, to his formative years in Indonesia. This president understands this community, I dare say, better than any previous presidents.

He understands the successes of the community, he understands the struggles of the community, so whether the community voted for him or they didn’t vote for him, the things are important for the community whether it is creating good -paying jobs, whether it is helping small businesses, whether it is improving education, providing health insurance – lot of things that Kiran just talked about – these are the things he has been focused on for the last four years and will continue to focus on for the next four years.

I should say, on another note about immigration reform, which is an issue that is often thought of as a Latino issue, it’s as much an Asian American issue, as well. About 1.3 million undocumented people in this country are from Asian countries, so that is something that the president has been long committed to, which we are going to be pushing hard on this year.

I don’t want you to jump before the president finalizes all that, but do you expect 2013 to be a lucky year for immigrants?

Chris Lu: I think if the president has his way, he is going to do everything possible to get immigration reform done. I have been with the president for 8 years now, and when he was US Senator, we were very involved on immigration reform and I think the time is now right to get it done.

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