Breaking Out AAPI Diversity

with Gregg Orton of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans

Many government agencies aggregate Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders under the Asian demographic, hiding the high COVID-19 infection rates within the community.

Gregg Orton, National Director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, discusses with Tetiana Anderson how disaggregating data can help advance health equity for not only Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations, but all minority groups.

Posted on:

Apr 30, 2021

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, also known as AAPI, are a highly diverse group of communities with their own complex migration and settlement histories; they represent over 50 ethnic groups and speak over 100 different languages. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. According to the CDC, the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander populations are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from looking at most of the federal data that's out there. And that leads to further challenges for communities whose experiences and needs are being obscured. Joining me to bring some clarity to all this is Gregg Orton. He is the national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. And, Gregg, thanks for being here.

Orton: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So Pacific Islanders are being hit pretty hard by COVID, but I understand that you guys are having a challenge when it comes to getting decision makers to take notice of this -- what's the biggest barrier here?

Orton: I think it starts with just awareness. Honestly, it has been a challenge to get decision makers and folks in Congress in D.C. to recognize that. In the conversation about health disparities and the impact of COVID-19, Pacific Islanders certainly rate amongst the worst as far as case rates and death rates. And largely speaking, that's been ignored in the national discourse around COVID-19.

Anderson: So Pacific Islanders are often sort of just lumped in with other Asian groups. And I know that you say when agencies at the federal level, for example, maybe the CDC do this, it's pretty dangerous. It pushes this sort of model minority myth. Explain what's going on here and why that's so problematic.

Orton: Sure -- the model minority myth is the idea that Asian-American/ Pacific Islanders are defined by overwhelming success, and as an immigrant community, should be looked to as an example for other communities of color. And this is incredibly harmful for two reasons. One is, for AAPIs ourselves, it invisibilizes the experiences of millions of Asian-Americans, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islanders who actually struggle with economic disparities, education gaps, health disparities as well. The second point is that it actually drives a wedge, and it's been used as a wedge historically to drive in between Asian-American Pacific Islanders and other communities of color, and in reality, we all need to be together in this push for racial justice.

Anderson: So not all federal agencies are getting this wrong. There are some agencies that are models for how you would like to see categorization happen -- who's doing a particularly good job, and why is it so important?

Orton: Sure -- I think the Health and Human Services Department has certainly taken some significant steps towards modeling what good data collection for all of our diverse communities could look like. And this really started under President Obama's administration and work they started unfortunately, that work obviously stalled after President Obama left office. And our hope is that President Biden and his administration will take seriously this opportunity to reform the way in which the federal government collects data on our communities and really propels forward real progress for us.

Anderson: So this whole idea of disaggregating data, of not lumping in minority groups all together, is something that isn't just an issue that AAPI groups face. This is something that impacts other minority groups. Is it important that all of these groups really pay attention to what's happening to the other?

Orton: Absolutely -- I think everyone stands to benefit from our government collecting better data and understanding how its programs reach or don't reach all communities of color and all minority communities. And so if we improve the way the government collects its information and has a better understanding of how to improve programs and perform them, I think we all stand to benefit.

Anderson: Quickly, I want to ask you about the campaign hashtag, #whoweare -- how receptive have folks been to that, and explain what the purpose of it is.

Orton: Sure. So this started actually last year, and we decided, with 2020 being as important as it is with the census and the election, we wanted there to be a central rallying cry for the AAPI community. And so it started with this idea of #AAPI2020. Obviously that becomes less useful in 2021. And so we spent some time with our coalition members thinking through what do we really want to be that centering call for action for the community? And we landed on "Who we are." And the idea was really, it is time and it's long overdue for the AAPI community to really reestablish what the narrative is about our community, and really for folks to understand who we are, our diversity, our challenges. Certainly within the context of COVID-19, the experiences there were important to uplift. And so #whoweare is what we landed on. We encourage everybody to use it when talking about our communities. And really the idea is, it belongs to the entire community. And so the hope is we continue to sort of cultivate content on social media and other spaces around this idea.

Anderson: And, Gregg, if people want to find out more about your work, where can they go, what's the website?

Orton: Sure, it's

Anderson: Gregg Orton with the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans -- thanks for joining us.

Orton: Thanks for having me.

Anderson: And thanks to our viewers as well for watching, as always, for more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the country, Log on to I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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