Advancing Equity for AAPI Communities

with Krystal Ka‘ai of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders

More than 20 ethnicities comprise the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population. Aggregating data from ethnic communities with the broader AAPI population can present challenges in understanding and addressing the unique challenges subgroups face.

Krystal Ka‘ai, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, joins host Tetiana Anderson to discuss why accurate and detailed data collection is critical to advance equity, opportunity, and justice for AANHPI communities.

Posted on:

April 29, 2022

Hosted by: Tetiana Anderson
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: According to the most recent census, the Asian-American/ Pacific-Islander community grew by 35.5% between 2010 and 2020. It's the fastest-growing racial demographic in America, but the subgroups within the AAPI community face different challenges that are often overlooked. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. AAPI Americans represent more than 50 countries and ethnic subgroups and speak more than 100 languages. And gathering information about each of them is no small task. Joining me to talk about all of this is Krystal Ka'ai, executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. And, Krystal, thanks for being here.

Ka’ai: Thank you, Tetiana.

Anderson: We just heard that this population is growing fast, but that also means a lot of the challenges that the community faces are growing fast, too. I'm wondering what these challenges are specifically.

Ka’ai: Yes. So, there are so many long-standing challenges that this community has faced that have been exacerbated over the past two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic. We've seen health disparities and economic inequities really laid bare over the course of the pandemic. But we've also seen an alarming surge in anti-Asian bias and hate, which is, unfortunately, not new but which has really spiked to alarming rates over the course of the pandemic, leaving so many fearing for their safety. And on top of this, we have so many long-standing challenges that have impacted this community, including the need for greater language access to better serve our limited- English-proficient communities.

Anderson: Your placement as the head of this initiative is perfect. Talk to us a little bit about your background and how it informs your work and your mission.

Ka’ai: So much of this work that I do on a daily basis is very personal for me as someone who is of both Asian-American as well as Native-Hawaiian descent and who grew up in the beautifully diverse and multicultural state of Hawaii. I think that again, when I think about the work that I'm doing and the people that I'm serving through this unique role in our federal government, I think about my family members and my friends back home in Hawaii and all across the country, people who are struggling with just very basic needs, ensuring that we can have greater language access for our immigrant communities -- people like my mother, who was an immigrant from Japan -- and also looking at how we can uplift the challenges and better address the needs of our native Hawaiian and Pacific-Islander populations, who are too oftentimes overlooked in a lot of the work that is done at the national level. So I think, again, so much of this work is deeply personal for me and so much of my upbringing in Hawaii has informed the work that I do, being able to understand the diversity, the unique cultural histories and languages that contribute to this vibrant population, and making sure that we can really ensure that federal resources are truly accessible to all Americans, including our Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian, and Pacific-Islander communities.

Anderson: The U.S. Census, which is a very important measure of several societal markers, is actively working to disaggregate data about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. What does that mean, and why is that so important to the work that you're doing?

Ka’ai: Yes. That's a great question. And so, as we mentioned earlier, this is an extremely diverse population -- over 50 distinct ethnicities that speak over 100 different languages and dialects. And so to really, truly understand the complexity of this community and be able to micro-target resources to these communities, we really need to understand not just what they look like when they're lumped together as an Asian-American and Pacific-Islander umbrella but what truly specific subpopulations are facing. And so when we talk about data disaggregation and what the Census Bureau is working to do, it is really diving deep into that data so that we can better understand not just what Asian-Americans as a whole are facing, but what are Filipino Americans, Japanese-Americans, Chinese-Americans -- all of these rich and diverse subpopulations of the broader Asian-American community -- What are they facing? The same for our Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander groups. It's not just Pacific Islanders as a whole. We have Native Hawaiians who are indigenous people to Hawaii. We have also some Samoan community, the Fijian, Tongan, you know, Chamorro community -- so many that are reflected in that. So really, when we talk about data disaggregation, it means that we are truly drilling down to better understand the unique needs of this diverse population and able to make sure that we truly understand the needs that they face and can ensure that our government is being responsive to that.

Anderson: This White House initiative where you're currently serving started in 1999. I'm wondering what's changed from then to now, and where do you see this office really making the most progress in the future?

Ka’ai: First of all, I would say the tremendous growth of this community over the past two decades is truly astounding. We have seen this community grow to historic numbers, and it is projected to continue to grow at a really rapid pace. And so what we are seeing as a result of that is more engagement from the community over the past two decades -- their civic engagement, their desire to ensure that their voices are heard. And also what we're seeing is greater visibility as a result. And I think the past two years in particular have really laid bare, as I mentioned earlier, so many of the inequities that have long plagued the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander community. And with this newfound mobilization and energy in the community and the visibility we are seeing, we are also seeing a commitment from this administration unlike anything we have ever seen before. So I'm just really proud to work for a president and a vice president who truly see and understand the unique needs of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders and have made sure to really embed our communities and their broader focus to ensure that equity is truly embedded throughout the entirety of the federal government. And in terms of moving forward, I think that this initiative -- We are at such a historic inflection point for our AA and NHPI communities, and this initiative really has the ability to make a lasting impact for generations to come. So I'm hoping we can continue to build on the momentum and on the strong foundation laid over two decades ago under the Clinton administration and ensure that moving forward, we continue to build a brighter future for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islanders for generations to come.

Anderson: If people want to find out more about these communities and about the work that the White House initiative is doing, what's the website?

Ka’ai: So, I know that the website is displayed on the screen. I highly encourage you to check out our website to learn more about the White House initiative and the work we're doing. We also have a newsletter, so I encourage you to sign up just to stay plugged in to the updates that we have from the White House initiative and to keep abreast of the work that we're doing.

Anderson: Krystal Ka'ai of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, thank you so much for being here.

Ka’ai: Thank you, Tetiana.

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 nation, visit I'm Tetiana Anderson.

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