By Jocelyn Chui
Northwest Asian Weekly
The White House’s Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) Initiative held a live web chat with U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on May 4, who addressed questions raised by the AAPI community.
During the 30-minute web chat, Locke and Executive Director of the AAPI Initiative Kiran Ahuja addressed questions frequently asked about immigration reform, focusing on the government’s priorities during the immigration application process.
A family who has been waiting to bring a family member into the States for more than 20 years, raised the question of why it takes so long for people “to play by the rules.”
“We need to continue to ensure that we are bringing in new people to this country, enabling them to contribute. However, the first priority has to be family reunification,” said Locke.
Some people may think that being in the country illegally for a certain time will allow them to eventually obtain citizenship. But Locke said, “There is no reward for having been here improperly. You need to stand in line like everyone else and take the test to obtain citizenship.”
Locke and Ahuja also talked about the initiative’s purpose and touched on other concerns raised by various Asian groups.
“There is a myth about AAPIs being the model minority, when, in fact, we have some of the most desperate figures with respect to various subgroups within the AAPI community, whether it is Hmongs or Cambodians, who have the lowest education or [number of] bachelor degrees in America,” Locke said.
Locke said the purpose of the initiative is to make sure these subgroups understand and take advantage of “the huge array of programs and services already made available to the American citizens.”
During the web chat, Ahuja pointed out that one of the major obstacles AAPIs face is the language barrier.
Ahuja said her first priority is to reach out to the Pacific Islander (PI) community.
“Often times, PIs have been in the shadow,” Ahuja said. “I want to make sure people have the tools to be able to do well in the country.”
Locke said there is a need for AAPIs to learn English because it is the dominant language in the nation, but at the same time, he encouraged them to “hold on to their native tongues” because it can be a unique skill that leads to success.
There were also concerns of the lack of AAPI history in classrooms and the representation of AAPIs in the country’s administration.
Locke thinks that community pressure could urge textbook publishers to include more complex details about modern history.
“With the Internet and social media, we should take it upon ourselves to supplement on what the publishers are not providing in our textbooks,” Locke said.
In response to the diversity of Obama’s administration, Locke said that he was proud of the incredible number of AAPIs who are part of this administration.
“I think it is a record number,” Locke said. ♦
To watch a full version of the web chat, visit www.whitehouse.gov.
Jocelyn Chui can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.