April 13, 2012; Source: The Asian Journal

The Ford, W.K. Kellogg, and Kresge foundations pledged $1 million to support Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities at a recent White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders briefing. The convening had over 200 participants, including philanthropic leaders from more than 50 foundations.

“This effort is historic in that it is the first time the White House is bringing together foundation leaders, federal officials and community experts to discuss the needs of this often-overlooked group,” said Chris Lu, co-chair of the initiative and assistant to the president. “We must work together to make sure that no community is invisible to its government.”

The AAPI community is the fastest growing racial group in the United States, increasing by 46 percent over the last decade. According to the U.S. Census, the Asian American community includes individuals of Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Pakistani, Thai, Vietnamese, and other Asian descent. It also includes those who are Hawaiian, Guamese, Samoan and other Pacific Islanders.

Elected officials and policy makers, along with the general public, are generally ignorant of the unique needs and concerns of this diverse group. This is due to their combined small number compared to Latinos and African Americans; their lack of representation at the highest levels of government, commerce industry, and philanthropy; and the myth of the “model minority”—the idea that all Asians are healthy, wealthy and wise.

But not all Asians are so fortunate. Close to 13 percent of AAPIs live below poverty. The stats are worst among Southeast Asians: 38 percent of Hmongs, 29 percent of Cambodians, and 17 percent of Vietnamese live below poverty. Second, AAPIs suffer certain health conditions worse than other Americans. Cervical cancer incidence rates are among the highest in the country for Laotian, Samoan, Vietnamese, and Cambodian women. Over half of Americans chronically infected with Hepatitis B are AAPIs. Third, not all AAPI children and youth do well in our schools. Nearly a quarter of AAPI students are “limited English proficient.” The dropout rate among Southeast Asians is mind-blowing: 40 percent of Hmong, 38 percent of Laotian, and 35 percent of Cambodian youth do not complete high school.

The White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders hopes that partnerships among government agencies, community-based organizations, and foundations would uplift the AAPI community.

Ford Foundation President Luis Ubiñas said that the $1 million committed by the foundations will “support follow up program planning for some of the outstanding ideas that emerged from the White House event that will improve the quality of life of AAPI communities.” Among these ideas are building community capacity; improving language access; tackling significant disparities among Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Southeast Asian Americans; and combating discrimination, bullying, and harassment of South Asian and Muslim communities.

This effort only scratches the surface. As Kresge Foundation President Rip Rapson observed, this “momentous conversation between federal and philanthropic leaders addressing the critical needs of the AAPI community marks the beginning of what we hope is a long and productive partnership.”

W.K. Kellogg Foundation Vice President for Program Strategy Dr. Gail Christopher also underscored that addressing the challenges faced by the AAPI community “will require both philanthropic and governmental organizations to evaluate their strategic plans to ensure that the critical needs of these marginalized communities are addressed.” – Erwin de Leon