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Opinion: Asian American, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders Need to Mobilize for Disaggregated Data

Data disaggregation is essential to unmasking the “model minority myth.”
According to a recent Pew Research Center report, based on 2012 Census data, the largest number of undocumented Asian Americans are Indian, at an estimated 450,000 or 4 percent of the total number of undocumented people in the U.S. That makes India the fourth largest source of unauthorized immigrants in America, behind Mexico, El Salvador, and Guatemala. FRANK FRANKLIN II / AP

“If a Hispanic, Asian, or Caucasian is in the United State while a citizen of another country, why is it necessary for my government to assign a racial identifier to that foreign national? Benefits granted to citizens should not be available to foreign nationals regardless of their race.”

“All reference to race and ethnicity should be entirely removed from the census. Race is irrelevant. We are all Americans. Such racial and entity information only serves to stereo-type and divide this great nation.”

These are just two of the comments that individuals have submitted in response to the Office of Management and Budget’s request for public comments on their standards for federal data for race and ethnicity. The first two comments echo the hateful rhetoric against racial and ethnic minorities that has become increasingly rampant over the past year. The last comment, while well-intentioned and wanting to be supportive of a more inclusive society, dismisses the identities and very real lived experiences of racial/ethnic minorities.

RELATED: Why Data Matters When It Comes to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and Education

One of the keys to better understanding and meeting the needs of our diverse Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities is having disaggregated data that tell more complete and nuanced stories about us. While there is a long and complex history how various races have been categorized throughout U.S. history, the latest standards from the federal government, from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), were issued nearly 20 years ago. Significantly, those 1997 standards created separate categories for "Asian," and for "Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander," and allowed individuals to self-identify themselves as “more than one race” (for example: from Native Hawaiian, Chinese, and Japanese ancestry).

RELATED: New Data Disaggregation Initiative Announced by Dept. of Education

Earlier this month, OMB called for public comments on those 1997 guidelines, creating a rare opportunity to mobilize our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities to speak up and be heard about our needs. Unfortunately, OMB only is accepting comments for 30 days (until Oct. 31). So, in the midst of the last month of the presidential and other election campaigns, and everything else happening in our communities, there is a tremendous urgency to mobilize in support of more disaggregated data.

One of the questions that OMB is asking for comments about is whether it should do more to encourage the use of disaggregated data categories. In order words, Chinese and Koreans would be counted separately rather than just in one “Asian” category. Similarly, Samoans and Tongans would be counted separately from the broad “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander” category. This data disaggregation would apply to all the data about education, housing, employment, health, small business, and other issues collected and reported by the federal government.

Data disaggregation is essential to unmasking the “model minority myth.” When all our diverse communities are included in one broad category, we can’t see the needs of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities who are smaller in size, more geographically dispersed, recent immigrant and refugee communities, and those that are limited English proficient. As community leaders, we strongly believe that OMB should not only encourage such disaggregation but proactively require it for all federal departments and agencies, and for all federally-funded programs and services.

OMB also is asking whether the Hispanic/Latino “ethnicity” category should be combined with the current question on race, decreasing the continuing confusion about the distinction between ethnicity and race in the current standards. OMB also is interested in comments about creating a separate category for Middle Easterners and North Africans. Testing of such a separate category last year by the U.S. Census Bureau resulted in nearly 80 percent of Middle Easterners and North Africans identifying themselves that way rather than as “White."

Here’s one more comment that OMB has received:

“Further fragmentation and Balkanization of the American public can only hasten the continued degradation of the USA’s cohesion as a sovereign nation. The effort given to this ill-advised anti-American and anti-freedom scheme should be deferred to a time AFTER THE BORDERS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA are secured.”

In the face of these types of outrageous comments, it is even more important for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities to organize and mobilize a mass response to the OMB in support of: 1) continuing the separate categories for Asians, and for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (dropping the “Other”); and 2) use of the maximum number of disaggregated data categories for Asians, and for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.

The Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) has created a webpage where individuals can write and send comments directly to OMB. We call on all members of the Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities and our allied communities to send comments to OMB by Oct. 31 to support the data disaggregation that will improve the identification, understanding, and federal government response to the needs of our growing and diverse communities. We need to be counted.

Kathy Ko Chin is president and chief executive officer of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum.

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