A new Rhode Island state law requiring that data on public school students of Asian descent be separated by ethnicity has reignited debate in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, signed the All Students Count Act into law around five months after it was first introduced in the Rhode Island General Assembly.
But a group of Chinese Americans lashed out against the law last week, protesting at the Rhode Island State House, according to the Providence Journal. They say the All Students Count Act singles out Asians and worry that the data might be used to advance race-based policies.
“Essentially it’s asking my children to identify themselves based on their parents’ nation of origin,” Lin Yang, a Chinese-American resident of neighboring Connecticut who attended the rally, told NBC News. “I think it’s a very tough question for kids. Because my son and daughter were born here, there is never a second thought that this is not their homeland.”
The law requires the state department of elementary and secondary education to use “separate collection categories and tabulations for specified Asian ethnic groups in every demographic report on ancestry or ethnic origins of residents.”
Among the AAPI groups always to be included are Cambodians, Filipinos, Laotians, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asians.
Proponents of the measure, such as the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), have called it a win for Southeast Asians, who often face higher poverty levels and lower rates of education attainment compared to other AAPIs.
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Without further refining data by ethnic group, they say, these communities often get lost in the mix and end up not receiving the services they need to help them.
An overriding fear among opponents, many of them Chinese American, was that the measure was a backdoor way to end California’s ban on affirmative action. That, they worried, might hurt their kids’ chances of getting into top state schools like UC Berkeley and UCLA.
Signatories of the open letter say that without “high quality data,” educators cannot know what challenges their students face and thus better serve them.
“Data disaggregation is a mainstay of U.S. Census data collections, and is critical for AAPI communities pushing for greater ballot language assistance, bilingual education, mental health assistance for students, and culturally competent care by county hospitals,” the letter adds.