Over 2,000 Asian-American national leaders, advocates, artists, and community organizers gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the White House Summit on AAPIs--the first gathering of its kind for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since its re-establishment in 2009.
The all-day program included panel discussions featuring community organizers and cabinet secretaries, performances, and the announcement of a new co-chair of the White House Initiative on AAPIs: newly-sworn in Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy.
“This summit is a symbol of the unity and the power of the AAPI community, as well as a reminder to me of how much the community can achieve when it puts its mind to solving challenges that our community faces,” Murthy said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s a reminder to me that if we actually do come together, some of the challenges we face...are solvable, and we can solve them together.”
Murthy will chair the White House Initiative with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who was among the cabinet secretaries who spoke at Tuesday’s summit about the importance of connecting and mobilizing the AAPI community with each other and with other organizations fighting for common goals.
“We need to learn from communities across the country and share lessons across the country to make sure we’re lifting up all communities together,” Murthy said.
The summit focused in large part on the accomplishments of the White House Initiative over the last five years, from releasing individual strategic plans for 24 federal agencies to increase the AAPI community’s access to federal resources to celebrating President Obama’s appointments of AAPI leaders, including 21 federal judges, since the beginning of his administration.
“This is the first well-thought out, innovative, interagency initiative the White House has done,” Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) told NBC News, noting that the White House Initiative’s efforts to increase access to information in various languages has made a significant difference.
Honda said that effort, while impressive, needed to expand in order to accurately portray the community. “It has to happen across all agencies and in our Census data,” he said. “We have to really impregnate the Census gathering system to address different languages and different formats in ways that will gain trust in the communities so we can extract information.”
According to a report by the UCLA Study for the Center for Inequality and the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, the Asian American population is expected to grow by 74% by 2040, and the registered voter growth is expected to rise by 107% to 12.2 million people.
“The enthusiasm of the thousands who attended today’s summit and the many others celebrating around the country gives me hope for a future where AAPIs, and all Americans, are valued as equal contributors to our society and have the chance to achieve the American Dream,” Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus chair Rep. Judy Chu, who hosted a Congressional Symposium for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the Capitol Wednesday, said in a statement.
The timing of the White House Summit coincides with Asian Heritage Month, which has been designated the month of May since 1992. In a pre-recorded message shown at Tuesday’s summit, President Obama praised Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for their work in building the nation, while also acknowledging the work his administration was still doing.
“We’ve still got to get Congress to pass an immigration bill so that we can expand opportunities for more people to study, serve, and contribute to our nation,” Obama said. “And we’ll continue fighting the senseless bigotry that too many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially South Asians, face.”