THE BLOG
11/09/2015 03:22 pm ET Updated Nov 09, 2016

Not Your Model Minority: The Reality of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Community

In response to the recent column published in the New York Times asking the misleading question "Why are Asian Americans so successful in America?" we must confront the dangers of such stereotypes and conversations.

For far too long, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have faced the model minority myth - the notion that virtually all AAPIs are well-educated, affluent and successful. Although AAPIs are now the fastest growing racial group in the country, expected to double from 20 million to 49 million by 2060, we are not a monolithic group. The AAPI community spans two-dozen groups with innumerable cultures, religious faiths and languages; each with unique challenges and needs. For instance, one out of three AAPIs does not speak English fluently. And among some, there are low levels of educational attainment and high levels of unemployment. Pacific Islanders have among the highest unemployment rates of all racial and ethnic groups; 40 percent of Hmong Americans do not complete high school; and more than two million AAPIs live in poverty. Stereotyping AAPIs as just one model minority results in individual groups' needs not being acknowledged, understood or met.

In order to better understand and serve this diverse community, President Obama reestablished the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the President's Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 2009, which are both housed at the Department of Education. The Commission and Initiative are charged with working to improve the quality of life of AAPIs through increased participation in federal programs in which AAPIs may be underserved. To that extent, we lead efforts to collect, analyze and disseminate data on AAPIs to address the often unknown needs within our communities, work with federal agencies on policies that more accurately reflect our realities and needs and connect communities to federal resources and services to improve the quality of life for AAPIs. This past September, the Commission, which consists of a collective of community and business leaders appointed across the country, conducted a historic visit to Hawaii and engaged with indigenous Native Hawaiians and migrant Pacific Islanders - a clear reflection of the kind of diversity that makes up "AAPI."

Having met with over 30,000 AAPIs from all walks of life in more than 250 events, we have seen firsthand the work ethic of the community and the positive contributions to our society and country. However, it is also clear that many remain underserved and underrepresented in a variety of public spheres. There is a need for increased language access, access to education and economic resources and protection of civil rights and immigrant rights.

To this end, the Initiative has organized a variety of efforts to expand access to resources and federal policies and programs, such as its Public-Private Partnership Summit to highlight and foster investment in low-income AAPI communities, and two iCount symposia on the importance of disaggregated education data to better understand the needs of a diverse AAPI student population and increase representation of underserved AAPIs in higher education. Likewise, the Initiative has responded to the prevalence of bullied AAPI youth with a Task Force on AAPI Bullying, with listening sessions across the country, as well as a public awareness campaign entitled #ActToChange. This multi-platform effort educates and empowers youth, educators and communities to prevent and address bullying.

By disaggregating data and increasing outreach to all sectors of the AAPI community, we can better respond to the lack of awareness of cultural complexities that has contributed to the perpetuation of the model minority myth. The debate about how AAPIs became the model minority misses the most important principles of all - that all communities deserve to be visible to our government and that our government is responsible for helping all communities. We do not need a model minority. We need a model of compassion and caring for all communities.