White House event celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander heritage

Joie Chen, left, an Al Jazeera America anchor, led a panel on the rights of Asian American Pacific Islanders and women during a White House summit on the Asian American Pacific Islander community Tuesday. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
Joie Chen, left, an Al Jazeera America anchor, led a panel on the rights of Asian American Pacific Islanders and women during a White House summit on the Asian American Pacific Islander community Tuesday. Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor
This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Avery Anapol.

A day of artistic performances and fireside chats marked the first-ever White House-sponsored celebration of heritage and advancement in the Asian American Pacific Islander community.

Political and community leaders, business officials and artists were counted among the 1,500 people gathered at Lisner Auditorium Tuesday for the event.

The President’s Advisory Commission on Asian American Pacific Islanders has worked since 2009 to address issues like immigration, healthcare and economic development that affect the community, which is the fastest growing racial group in the country.

The opening ceremonies began with a moment of silence for the those affected by the earthquakes in Nepal and a Hawaiian chant by Kamana’opono Crabbe, chief executive officer of the Office of Hawaiian affairs. The day soon turned to lighter fare with a Hawaiian drumming performance and comedic welcoming remarks from the master of ceremonies, Parag Mehta. Mehta is the chief of staff for Vivek Murthy, the first Asian American U.S. surgeon general.

Kiran Ahuja, the executive director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, highlighted President Barack Obama’s accomplishments in the AAPI community, like Obama’s appointment of 20 AAPI federal judges during his time in office.

Former President Bill Clinton originally created the event, and President Barack Obama reestablished it with an executive order in 2009.

Joie Chen, the anchor of Al Jazeera America’s “America Tonight,” moderated a panel discussion with prominent women in the AAPI community including Ai-jen Poo, the director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Mini Timmaraju, the national director of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. They discussed the overlap of issues of both women and AAPIs with a focus on immigrants and workers’ rights.

“When you look at the world through the eyes of women, you see things much more clearly and completely,” Poo said. “The many different hats we wear offer us a unique perspective.”

The panel also discussed ways to include the voices of AAPIs in the immigration debate, which tends to focus on Hispanic populations.

“We all have to be a lot more loud about our place in the immigration debate,” Timmaraju said. “We don’t do a really good job about being on the attack when we are attacked.”

The session continued with a fireside chat moderated by Gautam Raghavan, the vice president of policy at the Gill Foundation and the former White House LGBT liaison. Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with the other panelists, discussed the role of government agencies in the AAPI community.

The discussion ended with a call to action for young people to become more involved in public policy for issues they’re passionate about.

“If you want to be rich, it might not be the path for you, but if you want to have a rich life, there is no better way to go,” McCarthy said.

The morning session concluded with an artistic performance by Hawaiian musicians Paula Fuga and Kaumakaiwa Kanaka’ole.

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