On February 26, 1974, the 43rd Washington State Legislature formally created the Washington State Commission on Asian American Affairs as a state agency. In 1995, Governor Mike Lowry signed a bill to change the Commission’s name to The State of Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs to include Pacific Islanders. • Courtesy Photo
On February 26, 1974, the 43rd Washington State Legislature formally created the Washington State Commission on Asian American Affairs as a state agency. In 1995, Governor Mike Lowry signed a bill to change the Commission’s name to The State of Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs to include Pacific Islanders. • Courtesy Photo

By Michael Itti & Brianne Ramos
Guest Columnists

Community activists approached the governor four decades ago to develop awareness in state government of the unique needs and challenges of Asian Pacific Islanders (API). As a result, the first state commission in the nation was created to address barriers preventing full equality and inclusion for APIs.

In the decades since, the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) has responded to a broad range of changing issues on behalf of a population with 48 ethnicities and hundreds of languages and dialects.

Today, the Commission remains committed to our responsibility to improve the lives of APIs, who are now our state’s most diverse and fastest growing communities.

Throughout the year, the staff examines statewide programs and services, which do or should affect APIs in the areas of government, education, health, business, and immigration.

Its 12 board members, who are appointed by the Governor, convene five times a year to hear from state agencies, community-based organizations, and the public.

Feedback from Commissioners and the public are used to recommend changes in programs and laws to the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, and state agencies.

At the beginning of this year, the Commission approved a new strategic plan that guides our advocacy efforts. Below is an update of our progress and ongoing work.

Closing the Educational Opportunity Gaps

API communities are proud of the large numbers of youth who graduate high school and obtain a college degree. However, not all API students are succeeding. Educational resources, services, and policies too often fall short of providing an equitable opportunity for all students to achieve—creating an opportunity gap.

The Commission supports public engagement on education issues, which is vital to closing the gaps.

The Commission appointed two leaders to represent Asian American and Pacific Islander communities on the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (EOGOAC), which meets monthly to develop an implementation plan based on community input to address the gaps.

Their recommendations are published annually and include strategies such as reducing the impact of school discipline policies on students of color, increasing cultural competency of educators, and improving the quality of English language learner programs.

To increase public awareness of the gaps, the Commission has partnered with the National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders Research in Education (CARE) to launch the Washington State iCount Report.

The report revealed disparities among APIs by reporting school data such as school discipline, absences, and educational attainment by ethnic groups. The report was presented at a community forum with CARE in March along with Pacific Islander youth from Our Future Matters and members of the Southeast Asian American Education Coalition—two grassroots groups working on closing the gaps.

Addressing Health Disparities

The Commission is working to ensure public health agencies are aware of API disparities related to chronic diseases and behavioral health and factors contributing to social determinants of health such as access to safe housing, healthy foods, and open spaces.

To ensure services are responsive to API health and well-being, data must be collected by ethnic groups rather than just Asian American or Pacific Islander.

The Commission is advocating for changes on two widespread surveys of Washingtonians, the Healthy Youth Survey (HYS) and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

While the BRFSS does include some API ethnicities for the demographic question, it lacks an option for Washington’s fast growing Cambodian/Khmer community, which is the third largest in the country. In addition, the Commission is urging the telephone-based survey to provide language assistance for limited English proficient populations.

Promoting Economic Opportunity

API populations experience a wide range of economic success—from the highest incomes to the lowest wage earners.

The Commission is working to support immigrant entrepreneurship and the role of small businesses in our communities.

The Commission participates on a new subcabinet formed by the governor to increase access for small and minority-, women-, and veteran-owned businesses to contracting opportunities with Washington state government. The subcabinet will identify causes and barriers contributing to low participation among small and diverse businesses in state contracting and review all current state laws, policies, and practices.

In addition, members of the Commission and community participate on a diversity business roundtable convened by the Washington State Department of Commerce, whose mission is to grow and improve jobs in our state.

The roundtable is working to ensure organizations that receive state funding to support local economic development have the tools and knowledge to assist underrepresented businesses and business owners.

Representing You

The Commission strives to be a voice for APIs and serve as a bridge between our communities and state government.

To be effective in representing you, the Commission welcomes public participation and feedback at our upcoming board meetings in Tacoma on September 19 and in Seattle on November 21. Staff and Commissioners also attend numerous community events and meet with individuals to hear concerns.

Contact us at (360) 725-5667 (telephone interpretation is available) or visit our website at www.capaa.wa.gov for information about upcoming board meetings and to sign up for our electronic newsletter.

Michael Itti is the Executive Director and Brianne Ramos is the Project Coordinator for the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. The Commission has a board made up of 12-governor appointed members that represent the diverse APA communities of Washington State.

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