MINNEAPOLIS (February 11, 2010) – The Asian American Studies Program at the University of Minnesota hosted its 4th monthly discussion as part of an Asian American Partnership for Tomorrow program last month at the University of Minnesota. AAPT is a program that seeks to engage Asian American students, staff and faculty, and broader community to better understand the larger social, historical and political contexts in which community issues are embedded.
Saengmany Ratsabout, Community Outreach Coordinator for the Asian American Studies Program, coordinated the program and has previously invited local Asian American artists to talk about various ways they use the art to discuss social change. For the month of January, the Asian American Studies Program invited staff members from the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, Brian J. Kao and Saymoukda Vongsay to speak on Asian Americans and Public Policy.
Students, staff and faculty of the University of Minnesota, and local community members attended the event for an intimate discussion about Asian Americans and public policy. The students found the introduction to the State Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans most intriguing, as participants learned of the various roles that CAPM has as the voice of Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Minnesota at the legislative level by providing Minnesota lawmakers with information and issues that affect the AAPI community.
CAPM staff emphasized the importance of AAPI individuals being engaged in public affairs in contacting their representatives of issues that concerns them and their community. Without this input legislators would otherwise create policies without this AAPI voice and miss out on opportunities to improve the community good.
Furthermore, CAPM provides opportunities for the AAPI community to become civically engaged by raising awareness on issues that affect the community.
Brian J. Kao, the new Research Analyst at CAPM, is currently paying close attention to legislation concerning education, employment, and health disparities in Minnesota. In addition, CAPM is monitoring two bill in particular, if passed, would dramatically affect the AAPI community. House File (HF) 2 would include the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans under Sunset Review, which is a process to eliminate state agencies.
The staff explained that with the elimination of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, it would remove a direct advocate to influence the continuance of vital services to the newest and most vulnerable communities. This can be in support or opposition to legislation, and most often its role is to inform legislators of the potential impact of legislation to avoid unintended consequences.
For example, this Session includes HF 64 that would designate English as the official language and repeal requirements for government bodies to provide interpreter services for populations with limited English. CAPM is concerned with the consequences of removing populations with limited English proficiency’s access to important information and government services.
Participants of the discussion took interest in HF 64 in particular as one student stated, “[it would] hinder our ability to communicate with the world.”
Education disparities was a topic of particular interest to the participants and the Asian American Studies Program. Through the AAPT program, the Asian American Studies Program staff address education disparities among Asian American students and create a sustainable support system that will help build and maintain campus-community partnerships; increase the number of Asian American students with the knowledge, skills, and habits necessary to succeed in college; improve undergraduate student experience and retention rates; and increase student access to the Asian American Studies Program, academic support and services, and other units that address equity and diversity as central to their work.
Staff pointed out that Asian Americans are often thought of as high academic achievers. Yet, the realities of academic performance at both the high school and college levels suggest a far more complicated portrait. This is especially true for Southeast Asian Americans, the majority of Asian American students at the University of Minnesota and in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They are an overlooked and growing population of students of color who are at risk educationally and who could benefit from programs and services to help them prepare for and succeed in college.
Migrating under the duress of war and persecution from the 1970s to today, many Southeast Asians came to the U.S. with limited educational backgrounds. Their post-immigration experiences have been characterized by lower levels of educational achievement. Poverty, limited experience with formal education, and limited English language skills have proven to be barriers to educational success.
The 2000 U.S. Census reports that while almost 43 percent of all Asian Americans aged 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 9.1 percent of Cambodian Americans, 7.4 percent of Hmong Americans, 7.6 percent of Lao Americans, and 19.5 percent of Vietnamese Americans did. Similarly, 59 percent of Hmong Americans, 52 percent of Cambodian Americans, 49 percent of Lao Americans, and 38 percent of Vietnamese Americans aged 25 and over have less than a high school education.
The Asian American Studies Program leads the nation in research, teaching, and outreach related to Asian Americans in the Midwest, particularly the Southeast Asian American communities in the Twin Cities. The staff make a point keep acutely aware of the significant body of Asian American students that struggle to complete high school and pursue higher education. The program draws from the research expertise, pedagogical strengths, and community networks of our faculty, staff, and students to create a dynamic, sustainable program with a wide-ranging impact.
Staff of CAPM stressed that discussions with legislators brings awareness that not all Asians are the same. Underneath the Asian American categories, there are ethnic groups with different needs and concerns.
Many of the students followed with questions regarding the Asian American Pacific Islander identity: “Who gets counted under the Asian Pacific umbrella? And once you figure that out, what do we really have in common between the many Asian Pacific ethnicities and communities? How do we unite around AAPI issues that we don’t necessarily feel connected or identify with?”
The discussion concluded with Brian J. Kao and Saymoukda Vongsay encouraging students to think outside their comfort zones and become socially active to become empowered. Students said they felt “motivated to take action for social change”. Others became “more aware of the issues that affect the AAPI community and how they can get involve”.
The next AAPT discussion will be with staff member of the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent (CHAT). The discussion will focus on the role of arts organization in working towards social change. An overview of CHAT as organization, the work they do, and the many obstacles CHAT has dealt with, in particular, the recent situation with the play “WTF” and ethnic specific casting.
The discussion will be held on Thursday. February 24, 2011 at the University of Minnesota, Coffman Memorial Union room 303 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The Asian American Partnership for Tomorrow program is funded by the University of Minnesota’s Office of the Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity and is co-sponsored by the Asian American Students for Progress and Advancement.
If you like more information, please call Saengmany Ratsabout at 612-625-4813 or email at [email protected]