Sacramento, Calif. (Feb. 5, 2016) — On Jan. 28, California State Assemblymember Rob Bonta introduced Assembly Bill 1726 (AB 1726), the Accounting for Health and Education in Asian Pacific Islander Demographics Act (AHEAD Act), a bill that will provide public disaggregated data on the status of Asian Pacific Islander (API) subgroups with respect to health outcomes and higher educational achievement.
California is home to the nation’s largest Asian American and second largest Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) populations. The Census Bureau calculates that each population grew by 34 percent and 29 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2010.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center states that the “model minority myth” is a myth, a misconception that all Asian Americans excel and face no obstacles, Southeast Asian American community members have endured devastating education and health disparities in the absence of critical information about the challenges they face. U.S. Census data reveal that two in three Cambodian, Hmong, and Laotian adults over the age of 25 have no college education, compared with only one in three Asian American adults overall. However, this Census data is collected too late for higher education systems, like community colleges, to intervene and prevent these disparities from growing.
Southeast Asian Americans (SEAA) face compounded health care barriers and disparities in physical and mental health due to language access, historical trauma, provider shortages, and high chronic illness burdens. For example, a 2008 survey of 60,000 California primary care providers showed that among them there were only 30 Lao/Hmong doctors for 94,234 Hmong and 74,731 Laotians in California, and 40 Cambodian doctors for 116,043 Cambodians. With language access disproportionately hindering SEAAs’ ability to find and access culturally competent services, this creates additional barriers to care for the 55% of Vietnamese, 38% of Lao, 39% of Hmong, and 42% of Cambodians in California that speak English less than well. In mental health, one study found that 62% of older Cambodian Americans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and 50% from depression. In physical health, Vietnamese Americans are 13 times more likely to die from liver cancer caused by Hepatitis B than Caucasians, and Southeast Asian communities have the highest rates of cervical cancer in the country. In California, diabetes rates for Cambodian and Hmong Americans are 24% compared to 7% for Whites, 8% for Asians, 12% for Blacks, and 13% for Latinos. Furthermore, Laotian Americans have the highest teen pregnancy rate at 19%, compared to Blacks at 18%.
“AB 1726 provides the opportunity to bring to light the diverse communities served by California’s higher education and public health systems, allowing policy makers to allocate resources where needed, and giving communities the knowledge and tools to advocate for their specific needs and demands,” notes Quyen Dinh, SEARAC Executive Director.
AB 1726 is a crucial step towards ensuring policy makers recognize and understand distinct differences across California’s diverse Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. The bill requires the California Community Colleges, California State University, the University of California, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Health Care Services to collect and release demographic data for the following additional populations: Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, Fijian, and Tongan Americans. The data collected will include rates of admission, enrollment, completion, and graduation in the education field, and disease rates, health insurance coverage, and birth and death rates for the health field.
In 2015, Assemblymember Bonta authored a similar bill to unveil health and education data for API subgroups. Unfortunately, Governor Brown vetoed that bill. “We were very disappointed by the Governor’s veto of Assemblymember Bonta’s initial data disaggregation bill,” states Ron P. Muriera, SEARAC California Director of Policy. “Mr. Bonta’s introduction of AB 1726 demonstrates his continued commitment towards ensuring that Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and other Asian Americans who have been rendered invisible by rigid demographic categories are recognized, and their disparities in health and education brought to light.”
For more information about nationwide efforts to advocate for disaggregated data within the AAPI communities, check out the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders website at http://sites.ed.gov/aapi/aapi-data-disaggregation.
The Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC) is a national organization that advances the interests of Cambodian, Laotian, and Vietnamese Americans by empowering communities through advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building to create a socially just and equitable society. Find out more at www.searac.org.