Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month Committee Member

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Travis Benedict
  • May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month
"Leadership, Diversity, Empowerment and Beyond" is the theme for this year's Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. It stands for values and ideals that are very true to the hearts of all Americans and very clearly sets the course for our future. In light of recent Congressional grand-standing that shot down legislation that recognizes the value of America's diversity, we need a powerful theme that will last not only through the month of May, but well into the "Beyond."

Back in 2009 an actor who goes by the screen name Kal Penn, who was born in New Jersey as Kalpen Suresh Modi, volunteered his abilities in Washington to ensure that issues from the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are brought to our government's attention and addressed in his duties as Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement. Kal is working to change the perception of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders as a homogenous group, lumped into the stereotype of the "model minority."

The model-minority image came from the general view by most Americans that all Americans of AAPI descent are well educated, financially well off, and as a result, no longer experience any discrimination. These views were reinforced by census results showing AAPI citizens as possessing the highest percentage of baccalaureate or higher degrees and a higher median income among minority ethnic groups.

The problem with these views is that they gloss over the fact that just because there are AAPI subgroups with advanced degrees and decent salaries, there are still many AAPI subgroups that are at or below the poverty line who do not receive adequate education. For example, only 20 percent of Vietnamese-Americans earn a bachelor's degree compared to the Asian-American average of 42.9 percent.

It is easy to draw inaccurate conclusions from the demographic information when you neglect to adjust the median income figures for cost of living. A larger majority of AAPI groups live in high-cost metropolitan areas compared to other ethnic groups. This doesn't even begin to address the problems with human trafficking from Asian countries. Recently, Global Horizons Manpower of Beverly Hills was caught trafficking over 200 Thais to farm pineapples and coffee in Hawaii and Washington. Some were kept in freight containers without electricity or running water and had their minimum wage pay deducted for housing and food. The American experience is not and cannot be the same across such a wide and diverse group of people.

As long as the model-minority image exists, those who require assistance will continue to be ignored.

If we want a strong future America, we need to embrace our diversity - not blanket everything that is "different enough" under one title and treat it the same. We also need to ensure that those with different backgrounds have equal means to have their voices heard in America. Diversity is required for us to continue the legacy of progress that makes our nation great; if we become a stagnant culture our ideas will become stagnant as well. Let us, as a nation, empower our diverse leaders to advance our society beyond the problems of today.