White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs)


May 21, 2015

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy To Co-Chair White House Initiative on AAPIs

By Geeta Goindi

May 21, 2015

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy To Co-Chair White House Initiative on AAPIs

By Geeta Goindi

US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy addressing the gathering at the first-ever White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) held at The George Washington University in the nation's capital.  Photo credit: Will Kim

Washington, DC – On May 12, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, America’s top doctor and the highest-ranking Indian-American in the Obama administration, is the new co-chair of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) together with Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  The announcement was made at an unprecedented Summit by the Initiative which drew over 1,500 participants to the George Washington University in the nation’s capital during the much-celebrated AAPI Heritage month.

“I’m proud to join the legacy of the White House Initiative on AAPIs as co-chair” and “honored to partner with Secretary Duncan to work towards a healthy, strong America”, said Surgeon General Murthy.  “The great American community is built on a foundation of prevention and health equity for all”.

Over 1,500 federal officials, business leaders, artistes and community activists attended the Summit which focused on key issues affecting the AAPI community including economic growth, education, healthcare, civil rights and immigration.  The theme was ‘Connect, Share and Mobilize’.  Parag Mehta, Chief of Staff to Surgeon General Murthy, excelled in his role as co-emcee of the day-long event, together with Kiran Ahuja, Executive Director of the White House Initiative on AAPIs.

It is noteworthy that AAPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the country, growing over four times as rapidly as the total US population.  It is estimated that the AAPI population will double in size to over 47 million by the year 2060.

Looking around at a packed audience in GWU’s Lisner Auditorium, Surgeon General Murthy said he is “excited to be at the White House AAPI Summit with so many great leaders and organizers making progress for all our communities.  As I look at so many of you here today, I know we have spoken of the challenges and problems faced by AAPIs on the healthcare and other fronts.  But, what I am reminded about today is that there is great power in the AAPI community — the power to solve those problems and meet those challenges”.

At 37, Murthy is the youngest to serve in the top post as the nation’s doctor, and he is humility personified!  At the Summit, he thanked everyone for standing by him “throughout all the ups and downs”.  His nomination was stalled in the Senate for over a year by Republicans and some Democrats, primarily because he supports sensible gun control.

“I would not be standing here without the support of so many of you over the past few months”, he told the Summit audience.  “I know many of you went over and above the call of duty, beyond what was asked of you.  I will never forget that”.

He pointed out, “My parents came to this country for many of the same reasons as many of yours did — a search for better opportunities and education for their kids.  They traveled to many other countries before they ultimately came to the United States.  They wanted to come here because they believed that more than other place in the world, this was a place of opportunity and equality”.

In a special video message, President Obama lauded the contributions of AAPIs to all spheres of American life, but noted much needs to be done.  “We have to get Congress to pass an immigration bill” and fight “the senseless bigotry that too many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, especially South Asians, face”, he said.

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy (top left), together with Education Secretary Arne Duncan (top right), will co-chair the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) which held an unprecedented Summit at The George Washington University in the nation's capital.

Parag Mehta (below-left), Chief-of-Staff, US Surgeon General's office, excelled in serving as co-emcee of the event.  For entertainment, Red Baraat, the popular Brooklyn Bhangra band, led by founder Sunny Jain (right-center) rocked a packed Lisner Auditorium

On Tuesday, the first-ever White House Summit highlighted his administration’s policies and programs and celebrated his appointments of AAPI leaders including 21 federal judges.

“I want to thank all of you for the work you do in your communities from helping non-English speakers sign-up for health-care, to helping young dreamers, to encouraging eligible immigrants to become citizens”, the President said, in his message to AAPIs.  “Your leadership is helping to make sure that America is a place where no matter who we are or where we come from, we all have the chance to make of our lives what we want”.

Continuing to laud the contributions of AAPIs and underscoring the importance of diversity, President Obama noted, “Generation after generation, Americans like you have helped to build this country, helped to defend this country and helped to make America who we are.  We are a nation of immigrants.  Our vast array of traditions and perspectives and backgrounds, our melting pot is what makes America unique.  It is what keeps us dynamic and entrepreneurial”.

President Obama had signed an executive order in 2009 restoring the White House Initiative on AAPIs which seeks to highlight the unmet needs of the community and the assets which can be leveraged to meet those needs.

“We need to dispel the model minority myth”, Secretary Duncan said, to loud cheers from the Summit gathering.  “The best way to do this is by dis-aggregating AAPI data”.

Noting that “You can’t put a price on human relationships”, he implored members of the audience to “Please find time to give back to the community”.  One way to do that, he suggested, is to mentor kids.  “Please find one kid, help them think about their next steps”, he said.

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell advised the largely young attendees at the Summit, “Be true to yourself and your values, take pride in your background and your culture”.  Pointing out that “Places matter, stories matter”, she stressed on the need for AAPIs “to tell the whole story”.

In a candid ‘fireside chat’ Labor Secretary Tom Perez declared, “I want to see my future boss in this audience”.  Emphasizing on the need to build bridges with local communities to create more opportunities, he made it clear, “Zip codes should never determine destiny”!  Regarding the challenges which still persist, Secretary Perez bemoaned, “We are the only nation on the planet which doesn’t have some form of federal paid leave”.

Maria Contreras-Sweet, head of the Small Business Administration, stressed on the importance of innovation, of starting and building a business, inviting Summit participants “to join the journey of entrepreneurship”.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell, whose Department led the implementation of the Affordable Care Act noted that since its passage, more than 16 million uninsured people including some 2 million uninsured AAPIs have gained coverage.


To the young activists in the audience, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro said, “We need your talent, ability and vision for public service”.  He pointed out that the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) has insured loans for 1.2 million members of the AAPI community and soon, the American Housing Survey will break down the national origin of AAPIs to better assess needs.

Congresswoman Judy Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, declared, “AAPIs have gone from being marginalized to being the margin of victory”.  She is a trailblazer – the first Chinese American woman elected to the US Congress.  At the White House Summit, she underscored, “When AAPIs have a seat on the table where decisions are being made, we can make a difference”.

Red Baraat, the popular Brooklyn Bhangra band, rocked a packed Lisner Auditorium at the first-ever White House Summit on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), held at The George Washington University in the nation's capital ~

The event was interspersed with a number of entertaining acts including a rocking performance by Red Baraat, the popular Brooklyn Bhangra band, led by founder Sunny Jain who played the ‘Dhol’ (drum), enthralling the crowd at Lisner Auditorium.  It was one of the most energetic, vibrant performances which kept listeners on their feet and caused clamors for more!

The Summit brought women leaders together in an opening plenary session to discuss how AAPIs have played a critical role in affecting political and social change.  Informative, lunch brown bag sessions focused on arts, entrepreneurship, small business and economic development, civil rights, bullying prevention, and other key issues affecting the community.

The Initiative’s Executive Director Kiran Ahuja noted, “This is a historic turning point for the AAPI community.  Federal representatives, community leaders, youth and others from all over convened today to connect with one another and find ways to continue working together to expand opportunity for AAPIs everywhere”.

Community Special by MYDOSTI.COM