by Karthick Ramakrishnan and Akil Vohra

As we enter the final week of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month that honors the many contributions and accomplishments of our community, we have much to be grateful for.

Heritage Month: A Story of Resilience & Persistence

We are thankful for U.S. Representatives Frank Horton and Norman Mineta who introduced a resolution to establish Asian Pacific Heritage Week in June 1977, about 20 years after Dalip Singh Saund became the first Asian American elected to Congress. We are thankful for Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii introducing similar language in the Senate, and for President Carter signing into law a joint resolution to establish the event in May 1979. We also thank President George H.W. Bush who designated May Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in 1992, and President Bill Clinton who established the first White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in 1999.

Rep. Mineta, Sen. Inouye, Clifford Uyeda and Mike Masaoka of the Japanese American Citizens League and Sen. Matsunaga. (Photo courtesy: Senator Spark M. Matsunaga Papers)

The decades-long history of AANHPI Heritage Month is a story of resilience and persistence. It is also a story of the fight to ensure that AANHPI communities are seen and heard. For too long we have been told our communities are too small, that we are “statistically insignificant.”

But times have changed.

Thanks to our advocacy and mobilization, we have gone from being “statistically insignificant” to “electorally consequential.” One measure of our electoral consequence is the growing number of states and Congressional districts where our votes make a difference. In April 2024, AAPI Data published a recent analysis where we examined U.S. Presidential, Senate, and Congressional races and the impact that AANHPI communities will have in those critical races. The results point to the critical importance of outreach and investment into these fast-growing communities.

Thanks to our advocacy and mobilization, we have gone from being ‘statistically insignificant’ to ‘electorally consequential.’

Another important milestone in our community’s recognition is the inauguration of a regular news poll that gauges Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander opinions on critical and timely issues. As members of Congress noted in their press conference commemorating AANHPI Heritage Month this year, our communities should no longer accept being treated as “Other” in surveys and government forms. 

We at AAPI Data are proud of the role we have played, in partnership with the Associated Press and NORC, to increase news coverage and public awareness of the opinions of our communities. In order to help people navigate the cornucopia of survey results, we recently produced a 2024 Guide to Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Public Opinion that gives key insights into top policy issues for AANHPI populations that were previously unknown. We now have a deeper understanding of this community’s views on economic issues, abortion policy, climate change, and the Israel-Gaza conflict.

How have we gone from being “statistically insignificant” to “electorally consequential”?

To some extent, the growth of AANHPI communities has played a pivotal role in this shift. The Asian American population has doubled from 2000 to 2020, while the NHPI population has grown by 73% during this time. Nearly 26 million AANHPI residents live in the United States. These numbers can no longer be ignored by policy makers—especially during a pivotal and highly contested election year where we are seeing razor thin margins in battleground states.

Recent news headlines of AANHPI communities highlight narratives of growth both in population and political voice

And yet, demography is not destiny. Population growth only tells part of the story, the story of potential. In order to go from potential to powerful, community organizing is key. And the historical exclusion of AANHPIs has elicited an eruption of organizing at the local, state, and national levels to ensure that our communities are recognized, respected, and prioritized. 

A lot of community organizing has focused on data collection and data disaggregation. This may surprise decision makers and policy makers who don’t understand our communities well. But our communities have long known this fundamental fact–that without good data and evidence, our claims and pleas remain unrecognized or ignored. That is why our communities have fought over decades to ensure that government agencies collect and publish data that represents the full diversity of our communities.

And this Heritage Month, our community had a lot to celebrate with respect to data equity. For the first time in almost 30 years, the federal government has taken steps to ensure that our community is recognized and prioritized by amending how the federal government will collect race and ethnicity data. Now, the federal government will make detailed reporting categories, such as Vietnamese, Samoan, Haitian, and Cherokee, the default expectation for all federal agency data collections. 

And this Heritage Month, our community had a lot to celebrate with respect to data equity.

When this policy is fully implemented, it will allow us to know the needs, barriers, and outcomes of the 40+ groups that are in the AANHPI diaspora, and to formulate effective policy recommendations to support this community. For the first time, Mien, Laotian, Tongan, and Hmong communities that are recognized by the U.S. Decennial Census will be recognized by all federal agencies.

But we need to ensure that this policy is implemented in a timely and successful manner. To aid the Office of Management and Budget in this effort, we have raised concerns and solutions in a recent report that will be necessary to address and implement:

  1. The Chief Statistician must publish a data disaggregation inventory of all current federal agency data collections by September 2024.
  2. The Chief Statistician must clearly designate a centralized, coordinated body within the Office of Statistical Programs & Standards that will monitor, evaluate, and provide technical assistance across agencies by June 2024.
  3. The Chief Statistician must convene the Interagency Committee on Race and Ethnicity Standards by June 2024 and begin receiving input on the collection of detailed categories by September 2024 from experts in community organizations and scientific research institutions. Two immediate areas needing community input include issuing strict guidelines on agency exemptions that prevent disaggregated data collections, and making it easier for smaller AA and NHPI groups to fill out federal forms through checkboxes.

And the community has spoken: Over 120+ local, state, and national partners, and over 400 individuals across a range of sectors have signed onto our Data Disaggregation Now sign-on letter pushing for these timely and meaningful actions by the federal government. (Here is a list of signatories.)

We stand on the shoulders of early AANHPI trailblazers and leaders who fought for recognition and respect, and carry their mantra of Power in Numbers to continue this work.