(Note from editor: The White House today is scheduled to unveil a new website dedicated to data about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Karthick Ramakrishnan looks at what this means to the AAPI communities).
With the launch of the federal government’s AAPI data tool (Data.gov/AAPI), we are at a defining moment in the growing visibility of our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. What is this resource? It a place that centralizes access to data that the federal government puts out, with a searchable database that draws information from 27 federal agencies and counting.
Now, saying that the launch of a data resource is a defining moment in our community’s history may sound like a bit of hyperbole, when compared to the storied role that mobilization, protests, innovations, and accomplishments have all played. Still, given the larger landscape of where we are today, it is very apparent that progress on data is critical to the more general progress of our communities, whether large or small.
Part of the larger landscape around data involves journalism, as sources ranging from television news, ethnic media, and social news media increasingly rely on it. Not only do these news media embellish their stories with catchy infographics or thought-provoking data points, they often get inspired to research and write new stories based on compelling data points.
Thus, for example, data from the U.S. Census Bureau on the growth of the AAPI electorate have helped inspire countless news stories in traditional media and new media alike. And data on language diversity generated a lot of attention when Slate produced a set of state language maps, followed by a critical discussion on where AAPIs fit into that story. While these stories are important, they represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what journalists can do with access to compelling data.
For example, did you know that data on minority veterans reveals some very important differences in the age profiles of veterans who are Asian American, Latino, and African American? Why is that the case? What does it tell us about our own histories of involvement in the military? And how might the needs of Asian American and Pacific Islander veterans be different from those of other communities? Without getting access to data like this, the interests, experiences, and voices of AAPI veterans are at risk of remaining marginalized.
Data can also be a powerful tool for community-based organizations, as they seek to find information that is relevant to the services they provide, the groups they serve, or the locations in which they operate. This data is not only helpful when trying to improve the design of programs, it is also essential for grant applications, program evaluations, and attempts to successfully advocate on behalf of various communities.
Finally, access to vital community data is an important way for us to make sure that government remains attentive and accountable to the changing needs of our populations. This is particularly true for groups such as Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that are among the fastest growing racial groups in the country, and among the most rapidly diversifying with respect to language and national origin.
The launch of Data.gov/AAPI is an important step forward—in taking the vast array of data that already exists, and to provide a centralized location for all that data, with a search tool that makes it very easy to find that information, rather than hunting across different federal agency web sites.
That said, the vitality of this tool depends on our community taking full advantage of this opportunity, and to continue pushing for improvements. Academic researchers, nonprofit groups, and even researchers in government agencies throughout the country can start thinking of creative ways to analyze and present the data, which in turn proves critical to uncovering stories and dimensions to our community that are now less visible. And there are ways that we should continue to push for improvements in this resource, such as getting more federal, state, and local agencies to deposit their information there, and making sure that data is as current, detailed, and disaggregated as possible.
I look forward to “kicking the tires” on Data.gov/AAPI, and I hope you will join me in this endeavor. We know a fair amount about our communities, but there is a lot more that we can learn. And subsequently use to ensure the continued progress of our communities.
(Karthick Ramakrishnan is professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside. He is founder of AAPIdata.com, a resource that makes research and data on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders more accessible and understandable.)