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VP Harris swears in President’s Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders

By Julia Tong, AsAmNews Intern

In a virtual ceremony on February 3rd, Vice President Kamala Harris swore in the first President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (PACAANHPI).

The Commission, which is housed under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is co-chaired by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai. According to the HHS website, the 25-member Commission includes a wide range of community members, such as advocates and activists, scientists, lawyers and attorneys, and entrepreneurs and business owners.

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Krystal Ka’ai, the first Native Hawaiian Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI), also serves as the Executive Director of the Advisory Commission. During the swearing-in ceremony, Ka’ai spoke of the importance of official policies that address the unique needs of the Asian American (AA) and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) community.

“In addition to the long-standing health and economic inequities that have been exacerbated throughout the pandemic, the AA and an NHPI community has also faced an alarming surge in anti-Asian hate,” Ka’ai said. “And that’s why we are so grateful that the Biden Harris administration has been quick to respond to the multitude of challenges impacting our community.”

Later, she added: “I know that we will be able to make a lasting impact together to create change for Asian American Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community for generations to come.”

RELATED: Krystal Ka’ai brings a Native Hawaiian voice to the White House

The Commission was established by Biden’s Executive Order 14031, which was passed in May 2021. The order recognized the need to “advance equity, justice, and opportunity” for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in light of historic inequities in language, education, and healthcare access, especially in light of recent anti-Asian racism and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accordingly, the central goals of the Commission, as detailed by Tai, are designed to fulfill that mission. These include: closing health, employment, and educational gaps within the AA and NHPI community; tracking, reporting, and ultimately ending anti-Asian racism and hate incidents; providing federal funding and grants for AA and NHPI people; desegregating and improving data on AA and NHPI communities; and improving language access for federal programs and services.

Harris said the input and advice that the 25 Commission members provide for policymakers are essential in informing how the White House can most meaningfully support the AANHPI community.

“When we think about the communities from which we come… [and] the communities that have historically at different points in time been overlooked or left out, we know there’s still a lot of work to do in an affirmative way… [to ensure] that people are engaged, that they are involved and that we are relevant to the way that they are experiencing and living life,” Harris said.

“And that’s why it’s so important to have you all as the leaders that you are together in this advisory group. Because the work that you will do is to give us candid feedback…The feedback you give us will allow us to actually achieve [our] goal of having impact.”

According to a HHS spokesperson at the ceremony, the Commission is soliciting public feedback at [email protected]. More information and updates can be found at the official WHIAANHPI website.

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