By Randall Yip, AsAmNews Executive Editor
Estella Owoimaha-Church grew up thinking she was Asian because it was the only box on the form she could check. She’s a first-generation American of Samoan and Nigerian descent.
Quyen Dinh was born to Vietnamese refugees who escaped Vietnam and successfully hid their poverty from their daughter. Dinh now sees that hidden poverty as detrimental to her community and others like her whose issues may not be visible to the outside world.
The two are now part of a diverse coalition of 64 organizations representing 16 states that are advocating for disaggregation of data about Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders by the U.S. Department of Education.
They are supporting a bill introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Rep Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) that would require schools, districts, and states to collect and report data from more than 20 AANHPI groups.
Supporters say when all the data about these groups are lumped under one AANHPI umbrella, the stories of smaller communities become lost and forgotten.
Hirono introduced a similar bill eight years ago, but it fell short by two votes. All Republicans opposed it except for three Senators who are no longer in office. She says passage of the All Students Count bill will be a difficult fight.
“There is a certain fear of diversity in our country, but we’re going to try again,” she said during a virtual news conference attended by AsAmNews.
Jayapal pointed out that around one-quarter of Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander adults ages 25 and up haven’t completed high school. That’s a rate much higher than the general population. It’s stories like that, she says, that disaggregated data can uncover.
“When all of these communities get lumped together as just rich or fully served and not needing anything, then what happens is we leave students who are going to do great if they get the resources they need, but they need those resources and we don’t want them to be left behind,” said Jayapal.
Dinh is the executive director of SEARAC, Southeast Asian Resource and Action Center. She pointed to the state of Minnesota where a disaggregation bill has passed.
“Hmong students have the lowest math scores of all student groups, revealing the learning loss of impacted or youth during COVID,” she said.
Issues like that can now be addressed because data uncovered it.
Owoimaha-Church also expressed optimism, pointing to the city of San Francisco where a resolution was passed in 2020 to recount Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students.
“What they found after that resolution was passed was that there were three times more Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander students in areas in the region in that district,” said the executive director of EPIC, Empowering Pacific Islander Communities. “And it helped lead to the creation of not only a parental Task Force for Pacific Islander families but it also led to have a dual immersion language program in which language access and English language development continue to be a strong area of need for Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities in K 12 public systems.“
The All Students Count Bill requires breakouts of data on the following groups.
- Asian Indian
- To the furthest extent possible, additional subgroups such as the Iu Mien and Montagnards
- Native Hawaiian
- To the furthest extent possible, additional subgroups such as Chuukese and Palauan
The bill would also require the Institute of Education Sciences to provide guidance to states on determining the minimum number of students necessary to report on a student subgroup.
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