The AHEAD Act Will Uncover Education and Health Disparities in API Ethnic Subgroups

(Sacramento, CA) – Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) was joined today by Assemblymembers Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), and Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond); and Members of the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Caucus, as he unveiled the Accounting for Health and Education in API Demographics Act, or the AHEAD Act, to require institutions of higher learning and health agencies to disaggregate data for specified ethnic subgroups.

“Hmong, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Tongan,” Bonta named a few of the numerous subgroups of the API population. There are more than 23 distinct communities within the Asian American population and 19 within the Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander population.

“The population of California is uniquely diverse, especially within the API community. There’s no place on the planet like it.  And it’s important that our policy leaders understand this diversity and are sensitive to the fact that APIs are not all the same. While we share some of the same challenges, such as language access issues, racial discrimination, and obstacles born of immigration, each of our diverse communities has different social, economic and educational outcomes that need to be addressed appropriately,” explained Bonta.

Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Chair of the California Legislative Black Caucus, also spoke in support of AB 176. “The California Legislative Black Caucus stands in strong support of AB 176. This measure is needed in order to improve service delivery within the API community.”

Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, representing the California Latino Legislative Caucus, discussed his own personal story of belonging to a subgroup. “As a member of the African American and Latino communities, I understand the need to recognize cultural and historical differences and needs within a larger community. These differences determine how different cultures interact with and experience our education and healthcare system, resulting in varied outcomes. If the state is to direct services to the right people, we need to know who those people are.”

Phong La, Chair of the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs, also highlighted the need for the bill. "Data disaggregation is imperative for uncovering the social, economic, and educational disparities inherent not only in API American communities but in all ethnic populations. The different API communities have different success levels in education and different health needs.  We will be able to determine what those are with the information gathered from this bill," Phong concluded.

Bonta explained that with respect to education and public health, the outcomes of some of the largest API groups within the API population raise the average outcome of the greater API population as a whole.  So by relying on the aggregate data of the API community, California misses the needs of growing ethnic subpopulations. For example, although data related to the average API student demonstrates high academic achievements, disaggregated data sheds light on the harsh reality that Southeast Asian subgroups suffer from much lower achievement rates than other API groups. 

AB 176 specifically addresses these problems by requiring the State Department of Public Health and the administration of the California Community Colleges, California State University, and the University of California to use specified categories for each major Asian and Pacific Islander group, whenever they collect demographic data.  The data collected is required to be published on their websites.

When asked why the AHEAD Act was important to him, Assemblymember Bonta explained that he would be remiss not to mention his own Filipino heritage. “While Filipinos make up the largest Asian population in the California, until my election in 2012, there has never been a Filipino member of the California State Legislature. So, even in that example of state representation, if you look at the API population as one homogenous group, there have been many API representatives. It’s not until you dig deeper, and disaggregate the data that you learn there has never been a Filipino representative. That’s part of why it’s so important to make sure I give a voice to my own Filipino community, along with other API subgroups, who face challenges that are distinct from the collective body of the population,” Bonta concluded.