Photo: Clockwise from top, Teresita Batayola, Luisa Blue, Victoria Huynh, and Kim Chang
There are many ways to observe Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To name a few, we celebrate the diversity of the many nationalities and ethnicities that fall within the “Asian American” label (at the same time acknowledging the inadequacy of that label). We educate ourselves about the history of people of Asian descent in the United States. And we honor the accomplishments and contributions of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, the subject of this blog.
In the Community Health Center movement, we witness daily the exceptional talent of health center staff and the respect they command in their communities. It’s gratifying to see this talent and leadership recognized on the national level, as the White House did last year by naming four health center leaders to President Biden’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
Situated within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Commission is a 25-member body chosen to reflect the diversity of Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. The Commission advises President Biden on public, private, and nonprofit sector strategies to advance equity, justice, and opportunity for AANHPI communities.
Four Community Health Center leaders sit on 25-member Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders
These are the health center leaders who sit on the Commission:
- Teresita Batayola, President and Chief Executive Officer of International Community Health Services, Washington state’s largest Asian and Pacific Islander health center. Batayola holds a record of leadership and advocacy in advancing health care equity and has served on NACHC’s Executive Board of Directors. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors including: the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Award for Outstanding Business & Philanthropic Contributions; the Woman of Courage Undaunted from the University of Washington Women’s Center; and the Filipino Women’s Network’s Most Influential Filipino Woman in the World.
- Luisa Blue, Board Member, Asian Health Services, Oakland, CA, and former Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Blue was one of the highest-ranking AAPI officials in the labor movement, leading the SEIU’s Asian Pacific Islanders Civic Engagement and Leadership program prior to her retirement. She also served as a member of the SEIU’s Racial Justice Task Force and chaired its Environmental and Climate Justice Committee and the Ethical Culture Committee.
- Kimberly Chang, MD, MPH, a board-certified family physician at Asian Health Services, a Community Health Center in Oakland, CA. Dr. Chang has dedicated her career spanning more than 20 years to focus on the health of the underserved AANHPI community, including people vulnerable to and affected by human trafficking and exploitation and developing national clinical and health policy recommendations to address this problem. She serves as Vice Speaker of the House on NACHC’s Executive Board of Directors.
- Victoria Huynh, Senior Vice President of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Inc. (CPACS), Atlanta, GA, the first and largest Asian and Pacific Islander health and human service agency in the Southeast region. For more than a decade, Huynh has advocated for equitable language access, promoted local civic engagement, protected immigrant rights, championed cultural competency, and developed vital social service programs within the immigrant and refugee communities in Atlanta, GA.
Commission’s mandate is broad – from policies to address discrimination and violence to better data collection
The Commission is set up to tackle a host of issues – including an unprecedented rise in violence against AAPI communities (the FBI has documented a 77 percent increase in hate crimes against Asian people from March 2020 to June 2021). Specifically, the Commission will be developing recommendations through subcommittees on the following issues affecting equity, justice, and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities:
- Belonging, Inclusion, Anti-Asian Hate, Anti-Discrimination
- Data Disaggregation
- Language Access
- Economic Equity
- Health Equity
- Immigration and Citizenship Status
Health center leaders have been actively addressing many of these issues in their own communities for a long time.
Dr. Chang of Asian Health Services, for example, talks about serving on the Commission as a continuation of her work to “change circumstances” affecting health equity that she views as the responsibility of physicians. In a recent interview with the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine, she explained:
“I think it’s important for social justice, and for us as physicians who are given the privilege of being able to serve and bear witness to other people’s stories and sufferings and illnesses and problems, that we have a responsibility to use that information in a way to change the context or change the circumstances or the situations that are causing some of their problems or making it worse.”
Teresita Batayola of International Community Health Services told the South Seattle Emerald that her appointment to the Advisory Commission will put her in a greater position to fight against racism and for equal access to good healthcare, education, food, and more—for all communities:
“It takes the entire community. I’m talking about everybody, not just the communities we serve, to make sure that everyone is taken care of.”
How to follow the Commission’s work
Commission meetings are open to the public. Find more information about upcoming meetings. For a sense of how the thought leaders and experts on the Commission are viewing these issues, take a look at the recording of their recent May 12th meeting: