California's Asian-Pacific Islander community divide over race data bill

Protesters speak out against a controversial bill that expands the race portion for asian-americans on applications. (August 10, 2016)

Protestors gathered at the state Capitol on Wednesday to speak out against a bill aiming to expand the categories of Asian-Americans on applications. 

Asian-Americans came on tour buses from all over California to tell lawmakers they consider bill,  AB 1726, racist and divisive. Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, introduced the bill called the AHEAD Act, which stands for Accounting for Health and Education in API Demographics. 

The legislation would require state agencies, mainly those in higher education and health to add more Asian-American subgroups -- such as Thai, Tongan, Taiwanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Hmong, Bangladeshi, etc -- on forms.

Those against the  AHEAD Act say they're concerned with the disadvantage some Asians already feel when it comes to college applications.

"Asian groups go to college and need to meet much higher standards," Capitol rally organizer Sue Xue said. "It doesn't talk about how we work hard."  

But many Asian-Americans are for the bill, including those who consider themselves minorities among the Asian-Pacific Islander community.

"Me being Mien, we're a minority," said Vincent Saephan, a supporter of the bill. "A lot of folks don't know about Mien-Americans...so many ethnic groups' stories go unheard."

When it comes to stereotypes of Asians, like being high-performing students, Saephan says it's not always the case, especially among Southeast Asians. 

"I don't know a lot of Mien community folks that graduate high school or are attending college," Saephan said. "Many Mien, Cambodians live in poverty... haven't gone to school."

Saephan also points out mental health as an issue specific to some Asian-American communities, like his own. "Our family are refugees from the Vietnam war... and suffer from PTSD or depression," he said. "Not a lot of data covers that."

Data collection aside -- those against the bill say if Asians have to do it, so should everyone else. 

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last October. In Brown's veto message, he said, "Dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow."

AB 1726 passed the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

Copyright 2016 KXTV


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