Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg released an extensive plan on Wednesday, February 26 addressing issues facing Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations, from disaggregating data to restoring the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program.
The plan, “Belonging, Opportunity, Empowerment: An Agenda for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders,” covers the education, economic, health and immigration concerns of AAPIs, considered the fastest-growing racial group in the country.
“For far too long, the challenges facing Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have been sidestepped by Washington,” the former South Bend, Indiana mayor said in a statement.
Acknowledging current data collection practices that clump groups together and fail to get the nuances and challenges each one faces, the plan calls on federal agencies to separate data for specific AAPI and Native Hawaiian populations.
“As president, I’ll take my lead from community leaders and center their voices in the critical work of empowering AAPI families,” Buttigieg added.
Dispelling the “model minority” myth, Buttigieg’s plan would disaggregate data to look at the barriers to learning — from early childhood to higher education — across AAPI groups. With 15% of Asian American children considered dual language learners, the presidential hopeful would increase the number of programs and instructors for “culturally responsive education.” The data will also look at incidences of AAPI students being bullied and access to counseling.
“His administration will mandate data disaggregation for AAPI students and include data on topics like access to counseling, experiences with school discipline, and instances of bullying,” the agenda said.
Unlike fellow presidential candidate Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders whose central campaign promise Medicare for All calls for a single-payer, national health insurance program, Buttigieg’s answer is “Medicare for All Who Want It,” which gives individuals the choice to opt into an affordable public alternative to health care and incentivizes private insurers to bring down costs.
“The public plan will provide self-employed AAPIs, such as small business owners, with a new affordable insurance option and push private insurers to compete on price and quality. Americans on private insurance, including 72% of Chinese Americans and 78% of Filipino Americans, will be able to keep their plan if it works well for them,” according to the plan.
Buttigieg’s agenda also mentions research investments into the health issues that affect the various AAPI groups, such as coronary heart disease and diabetes in the Fil-Am population, access to screenings to reduce the number of preventable deaths, and reducing the costs of prescription drugs, especially insulin.
The former mayor has been endorsed by a handful of AAPI elected officials, including Filipino Americans Christopher Cabaldon, mayor of West Sacramento, California, and El Cerrito Councilmember Gabriel Quinto.
“Whether our families arrived here two weeks or two centuries ago, as AAPIs we’re either invisible or scapegoats in American politics. That’s why Pete’s plan is the bold action we need to reverse the systemic effects of colonization, exclusion, internment, confiscation, and hate violence at the core of enduring discrimination and inequality faced by AAPIs,” Cabaldon wrote in an email to the Asian Journal.
The agenda released on Wednesday broadly notes the contributions AAPI immigrants have made on American society, including a mention of Filipino labor leader Philip Vera Cruz, who helped to found the United Farm Workers. The immigration plan promises a reversal of current Trump administration policies, making naturalization more affordable for the over 1.5 million AAPIs eligible for U.S. citizenship, and increasing prosecution efforts to break up human and drug trafficking networks, as trafficking victims in the U.S. are largely Filipino.
Addressing the Trump administration’s termination of the Filipino World War II Veterans Parole Program, Buttigieg said he would restore it to allow family members to be reunited and provide care for the surviving veterans in the U.S. (The Trump administration announced in August 2019 that it would end the program following an executive order on border security and immigration enforcement that called for determining parole on a “case-by-case basis.”)
“I think it highlights general democratic values, reverses some current administration policies and addresses what’s important for communities of color,” Melissa Ramoso, state chair of the California Democratic Party’s Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, told the Asian Journal after reading Buttigieg’s plan.
However, she had questions about how the former mayor would go about simplifying the process for the lawful permanent residents seeking citizenship and visa backlogs as many Filipino families are still waiting to come to the U.S. nearly three decades later.
“Albeit a bit late, I’m happy Mayor Buttigieg put something in writing. All candidates should have a plan for the AAPI community and recognize we matter as much as any other community,” Ramoso added.
Buttigieg’s plan comes six days before the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, when 14 states will be casting their ballots. One of them will be California, where AAPIs make up 20% of the electorate, according to a fact sheet from APIA Vote and AAPI Data also released on Wednesday.
“As I talk with fellow Filipino Americans—and Americans of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Southeast Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native Hawaiian ancestry—we see in Pete Buttigieg a president who will turn the page on invisibility and usher in a new era of belonging,” Cabaldon added. “As more than a third of America’s AAPI voters go to the polls on Super Tuesday, Pete’s plan is a must-read for how the next president can help uplift our communities.”
In the 2018 Asian American Voter Survey, 50% of Asian Americans reported that they received no contact or were unsure if they received contact about the election from the Democratic party.
But in the past year ahead of major nominating contests, including the Nevada caucuses on February 22, Democratic hopefuls have courted AAPI voters — who as a whole have not rallied behind one particular candidate — through meet and greet events, tours of small businesses and in-language outreach materials. Buttigieg held events with AAPIs in Las Vegas, including a dinner with the AAPI Democratic Caucus and a town hall with local community organizations.
Sanders launched the national AAPIs for Bernie organizing program last fall, while the campaigns of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden have also released formal agendas on AAPI issues earlier this month.
Author and journalist Jeff Yang acknowledged that having major presidential candidates release plans to uplift AAPI communities is a huge step, but highlighted the contrasts between Buttigieg and Warren’s plans.
“But the differences between Elizabeth Warren’s plan and Pete Buttigieg’s speak directly to the differences between the candidates themselves,” Yang, who co-organized a list of over 150 AAPIs backing Warren, told the Asian Journal. He argued that Warren’s plan, which also calls for data disaggregation, was framed more as a “civil rights issue” and that the data would help determine better, individualized solutions for the various communities.
“Buttigieg’s plan elevates corporate CEOs like Indra Nooyi and Andrea Jung, and emphasizes education and economic empowerment as a one-size-fits-all answer for AAPIs,” Yang said. “While our communities welcome this kind of investment like all Americans do, this approach just doesn’t show the depth of engagement and understanding of our breadth of needs and aspirations that Warren’s does. We’re here. We’re the fastest-growing population in America. We deserve better than slogans and promises: We need candidates who immerse themselves in our communities, and genuinely care about our diversity.”