President Obama has picked Daphne Kwok of San Francisco to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, a job that carries the responsibility of “being the eyes and ears of the community,” as Kwok puts it.
The 48-year-old Chinese American will continue to stay in her current job as executive director of Asians and Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California, even as she broadens the scope of her work in her community. She will tap into her more than two decades of experience as a community leader at both the national and state levels.
Kwok previously served as executive director of the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, as well as the Organization of Chinese Americans, a national civil rights organization with more than 10,000 members.
She was also the first elected chair of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans. She has served on the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Council, and on the boards of a wide range of Asian American and Pacific Islander groups.
Set up by former President Bill Clinton in 1999 with the intent of increasing the AAPI communities’ participation in federal programs, the commission’s first chair was former Congressman Norman Mineta.
Kwok was interviewed by NAM Health Editor Viji Sundaram.
New America Media: The job description suggests that you have a very responsible and challenging job.
Daphne Kwok: It’s a tremendous honor to move the AAPI agenda forward, and yes, it is a very broad mandate. As chair, I will be responsible for leading the commission, but I will have inter-working groups working closely with me, as well as [U.S. Education Secretary] Arne Duncan and [U.S. Commerce Secretary] Gary Locke. (Note: Duncan and Locke co-chair the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.)
NAM: What is the inter-working group?
DK: All federal agencies have a representation on the group. For example, there will be someone from the [Department of] Health and Human Services in the group. [Group members] are already cognizant of the issues affecting [the AAPI] community.
NAM: A press release from the department of education seems to suggest that the work of the commission is more important than ever now. Could you elaborate?
DK: With the U.S. economy impacting the entire nation, the AAPI community is being hit as well. The needs are immediate.
It is also time for the implementation of policies and recommendations that have been made since the inception of the Initiative. As our community rapidly is increasing, the needs continue to grow.
NAM: What are some of the issues you will focus on immediately?
DK: I’m waiting for the first Commission meeting, when we will prioritize. The key issues will include the economy, jobs, education and health disparities. We want to increase the underserved AAPI communities in federal programs.
The oil spill in the Gulf and its impact on the Vietnamese community is already a key issue for the Initiative. Vietnamese fishermen have been especially hard hit by the spill.
NAM: What about the health care reform bill as it pertains to the AAPI community?
DK: Yes, we want to see what are the pressing health needs in the AAPI community, and how they line up with the President’s priorities.
Health disparities are a huge issue in our community. We want to make sure our priorities [on the health front] are more inclusive, which means including mental health issues in the dialogue.