When entering a new school or applying for a job, the following voluntary ethnicity and race information is requested.
RACIAL CATEGORY (Check as many as apply)
__ American Indian or Alaska Native
__ Black or African American
__ Hispanic or Latino
__ Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
Sometimes there are further definitions that accompany the choices such as Asian: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam, or Native Hawaiian other Pacific Islander: A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands.
In addition to the current definitions, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans (AA) and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islanders (NHPI) is conducting outreach efforts to include all Pacific Islander Americans including Native Hawaiians, Chamoru, Samoan, Tongan, Fijian, Marshallese, Palauan, Pohnpeian, Chuukese, Yapese, Korean and others in the Micronesian, Melanesian and Polynesian Pacific Islander grouping.
If there are no definitions that accompany the ethnicity/race information or if you can only choose one category, then it can be very difficult to make a decision, as the diversity within the Asian American/Pacific Islander classification is robust. For example, there are at least 39 different Pacific Island languages spoken as a second language in the American home.
This is indicative of the many different groups that are included in ‘Native Hawaii or Other Pacific Islander’ category that people may not realize when seeing that category listed on the race/ethnicity information. When looking at Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is comprised of Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. North Asia includes countries such as Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan and Mongolia. Each country mentioned above has its own distinct language (some even more than one dialect), culture and history. In certain states and cities in the U.S., the various cultures are more distinct than in others. For example, there might be a “Japan town,” a “Korean town,” a “China town,” etc. But in other states, the cultures are much more blended. In Hawaii, for example, there isn’t such a distinction between the different cultures because they have blended together throughout to Hawaii’s history to form their own unique Hawaiian culture.
Advocating for the needs of each individual group can be very difficult which they are all combined in one category, as the needs for the individual cultures are sometimes different when considering the needs of students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, AAs and NHPIs are the fastest growing racial group in the US. Having one category can sometimes make it easier when advocating for the multiple groups that it is inclusive of, but simultaneously difficult for the specific needs of a particular group that is included.
When advocating in our respective States, or in Washington DC, we want to honor all groups in AA and NHPI by advocating for the best possible education for all students and the natural rights that all children are entitled to. While we do this we don’t want to forget about the various groups that we are representing. Although we may choose one or another two or three or more, on an application to best identify our own race or ethnicity, when we advocate we do so for all children because each category is representative of the many groups such as those mentioned above. Just as the PTA’s motto is ‘every child one voice’ we must advocate for every ethnicity that is represented by AA and NHPI although it may be difficult as each is distinct and unique. Nevertheless, the needs of all children remains the same, they are all entitled to a quality, inclusive education to reach their fullest potential.
To maximize our advocacy efforts, we must find ways to be advocate for all AAs and NHPIs, while still respective individual ethnicities and cultures. Some ways we can do this are to refer to cultural experts if there are questions about a particular topic that we’re not sure about. Diversity training in your local or state PTAs can be an effective way to education everyone on various cultures during which time members from various ethnic groups can share specifics on various concerns that they may be focusing on in their areas. To better education our leaders, site visits can be arranged for state and federal lawmakers so they can experience the various ethnic art, music, literature and language. To engage every family, translating legislative materials and PTA information into various languages relevant to the community and providing interpreters when needed is critical for raising awareness about important topics and ensuring that all voices are heard on every level. Finally, when there are many different groups as with AAs and NHPIs, forming a coalition and working collaboratively as a group is critical to effectively advocating for all with as one voice.
While it may seem like a difficult task to honor all cultures while advocating with one voice, engaging families and seeking a quality education for all children is one of the hallmarks of the PTA and we must persevere through our advocacy efforts. As we speak to individuals and groups, or to our legislative members in our states or on the hill, we do so as a representative of our ethnicity, but also as a larger ethnic group advocating for the rights of all children.
Jessica Wong Sumida graduated with a MA in Psychology from Chapman University and a JD from Trinity Law School. She works for Hawaii Behavioral Health and has over 15 years of experience working with the DOE. She is also the executive director of the Autism Society of Hawaii, serves on the legislative committee of the Children’s Community Council, is the VP for Legislation of the Hawaii State Parent Teacher Student Association, and volunteers on the National PTA Resolutions Committee.