Saturday, September 25, 2010


Rozita Lee, one of President Obama’s newly appointed Asian-American advisers, vows to take the concerns of Filipino-Americans to the White House.

Lee, vice chairperson of the umbrella National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), is one of two Fil-Ams named to the Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The other Fil-Am was Hector Vargas Jr., executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Medical Association.

“Through this commission, I as your representative and Hector Vargas as your representative in the Filipino community will be sure that we get the information to the President whatever issues you may have,” she told us after the oath-taking ceremonies on Capitol Hill on Tuesday (Sept. 21).

First established in the late 90s, the advisory body serves as a bridge between the various Asian American communities and the White House.

It was largely forgotten in the waning years of the Bush administration.

The Obama administration decided to reinvigorate the commission after the Gulf oil spill because many victims were immigrants from Southeast Asia.

The White House initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is administered by the Departments of Commerce and Education.

The decision to focus on the plight of Asian Americans also comes six weeks before the mid-term elections.

President Obama won the Asian-American vote, except for Vietnamese-Americans, in the last national polls.

However, it also can not be denied that Asian Americans are reeling from the effects of the economic downturn. Reports show less than 1 percent of Asian Americans have taken advantage of federal medical grants for instance.

The commission reckoned that as many as 180,000 Fil-Ams live on or below the poverty line. More than half of them are currently jobless.

“President Obama wants to be sure that everybody has the opportunity to avail of the many things being offered,” Lee explained.

“Many people don’t know the federal government has many grants, many things that they can partake of and as of today, I know that in the Filipino community they don’t know about these,” she averred.

She urged Fil-Ams to take advantage of these opportunities.

The Small Business Administration for example assists socially and economically disadvantaged groups like Fil-Am-owned companies, to win federal contracts. The SBA provides training and access to capital to help these firms compete for government contracts.

The Department of Education also offers funds for projects to boost its capacity to deliver science, technology and health education to Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans.

They are just a sampling of the facilities available for Asian Americans, particularly Fil-Ams.

“There are many issues we’re working on – civil rights, healthcare, education. We know that in the Filipino community there are things people don’t know about or like President Obama to know about,” Lee explained.

She said the commission plays an important role in ensuring this flow of information flows freely and becomes increasingly robust.

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