ASIAN-AMERICAN DATA COLLECTION BILL SPARKS FEARS OVER PROFILING
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 30, 2018.....The State House's largest public hearing room was filled to capacity Tuesday for a hearing on a bill supporters said will lead to more accurate research and better health outcomes, but opponents view it as a form of ethnic discrimination.
At issue was a bill (H 3361) Rep. Tackey Chan filed that would require state agencies to seek more specific ethnic information rather than simply categorize all people of Asian descent as "Asian-American."
"We should be able to identify ourselves to you as who we are, as opposed to having other people identify for us," Chan, a Quincy Democrat, told the State Administration and Regulatory Oversight Committee on Tuesday. "I promise you -- not an Asian person, not a Chinese person, not a Japanese person -- no one created the concept of Asian. It was kind of like created around us. I never heard it before in my childhood and into adulthood."
Chan's bill would require "all state agencies, quasi-state agencies, entities created by state statute and sub-divisions of state agencies" to "identify Asian American and Pacific Islanders as defined by the United States Census Bureau in all data collected" and to have individual data for "the five largest Asian American and Pacific Islander ethnic groups residing in the Commonwealth."
That would mean individual boxes for Chinese-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, Indian-Americans, Cambodian-Americans and Korean-Americans.
As an example, Chan told the committee about how his childhood friends referred to themselves as "proud Irish-Americans."
"They weren't calling themselves Caucasians or white," he said. "But when they see me, they say, 'You're Asian.' Why not Chinese? Good question, isn't it?"
Dr. Elisa Choi, a member of the Harvard Medical School faculty, told the committee that the different Asian ethnic groups have different health concerns, but if data is only collected under the "Asian-American" category it is difficult to provide appropriate screenings, care and services.
She said Chan's bill "will actually give voice and an identity to each of us in the Asian-American community collectively so that our health issues are addressed adequately so that we can achieve health equity."
But opponents of the bill -- who greatly out-numbered supporters at Tuesday's hearing -- say it is "essentially an attempt to legalize racial/origin profiling and enables discriminatory actions against a targeted people" and is "unconstitutional at its core, notwithstanding intended or unintended purposes."
The bill "singularly targets Asian Americans mandating their separation by a fundamentally flawed categorizing system which is not applied to any other identified ethnic groups in current official surveys or registry," a group of opponents calling themselves the Coalition Against Profiling wrote in an online petition. "No White Americans, African Americans, European Americans, Latino Americans or Arabic Americans are asked to further identify themselves based on the regions or countries of their origin."
The opponents said the bill is an attempt by the government to divide the Asian diaspora by continually asking, "Where are you really from?"
"This essentially labels them as perpetual foreigners in their own land," the opponents wrote. "We need to stop any attempt to divide Americans to 'Real Americans' and Less Real Americans.'"
Paul Watanabe, director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said the concerns of opponents are unfounded because the federal government has already been collecting specific ethnic data "for years" and will disaggregate ethnic categories for the 2020 federal census.
"Given the extraordinary ethnic diversity within the Asian-American community and the continued reliance at the state level on the single aggregated Asian-American designation often obscures critical differences, data collected on specific major Asian-American subgroups means that distinctive tendencies and conditions can be identified, leading to more appropriate, responsive and knowledge-based services, treatments and policies," Watanabe said.
Chan and his bill were not well-received by the crowd in Gardner Auditorium on Tuesday. The room was full to capacity, mostly with opponents with signs deriding the bill. At one point during Chan's testimony, opponents broke into a loud group coughing fit.
Chan said data disaggregation is "an issue that has been percolating throughout the United States and especially on the west coast" for years and said that despite the opposition he is proud to have brought so many people into the democratic process.
"I promise you, you have never seen this many people from Asian ethnicities at the State House ever," Chan said. "I promise you, I've been doing this for 20-plus years and have been to my share of hearings."
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