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San Jose AAPI Leaders Decry Lack of Representation in Biden’s Cabinet Picks

LEAD Filipino’s Founder, Dr. Angelica “Gel” Cortez recently interviewed with the San Jose Spotlight a local, nonprofit news organization dedicated to political, cultural and business reporting in the greater San Jose/Silicon Valley Area.

In continued discourse on the growing importance of representation and diversity in leadership, she composed an extended opinion piece on the issue.

To extend the discussion on my views published in the original San Jose Spotlight article, which can be read here, I pen this piece to move the conversation from reflection to forward action.

In addition to expressing the importance of continued grassroots organizing and base-building in Fil Am and broader communities, I shared my reflections on President Biden’s Cabinet appointments and the pervasive absence of an Asian Pacific Islander (API) in his 23-member Cabinet. Cabinet Leaders are directly responsible for the administration and implementation of the daily operations of the nation’s federal agencies, which range form the Department of Defense to the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior – all credibly critical positions to our country’s heart and spirit.

On several occasions pre- and post-election, President Biden vowed that he would deliver the most “diverse Cabinet in American history.” A tall order – and one that he repeatedly pronounced in talks with the media and press.

It’s incontrovertible that President Biden announced a diverse and gender balanced Cabinet, with nearly all of his nominees having received confirmation of their national leadership posts.

In fact, we celebrate and applaud the many “firsts” that characterize his selections: General Lloyd Austin the first African American to lead our Department of Defense, Deb Haaland the first Native American to lead our Department of Interior and to serve in a President’s Cabinet, Xavier Beccera the first Latino to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Pete Buttigieg the first LGBTQIA+ leader to serve on a Cabinet will lead the Department of Transportation!

Additionally, President Biden’s Cabinet boasts a proportionate number of female and male secretaries, whereas past Administrations struggled with gender diversity. These significant leaps in diverse representation are underscored by the first few executive actions that President Biden took after he was sworn in – and what he has planned for his next several weeks.

On the flipside, President Biden’s Cabinet-level appointments deliver an equally prominent “first” in being the first Cabinet in 20 years to not appoint an Asian Pacific Islander leader.

In a national moment transfixed on repairing public trust, enforcing accountability, and working toward racial equity, the absence of an Asian Pacific Islander (API) leader on President Biden’s Cabinet is not lost on us.

I recognize that the role of a Cabinet Secretary is to enforce and implement federal policy. On the one hand, their race, ethnicity or gender does not change the fundamental responsibilities of a Cabinet Secretary. On the other hand, what the general public perceives when they see someone that looks like them translates to confidence, trust, and dare I say it – inclusion. This belief undergirds the notion that Cabinet Secretaries uncontestedly hold practical importance to the nation’s economy, security and welfare. However, they hold equal symbolic importance in representing the populations they serve – populations include sectors, industries, socioeconomic classes – which directly connects to my very point on diversity.

Representation Matters.

At 17.4 million, the API community represents the fastest growing minority group in the United States. According to the 2020 Census, Asian Americans grew 30% between 2010-2020, constituting the largest growth rate of all minority groups. Further, the API community consists of over 20 distinct groups that possess unique experiences, contexts and needs in broader American society. For the first time in our national history, the 2020 Census showed that the majority of persons under 16 years old where non-White in the United States.

To the general public, seeing someone that looks like you – that understands your community’s history and if they don’t, carries the humility to seek the answers and discover – matters.

In a national moment punctuated by the rebuilding of public trust, the grave need for economic recovery, and sociopolitical acrimony, I believe that promising to deliver the “Most Diverse Cabinet in History” was a ham-fisted attempt to capitalize on a vulnerable moment in our country’s history.

Turning our attention forward, organizations like LEAD Filipino look to continue our base-building and community-building work of all API leaders at the ground level. We know that investing and promoting our local organizers and contributors drives our fundamental belief that representation matters – and in our case, representation from the bottom up.

This extended piece was written by LEAD Filipino Founder, Dr. Angelica Cortez.

LEAD Filipino
LEAD Filipino

We are a nonprofit that organizes for FilAm civic participation, grassroots leadership and direct community action out of San Jose, California.

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