California Data Disaggregation Bill Sparks Debate in Asian-American Community

Chris Fuchs, NBC News, August 26, 2016

Lily Ding was never much the political type, but that changed in February, she said, when she attended a rally in San Francisco to protest a jury’s second-degree manslaughter conviction of former New York Police Department officer Peter Liang, who fatally shot an unarmed black man by accident in 2014.

Some in the Chinese-American community believed Liang, also Chinese, was offered up as a sacrifice for white officers never indicted in police-related deaths.

“For me, it was a wake-up call,” Ding, who emigrated from China 20 years ago to study, told NBC News. “I have always thought the U.S. had been very fair.”

Two months later, Ding said she learned of another political fight–a movement to defeat a California bill requiring certain state education and health agencies to break down demographic data they collect by ethnicity or ancestry for Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander groups.

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“To further disaggregate an already finely disaggregated population just doesn’t make any sense at all,” said Ding, who works as a data scientist.

The bill, known as AB-1726, has become a flashpoint in California’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Those who support it, including dozens of community and civil rights groups, say separating demographic data by ethnicity–and including at least 10 additional AAPI ethnic groups–can help better expose disparities in healthcare and education. This is particularly true among Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders, two groups that often get left out, they say.

But critics counter that the bill, introduced in the State Assembly in January, is unfair because it targets only Asians and no other race. They fear it could be a backdoor way of ending California’s ban on affirmative action and say it further divides up AAPIs into unnecessary hyphenated groups.

Some of the bill’s most vociferous opposition come from parts of California’s Chinese-American community. Some activists and organizers, many of them immigrants from China, see the bill as the latest in a series of threats against Chinese Americans trying to achieve social and economic equality–a claim supporters of AB-1726 say is groundless and misplaced.

Both sides have spearheaded online petitions. As of Friday morning, one in support of the bill, created by 18 Million Rising, collected roughly 1,700 signatures.The other against it, on change.org, had approximately 14,000.

An amended version of the bill, authored by Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, passed California’s Senate by a unanimous vote of 39-0 on Tuesday and will head to Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, for signing. One major difference in the bill’s revised language is that AB-1726 now applies to data collected only by the state Department of Public Health–not agencies overseeing public universities or colleges.

The new ethnic or national origin groups included in the bill are Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, Fijian, and Tongan. The move would bring California’s collection system in line with that of the U.S. Census.

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