A Massachusetts legislative bill on Asian American data brought hundreds of concerned citizens to the Statehouse on Jan. 30. The Joint Committee on State Regulation and Administrative Oversight had a hearing to decide whether the legislation, House bill H.3361, will be sent to the House of Representatives for a vote. Committee members heard testimony from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m.
The joint committee voted to move the bill forward on Feb. 7 by establishing an inclusive commission. The commission is tasked with updating the bill to expand statewide racial and ethnic data collection through disaggregation to all racial and ethnic groups.
Bill H.3361 was filed by state Rep. Tackey Chan of Quincy on Jan. 11, 2017, for state agencies to collect Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) data following U.S. Census Bureau definitions. It would allow Massachusetts residents to identify themselves by the five largest AAPI groups in the state, such as Chinese, Indian or Vietnamese.
Chan said, “The issue is about not being homogenous, it’s about seen. I’m a proud Chinese American and I did not know the concept of ‘Asian’ until the ‘90s. We are not the same.”
Some attendees coughed through Chan’s testimony and were admonished by committee cochairman Sen. Walter Timilty. Opponents are concerned the data collected could be used to target Asian Americans.
Zhenwei Chu, Andover resident and Chinese American Association of the Andovers (CAAA) member, said, “Asian Americans make up 6 percent of the state population. Why should we be further divided into smaller groups?”
Another Andover resident and CAAA member, Shishan Wang, said, “Why is the bill only for Asians? Why do we not disaggregate for Caucasians or Latinos? We should collect data for all or not at all.”
Chan remarked it was the first time he had seen so many people in the Gardner auditorium, where the hearing was held. “Every group protected under civil rights has been seen … We are a legislature of compassion, you’re going to have some testimony coming up on fear,” Chan said.
The bill was supported by all of the Asian American Caucus: Chan, Rep. Rady Mom of Lowell, Rep. Keiko Orrall of Lakeville, Rep. Paul Schmid of Westport and Rep. Donald Wong of Saugus. Sen. Dean Tran of Fitchburg was elected December 2017, before bill H.3361 was filed. It is also supported by the Black and Latino Caucus, which is working with Chan on a unified data disaggregation bill for their communities.
A coalition of more than 50 organizations and advocates issued a release supporting the bill. Ed Flynn, City Councilor for District 2, which includes Chinatown, said in a statement, “For many of my constituents, English is not their first language. They require language assistance and have needs related to the issues of health, education and social services. Accurate and detailed data on the demographics of our diverse communities will help public officials and government to properly serve our constituents and make informed decisions.”
The U.S. Census already collects AAPI data separated or disaggregated into specific groups. However, few Massachusetts cities or counties have large enough populations to enable analysis using federal data from the Census, so state and local data collection could help fill gaps and implement policy that benefit local communities, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, AAPI Data director, in a prepared statement.
Privacy laws prevent data from being used for discrimination, making legal arguments “nonsensical,” said Bethany Li, Greater Boston Legal Services senior attorney.
A representative from the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition said the agency supported the bill, along with data disaggregation for the Latino community.
Supports of bill H.3361 wore blue stickers, while opponents wore yellow stickers at the hearing.
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