HARTFORD, CT — There was never any indication Connecticut education officials would seek to disaggregate country-of-origin data for Asian Americans, but Lin Yang and hundreds of other Connecticut residents weren’t taking any chances.
They visited the Legislative Office Building to testify Thursday in favor of a bill that would prohibit education officials from asking their country of origin.
Yang said it happened in Rhode Island before the community could even organize against it, and they didn’t want to take a chance that it would happen in Connecticut.
Yang, a Woodbridge resident and Chinese immigrant, said “disaggregation” — which involves the reporting on a specific country of origin — would be divisive and wouldn’t serve any purpose.
“We are in support of helping children who need help, but to determine who needs more help based on ethnicity is simply wrong,” Yang told the legislature’s Education Committee Thursday.
She said teachers know which students need help and which ones don’t. She said they don’t need more data to figure it out.
Yang was not alone. She was joined by hundreds of other Asian Americans wearing U.S. flag scarves and stickers. The hearing spilled over into the atrium and another meeting room.
Sen. Tony Hwang, R-Fairfield, helped introduce the legislation.
“Why should Asian Americans have to specify whether they originate from Thailand or China when white people do not have to specify whether they originate from Germany or Ireland?” he said. “Applying different classifications and practices toward different groups based on race, ethnicity, or national origin is discriminatory.”
But not all Asian Americans felt the same way about the legislation.
Opponents of the legislation, mostly those in the southeast Asian community, feel they are being overlooked and issues in their community are not being addressed as a result.
Theanvy Kuoch, executive director of Khmer Health Advocates in West Hartford, said that there are 22,000 Southeast Asian Americans, most of them refugees of war, torture, starvation, forced labor, sexual violence, and genocide, living in Connecticut.
She said the disaggregated data provided by the U.S. Census shows that not all Asians perform the same in school.
She said the data shows 37.9 percent of Hmong, 37.4 percent of Cambodians, and 33.8 percent of Laotians have less than a high school diploma. Compare these statistics to Asian Indians, where only 8.8 percent lack high school diplomas.
“This disaggregated data demonstrates that while some subgroups of Southeast Asians have a greater likelihood of dropping out of high school, other Asian groups are destined to achieve the highest levels of education,” Kuoch said.
She said data drives policy and the allocation of resources.
“Thus, resources are rarely allocated to solve problems experienced by smaller subgroups. Like many Southeast Asian American students, they remain virtually unseen,” Kuoch said.
Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell said they’re careful not to ask more questions of school districts than necessary to receive federal funding.
She said some information about immigration is needed, but not country of origin.
“We make sure we ask only questions that are required,” Wentzell said.
Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said there’s never been any intention in Connecticut to create what some described Thursday as an Asian registry.
But many in the community are worried.
“Before any injustice there’s always division,” Kevin Lu, a ninth grade student from Amity High School, said. “I think if we cannot oppose it preemptively then there’s nothing we really can do.”