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Kal Penn Q & A in Pacific Citizen

Kalpen Modi is a busy man. In addition to organizing signing ceremonies and diwali celebrations for the Obama Administration, he takes time out to answer questions from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. The Pacific Citizen, the newspaper of the Japanese American Citizens League, just posted up some of his answers to questions from their members. It's a cute little read.

Q & A With Kalpen Modi

You asked. He answered. JACL youth members asked about job duties and health care. He says his job at the White House is a ‘challenge, but a welcomed one.’ 

By Pacific Citizen Staff

Published October 16, 2009

He works for the White House Office of Public Engagement, but basically you can say Kalpen Modi is the White House’s point person for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since leaving Hollywood for Washington in the summer, Modi has been hard at work (14-hour days!) tackling APA issues. He recently took the time to respond to some questions submitted by JACL youth members. 

What is the White House Office of Public Engagement and what is a typical day like at work? — Jessica Kawamura, 24, Berkeley JACL

Kalpen Modi:
 The Office of Public Engagement is the proverbial front door to the White House; the president is committed to making sure that Americans across the country has a seat at the table, and to that effect, our office works as a team to help make sure that’s the case. There are about 20 of us, each working on different issue/areas. I’m the point person for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) as well as the arts community. 

There isn’t really a typical day per se, but generally we arrive around 7:30 each morning. There is generally a staff meeting in the morning, after which we each take a series of meetings and telephone calls. There are different projects we have in the works as well. The day generally ends around 9 or 10 p.m.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your new position in the Office of Public Engagement? — Lisa Hanasono, 27, Hoosier JACL


KM: The challenges of the job have to do with all of the work that we do — serving the president in finding common solutions to the common challenges before us. There is no quick fix to the issues affecting the country; it’s a challenge, but a welcomed one.

Being APA yourself, what do you think is the most pressing issue for the APA community during President Obama’s administration? — Megan Terasaki, 20, Gardena JACL

KM: Many of the issues affecting AAPI’s are the same ones affecting other Americans: the economy, environment, immigration, and most of all — access to health insurance. Many AAPI’s are disproportionately affected by inadequate access to health care, high rates of diabetes and cancer and issues related to language access. 

President Obama’s election has resonated strongly with many of America’s youth. What avenues are available for APAs to get involved in the new administration? — Nate Imai, 21, Venice-Culver JACL

KM: One of the most direct ways to get involved is to visit http://www.serve.gov and be part of the president’s call to service.

How do you see health care reform benefiting APAs in particular? — Kie Riedel, 22, Mile-Hi JACL

KM: Health reform will benefit AAPIs by providing stability to those who have coverage, and by providing coverage to those who don’t. It will control costs, and ensure that we are not taken advantage of by insurance companies. Health reform will also get rid of ‘pre-existing conditions’ and eliminate gender disparities in premiums.

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