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AA and NHPI Heritage Month: Advancing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI)

Profile on Becky Cruz Lizama, Senior Tribal Liaison, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Since day one, in partnership with the Biden-Harris Administration, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves have made equity core to the work of Commerce. In May 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14031 establishing the White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (WHIAANHPI). The Initiative is charged with the goal to drive an ambitious, whole-of-government agenda to ensure equity, justice, and opportunity for AA and NHPI communities. At Commerce, this pursuit of equity can be broken down into four pillars: building an equitable economyfostering a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible workplace; measuring progress; and institutionalizing equity.

Becky Cruz Lizama is part of a team leading this effort at the Department of Commerce (DOC) and has been assisting in the implementation of the Executive Order. Part of her work is to broaden Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander access to economic resources and opportunities and allow them to participate in the U.S. economy more fully. The AA and NHPI community play an important economic role, starting businesses and generating jobs that pay billions of dollars in wages and taxes, including founding some of our Nation’s most successful and innovative enterprises.

One of the overall goals of WHIAANHPI is to expand economic opportunity for AA and NHPI families, including advancing opportunities for AA and NHPI entrepreneurs and small businesses, supporting access to jobs and workforce training for AA and NHPI communities, promoting AA and NHPI participation and success in the private sector, ensuring AA and NHPI communities can access consumer and finance protections, and ensuring workplaces are free from race and national origin harassment and other forms of employment discrimination.

In January 2023, the White House released the Biden-Harris Administration's first-ever strategy to promote safety and equity for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities. The strategy, which comprises WHIAANHPI's inaugural report to the President and action plans prepared by thirty-two federal agencies including DOC, builds on the Administration’s broader equity agenda and details much needed investments in AA and NHPI communities and priorities.

Becky is from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. As an indigenous native Chamorro, she has experienced all sorts of unfairness, rudeness, and disrespect because of being female, brown, and her heritage as an Asian and Pacific Islander. However, she feels there have been a considerable number of experiences where she was not invisible, where she has been supported as an equal, and where her opinions have been respected, particularly being given unique opportunities in the workplace to participate, to engage, and to lead.

Becky describes her experiences growing up including the remarkable impact of her father. When growing up, her dad shared that for many years he was always in fights because kids were mean to him. He was part Japanese, and the anti-Japanese sentiments of WWII were still very alive during that time. One day in high school he was invited by a group of guys to play basketball which made him finally feel included and visible.

“He promised himself that he would never treat his own children like this, and he kept his word. He was at every event in my life and gave me a good life including freedom to do all I wanted to do in terms of school activities and volunteering with many organizations,” says Becky.

Becky later realized that public service was meant to be. She credits her dad for giving her the best chance to live and to thrive and today Becky dedicates all her accomplishments to her late father, Joaquin Santos Cruz (July 1953 - November 2017).

“Thanks to my dad for breaking that cycle of violence and giving me the best chance to live and to thrive. I hope he is playing basketball with the legends above and smiles down on me when I am in my office here at Commerce.”