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Bridging the Language Barrier for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Posted by Kelly Flynn, National Institute of Food and Agriculture in Research and Science
May 12, 2015
AAPI Month - May 2015. Celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. A man holding a girl on his shoulders with a tree behind them.
AAPI Month - May 2015. Celebrating Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. A man holding a girl on his shoulders with a tree behind them.

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

The Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) population is projected to reach 35.6 million in the next 40 years, making it the fastest growing racial group in the country. One of those communities is that of the Hmong.

Over the past several decades, Hmong immigrants have adapted the traditional agricultural activities of their home environment to this country. Despite the contributions Hmong farmers make to the agriculture and food enterprise of our nation, they have faced a language barrier in the marketplace.

Now, however, the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is providing some of the help they need through the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development (NCRCRD) at Michigan State University. With a $202,000 grant from NIFA, NCRCRD is supporting the Hmong Language Resource Center’s (HLRC) effort to provide educational materials to groups with limited English proficiency so they can access USDA resources.

After three years, the center is yielding positive results, with 75 Hmong farmers in Oklahoma getting the language-appropriate materials they need to complete “Good Agricultural Practices” (GAP) certification. GAP is a program that allows growers sell produce to local grocery chains.

“Most of the Hmong growers in Oklahoma are first-generation Americans who speak and understand English, but sometimes find it difficult to read,” said Sara Siems, state extension assistant and risk management professional with Oklahoma State University (OSU). “Food safety is an integral part of crop production, and the inability to read food safety signage could negatively impact an operation.”

By bridging the language gap, HLRC identifies existing and emerging resources, prioritizes topics, and translates material for audio dissemination. HLRC develops the highest priority topics into audio files to help low literacy members of the community enhance the productivity of their land and financial resources or recover from adverse events.

“NIFA was instrumental in bringing together USDA’s Regional Rural Development Centers with the White House Initiative on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders,” said Scott Loveridge, NCRCRD project coordinator and director.

Hmong community members guide HLRC with support from several USDA agencies, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rural Development, and Agricultural Marketing Service.

NIFA’s mission: Invest in and advance agricultural research, education, and Extension to solve societal challenges. NIFA’s vision: Catalyze transformative discoveries, education, and engagement to address agricultural challenges. For more information, visit http://nifa.usda.gov/.

Category/Topic: Research and Science

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