Sandy Sakamoto Among Local Heroes Award Recipients


Honoree Sandy Sakamoto (front row, third from right) was accompanied by her family. (Photo by Alan Miyatake/Toyo Miyatake Studio)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Sandy Sakamoto was one of 12 honorees at the 14th annual Local Heroes Awards ceremony, presented by Union Bank and public television station KCET on Tuesday at Club Nokia in Los Angeles.

Until now, separate ceremonies were held for Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May), Jewish American Heritage Month (May), and Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15). This year, all of the ceremonies were combined. The event was part of the ongoing Cultural Diversity Partnership, which recognizes individuals who are making a difference in their workplace, profession, neighborhood, community, region and the world.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month honorees (from left): Ruth Tang Ding, Charlie Woo, Sandy Sakamoto. (Photo by Alan Miyatake/Toyo Miyatake Studio)

Union Bank and KCET created the Local Heroes Awards in 1998. This year, the awards were expanded to include LGBT Pride Month, and the inaugural celebration was held in June.

The Oct. 18 ceremony was hosted by Frank Robinson, senior vice president/community affairs manager at Union Bank, and Val Zavala, anchor for the KCET program “SoCal Connected.” Opening remarks were made by KCET President/CEO Al Jerome.

“Each of the honorees has made a unique and valuable contribution to our Los Angeles community, and we are pleased to introduce them to our viewers through the video profiles airing on KCET as we also pay tribute to the many milestones and achievements of their respective communities,” Jerome said.

Sakamoto is partner at the law firm of Lim, Ruger & Kim LLP. She served for 22 years as an assistant general counsel with AT&T. She is a board member of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC), Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment (PACE) and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC).

Sakamoto visited Japan as part of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation in 2003 and has continued to be involved in U.S.-Japan relations. After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, she organized a candlelight vigil through JACCC to offer condolences to those who had lost loved ones and to honor the lives of those lost.

“To be honored here tonight with so many amazing people who are doing such amazing things in our community, it’s very humbling,” Sakamoto said in an interview. “The work I do seems very small in comparison. I just hope I can provide some leadership in the organizations that I work with to help them continue to grow. They’re all very strong organizations, and they inspire me. I get more out of it, I think, than they get from me.”

Speaking as board chair of the JACCC, she said, “I’m very excited about the future. I want to make sure that the organization … has a really strong foundation so that we can actually grow and fulfill the vision that the board and the staff have for the organization. I’m very optimistic about the future …

“There’s going to be lots of changes along the way, but change can be good. I’m hoping it will be for the better and I’m hoping it will be a stronger organization.”

The other APA Heritage Month honorees were:

Ruth Tang Ding, founder and president of the Orange County Chinese Cultural Club and Pan Pacific Performing Arts Inc., who has been a major promoter of the arts and Chinese culture in Orange County for more than 50 years. She serves on the boards of Opera Pacific, Asian American Senior Citizens Service Center (AASCSC), and Segerstrom Center for the Arts. Among other honors, Ding has received a Special Commendation for Service to Orange County and was named Honorary Goodwill Ambassador by former California Secretary of State March Fong Eu.

Charles Woo, co-founder and CEO of Megatoys and the founder of Downtown Los Angeles’ Toy District. He has used his influence to help hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs start their own companies and to create thousands of jobs in the district. He  chairs the Workforce Investment Board and was the first Asian American chairman of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. Woo has received numerous awards for community service and has been featured in Fortune, The Economist and the New York Times.

TAIKOPROJECT was among the performers during the program. (Photo by Alan Miyatake/Toyo Miyatake Studio)

Also recognized were:

Black History Month — Rhonda and Ruett Foster, co-founders of the Evan Leigh Foster Foundation, and Charmaine Jefferson, executive director of the California African American Museum.

Women’s History Month — Gloria Lazalde, founder of Celebrando Nuestras Madres, and Lisa Watson, CEO and executive director of the Downtown Women’s Center.

Jewish American Heritage Month — Zane Buzby, founder and president of the Survivor Mitzvah Project, and Stephen J. Sass, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California and the Breed Street Shul Project.

Hispanic Heritage Month — Teresa Campos Hernández, community activist and owner of Teresita’s Restaurant, and television director and writer Jesús Salvador Treviño of Barrio Dog Productions.

Entertainment was provided by TAIKOPROJECT, an ensemble of premier drummers dedicated to promoting and advancing the American art of taiko; Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, America’s first all-female mariachi ensemble; and violin “soul-o-ist” Karen Briggs.

Poet Gabriela Garcia Medina read “I (Heart) L.A.,” which contained references to the city’s diverse neighborhoods and the evening’s honorees.

A reception followed, with music provided by Richie Freedman’s Cool Blue.

The video profiles, which were shown at the event, can be viewed online at For information about the Local Heroes Awards, visit


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