JACL to Honor 3 Asian American Leaders at National Convention

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The Japanese American Citizens League has announced the national honorees for this year’s JACL National Convention, which will be held from July 7 to 10.

Rev. Vien The Nguyen

• Rev. Vien The Nguyen was the pastor of Mary Queen of Viet Nam Catholic Church in eastern New Orleans. Pre-Katrina, New Orleans East had an enclave of Vietnamese Americans, predominantly Catholics, who came to the area after the Vietnam War in 1975. In the aftermath of Katrina, this quiet and under-the-radar community was forced to the front in the fight against the plan to turn most of New Orleans East into a toxic landfill. As pastor of the parish, Vien led the effort in the community to defend their homes, as documented in the film “A Village Called Versailles.”

In response to the need for the Vietnamese American community to have a stronger voice, Vien established and serves as the chair of the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Community Development Corporation (MQVN CDC). One of its long-term endeavors is to create Viet Village as a contribution to the colorful ethnic diversity of New Orleans. Viet Village includes a cultural center, a community health center, a retirement community, an urban farm with a farmer’s market, a charter school, and a shopping mall.

In the post-Katrina environment, Mary Queen of Viet Nam Church has officially transformed to serve more than just the Southeast Asian Catholics in the Archdiocese of New Orleans: it has expanded to include the Latino American, African American, Asian American, and Caucasian American communities in the eastern edge of New Orleans. The full implementation of this transformation took place on July 1, 2008.

With the oil spill in the gulf, the MQVN CDC has again been at the forefront to demand language access and have been working with several federal and state agencies to develop skills diversification and job creation for the displaced fishermen, in addition to technical assistance with the claims process.

JACL has partnered with MQVN CDC to help advocate for the area’s Asian American fishermen and also hold an Environmental Justice Youth Summit in New Orleans. JACL commends Vien for being a true community advocate and leader, especially in times of great disaster and dire need.

Lisa Hasegawa

• Lisa Hasegawa is the executive director of the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD), the first national advocacy organization dedicated to meeting the housing and community development needs of low-income Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities across the country. She is an active board member of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and the American Progressive Caucus Policy Foundation. She also currently serves on AT&T’s Consumer Advisory Council and Freddie Mac’s Affordable Housing Advisory Council. She has provided leadership for the National Council for Asian Pacific Americans for over a decade, serving as the chair from 2006 through 2007.

Prior to joining National CAPACD, Hasegawa was the community liaison for the White House Initiative on AAPIs, where she was responsible for ensuring that AAPI community groups from across the country were involved and informed about initiative activities. She played a central role in organizing two historic town hall meetings, where hundreds of community-based organizations and individuals testified before the President’s Advisory Commission on AAPIs about the critical issues facing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities across the country and in the Pacific Islands. These testimonies culminated in a report to President Bill Clinton entitled “A People Looking Forward: Action for Access and Partnerships in the 21st Century.”

Hasegawa, a Yonsei born and raised in Orange, received her bachelor’s degree from UCLA in psychology and East Asian studies and her master’s degree from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her family’s history lies deep within the Japanese American community and JACL. Her mother was interned in Jerome, Ark. along with her grandmother and uncle, while her father and his family was interned at Heart Mountain, Wyo. In addition, her great uncle was in the 422nd Regimental Combat Team.

Hasegawa belonged to JACL’s APAN Chapter while living in Los Angeles while her brother was the SELANOCO Chapter president. She now lives in Gaithersburg, Md., with her husband, Sandy Lee, and their three cats.

The JACL applauds Hasegawa on all of her steadfast efforts and her long-standing commitment to the AAPI community.

Lt. Dan Choi

• Lt. Dan Choi, a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran fluent in Arabic, announced that he was gay on “The Rachel Maddow Show” on March 19, 2009. Because of three words — “I am gay” — his life changed forever. Despite his immense value as an Arabic speaker able to communicate quickly and clearly with the Iraqi people, one month after his announcement Choi was notified that the Army had begun discharge proceedings against him. He was one of only eight soldiers from his graduating class who majored in Arabic.

On June 30, 2009, Choi faced a military trial under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). The primary evidence against him was his simple statement of truth. Despite the board’s recommendation for discharge, the case was never finalized and Choi continues to serve in his military unit.

On March 19, 2010, Choi and former Army Capt. James Pietrangelo chained themselves to the White House fence and were arrested along with over a dozen patriots around the country in the pursuit of justice. Choi and Piterangelo spent the night in prison. The protests, coordinated by a bold group of LGBT Americans, GetEQUAL.org, expressed the moral urgency for government leaders to enact full equality and manifest the American promise without delays or excuses.

They were arrested again and spent the night in prison with four other military veterans on April 20, 2010. The day following release, Choi reported to weekend drill with his infantry unit and continued to serve as an army officer. When DADT was overturned by Congress in December 2010, Choi was one of many LGBT advocates who attended President Obama’s signing of the repeal at the White House.

As one of the first non-LGBT groups to support gay rights back in the 1990s, the JACL salutes Choi for his passion to advocate for the LGBT community.

National honorees will be recognized at the Culmination Banquet on Saturday July 9.

The JACL National Convention will be held at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa, 1755 N. Highland Ave., North Hollywood. For event details, call (213) 626-4471, email [email protected] or visit www.jacl.org/convention.

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