APIsCAN Celebrates Community Empowerment

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From left: Peter Vang, APIsCAN chair; Assemblymember Mike Eng; Rep. Judy Chu; Hussam Ayloush of Council on American Islamic Relations; Mary Anne Foo of Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance; Assemblymember Warren Furutani; Rachelle Chong of Comcast; APIsCAN Executive Director Diane Ujiiye. (Photo by MARIO REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Three legislators, two nonprofits and a corporation were honored for their work with the Asian Pacific Islander community by APIsCAN (Asian and Pacific Islanders California Network) at a recent reception in Little Tokyo.

The July 22 fundraiser, held at East West Players, brought together API elected officials, government employees, and community leaders, many of whom participate each year in the API Policy Summit in Sacramento.

APIsCAN Chair Peter Vang gave opening remarks. He came all the way from Fresno, where he is refugee community liaison for the county’s human services system.

State Sen. Carol Liu (D-Glendale) presented certificates from her office to the evening’s honorees. For Assemblymember Mike Eng and Rep. Judy Chu, who are married, Liu had a special gift — theater tickets and popcorn for their “standing date to go to the movies.”

Speaking for the City of Los Angeles were BongHwan Kim, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE), and Mike Fong, East Area director for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Kim, a co-founder of APIsCAN, recalled that members of Los Angeles-based A3PCON (Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council) saw the need for a statewide network. Noting that APIsCAN has had a “branding problem,” he clarified that it is not pronounced “Apiscan” but rather “APIs can,” as in “We can do it.”

Fong presented APIsCAN with a proclamation from the mayor and announced that John Choi of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor had just been confirmed by the City Council to the Board of Public Works.

APIsCAN Executive Director Diane Ujiiye recalled that APIsCAN has evolved over the years. Starting out with the most well-established ethnic groups — Chinese, Japanese and Korean Americans — it later included Southeast Asians, then Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders, then South Asians. “As the state changes, we’ve had to adjust,” she said.

Ujiiye personally selected the evening’s presenters and said that they also deserved to be honored.

• State Legislator of the Year — Assemblymember Mike Eng (D-Monterey Park) represents the 49th Assembly District and previously served as councilmember and mayor in Monterey Park. He spearheaded a “Day of Inclusion” to commemorate the contributions of immigrants and celebrate the 1943 repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and introduced AB 1088, which would require state agencies to collect data on API ethnic groups separately instead of lumping them all together.

He was introduced by An Le, statewide network manager of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, who said 25 of her family members live in Eng’s district.

Eng said he got the idea for AB 1088 when he was unable to find out how many APIs are in the state’s prisons. Such data is needed for the state to serve the community in education or any other field, he said. “It’s about justice, it’s about being counted.”

Now serving his third and last term, Eng remembered conversations he had with his late sister. “I told her all about the stress of being in the Legislature … Judy said to me, ‘Mike, that sounds like when I gave birth to my first child. I was in labor for 30 hours and then they had to do a C-section. There was a lot of blood, a lot of pain, a lot of groaning … You really enjoy the results, but you sure hate the process.’ ”

To aspiring politicians, Eng said, “There’s so much adversity and there are so many hurdles and mountains to climb … There are a lot of people out there who spend their careers making sure that you don’t succeed and telling us you can’t do this and you can’t do that. But that’s why it’s so important to have a group of people to tell you ‘Si se puede — yes, it’s possible.’ ”

APIsCAN is that group, he said, calling it “a beacon of light.”

• Lifetime Leadership Award — Assemblymember Warren Furutani (D-Long Beach) represents the 55th Assembly District and has served on the Los Angeles Board of Education and Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. He is running for the District 15 seat on the Los Angeles City Council. His accomplishments include establishing Fred Korematsu Day and conceptualizing the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs.

He was introduced by Sefa Aina, a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, who has known Furutani since both worked at the UCLA Asian American Studies Center. Calling Furutani “a long-time ally and partner of Pacific Islanders in the South Bay,” Aina thanked him for introducing ACR 67, which recognizes the contributions of Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities to California.

Predicting that Furutani will win the next election, Aina said, “I imagine in about 10 more years we’re going to do this all over again and give him another lifetime achievement award.”

Referring to a widely reported incident in June in which Furutani got into a fight with Assemblymember Donald Wagner (R-Irvine) during a floor debate, Aina joked, “That got me all psyched … You’re just creating all kinds of craziness up there.”

Furutani said that a picture of the confrontation in the L.A. Times was “embarrassing,” but that it was “pretty nice to be finally (mentioned) in the Angry Asian Man blog.”

He put the incident in context: “In the State Legislature there’s 28 Republicans. Of that 28, there’s not one African American … not one Latino … not one Asian Pacific Islander. Just like the national Tea Party people, they stand up and say they represent America or they represent California, and they just don’t. But there’s five of them that are freshmen … They say anything they want, any time they want, with any attitude they want.

“One day in a discussion about the budget, one of them stood up and was trying to make a point about a bait-and-switch, and maybe that wasn’t too bad of a comparison because the budget tends to be like that. But then he invoked the ‘Sopranos’ TV show. One of our colleagues, Anthony Portantino (D-La Canada Flintridge), who is Italian American, said in very mellow way, ‘That’s a little out of bounds. Can you apologize for that?’

“Then (Wagner) said … ‘I’m only going to apologize to the Italian Americans who are not in the mafia or doing insurance scams’ … Some of us hollered up at Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), who was chairing the meeting, ‘Fiona, he’s out of order!’ … Then he thought he could walk over … lean over into my face, and tell me that he wasn’t out order, that he could say anything he wants.”

Furutani, who responded with some colorful language, likened the incident to standing up to a bully in “a dustup in the playground.” “The point I want to make is you’ve got to draw a line in the sand. There are certain places you just cannot go … When someone’s going to say that publicly about Italian Americans, what are they saying privately about the rest of us? We know what’s going on. We’ve been there.”

The fiscal crisis has been difficult to handle, Furutani acknowledged. “Some of the cuts we’ve made just stick in our throats. But we’re trying to deal with this budget deficit … We’re not talking about new taxes … We’re talking about extending current taxes to extend the services we think are needed … Fundamentally, it’s about what we think government should do, it’s about who we think government should take care of …

“How do we determine how successful this society is? Is it about how many millionaires and billionaires we have, or do we determine the success of our society based on how the least among us are doing? … That’s my measuring stick. There’s much more work to do.”

• Corporate Vision and Leadership Award — Comcast has supported the API Policy Summit and recently executed an agreement to expand distribution of programming by and for the Asian American community; launch an API-focused video-on-demand offering as part of its standard digital package available to 18 million subscribers; and dedicate $1 million to build a bigger pipeline for Asian American-themed programming. Comcast has also established a senior-level member of its external affairs and public policy staff to serve as an API community liaison, and has appointed nine members to its new Asian American Advisory Council.

Mary Anne Foo, APIsCAN co-chair, praised Comcast as “a catalyst of change” that “has been there with us the whole time.”

Speaking for Comcast was Rachelle Chong, regional vice president of governmental affairs. She gave credit to her predecessor, Johnnie Giles, for being “one of the driving forces … to make sure that APIs and diversity are at the top of the issue list for our very large company.” Giles is now at corporate headquarters in Philadelphia.

Emphasizing Comcast’s commitment to diversity, Chong said, “We are really excited to be part of the change that is happening in corporate America to ensure that the people running the commercial enterprises … look like the changing population of our state. I know this group particularly is well aware of all the U.S. Census changes that have occurred … So that is why Comcast believes we need to make changes in our own hiring, the way we run our senior leadership, the programming that we show.”

After acquiring NBC Universal, Chong said, Comcast “gathered together 40 well-respected leaders … from business, media, entertainment and civil rights organizations … They gave us a tremendous amount of input on diverse programming, supplier diversity in procurement practices, career opportunities, leadership development … We will have this council meet every six months to help guide us and advise us to have the very best practices for diversity.

“We also in April began accepting proposals for the first three of 10 new independent channels which we will produce over the next 10 years. We just finished the application process and there were 100 proposals that we received, and we’re really pleased about that.”

She added, “We celebrated the fact that the ‘Today Show’ now features an Asian American, (co-host) Ann Curry; a Hispanic lead news anchor, Natalie Morales; and an African American weatherman, Al Roker. If you put together co-host Matt Lauer, we have a completely diverse team on NBC’s top-rated morning show, and I’m really proud of that because when you look at that team, you look at America.”

• Community Action Award — OCAPICA (Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance) is the only comprehensive multi-service center in Orange County for Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders, providing youth, policy/advocacy and health education programs. It has been recognized by CSU Fullerton for creating educational opportunities.

Tana Lepule of the California Commission on APIA Affairs introduced APIsCAN’s Mary Anne Foo (known to her friends as “Mafoo”), who is also executive director of OCAPICA, calling her a living example of a Samoan proverb, “The pathway to becoming a chief is to serve.”

When she first moved to Southern California from the Bay Area, Foo said, “Orange County was 15 percent API, which was the third-largest API population in the nation. (But) we didn’t have anything going on. We weren’t working together.”

With the help of A3PCON and APIsCAN, Foo continued, Orange County leaders went from being “demoralized and disempowered” to wanting “to be a catalyst.” “As we grew, we became a pipeline for a lot of young people because we wanted all of these young people in Orange County to feel empowered. This is their community, their home, and they can change it, they can improve it. Right now we’re 20 percent of the county … We still have a lot of problems, but these are the folks making change.”

• Community Action Award — The Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has addressed anti-Muslim hate speech in Orange County and worked to dispel myths about the Muslim community. Through the Bridging Communities program, it has partnered Muslim and Japanese American high school youth for cultural exchange and leadership development.

CAIR Executive Director Hussam Ayloush was introduced by Jury Candelario, APIsCAN co-chair and director of APAIT (Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team), who said, “As a member of the LGBT community, I understand the impact and am fully aware of hate crimes issues all too well, but also understand the power of solidarity and unity with our brothers and sisters.”

Ayloush said, “We’re very proud to have been working with you for so many years on the rights of immigrants, rights of communities, education, civil rights for all people. We recommit ourselves to working with you together as brothers and sisters to make sure that our country remains a democracy that makes us all proud.”

Hearing comments, some from public officials, that mosques should not be built in particular neighborhoods or that Muslims should not be allowed into the U.S., Ayloush — whose daughter visited Manzanar as a Bridging Communities participant — noted that Asian Americans faced similar challenges decades ago. “People were interned, put in concentration camps just for the fact of being Japanese Americans, or denied the right to own property in America. We look back at that time and look at where we’re at today, and see the contributions of this AAPI community … to making America a better place.”

API legislators are “role models not only to the Asian American community (but also) to every young American,” he said.

• Federal Legislator of the Year — Judy Chu served as a board member of the Garvey School District, councilmember and mayor of Monterey Park, and a member of the Assembly and the Board of Equalization before becoming the first Chinese American woman elected to Congress (and receiving a congratulatory phone call from President Obama). She has worked with APIsCAN on issues ranging from problem gambling to early childhood education.

Debbie Ching, APIsCAN co-founder and former co-chair, said she has known Chu since college. “Judy has been and continues to be a person of deep conviction and commitment to the American promise of equality, of equal opportunity, of fairness, of justice … She fights for that every day. She fights for us, a true woman warrior.”

While in the Assembly, Chu helped to develop the API Policy Summit. “Diane Ujiiye took such an incredibly strong role in this,” she said. “Now the summit is something that everybody can look forward to every year … a great way for APIs to move forward.”

Chu, who chairs the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, noted, “CAPAC includes 31 members of Congress, and combined with the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, what we call the Tri-Caucus, we actually make up 40 percent of the Democratic members of the House of Representatives. That means we have a pretty powerful voice.”

Among CAPAC’s accomplishments, “in these last two years we’ve been able to double the number of Asian Pacific federal judges and really make some headway there” despite the withdrawal of Goodwin Liu’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Chu said. CAPAC also asked Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner to establish a process to increase API representation among fund managers, she said.

“There is so much more we have to do,” Chu added. “We will get comprehensive immigration reform. We will have a national strategy on hepatitis B. We still stop the ugly racial profiling that is occurring against Muslim Americans, Arab Americans, South Asian Americans and Sikh Americans. We will have an apology for the Chinese Exclusion Act. And we will have a national API policy summit similar to what there is in California … to make sure that APIs truly have a voice in what’s going on in our federal government.”

In her closing remarks, Ujiiye said that although progress is not as fast as she would like, there is much to be thankful for. “I see linguistic and cultural competence becoming the standard, not the add-on. I hear dual language learning as an asset, not ‘limited English’ as a deficit. I see civil rights, albeit long overdue, getting done …

“We used to react to legislation. Now we write it. We used to learn about policy and try to fix it after the fact. Now we help shape it …

“In Wing Chun kung fu, one of the key principles is simultaneous attack and defense. Rather than wait for the attack — and there’s always one coming, let’s be real — and then block, you deflect it and go on. We are seasoned enough now to finesse this.

“And when we need that collective voice in California, we have APIsCAN.”

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