By JORDAN IKEDA, Rafu Contributor
An entire spectrum of liberal Asian Pacific Islander American voices gathered together on Wednesday night in Little Tokyo at Fu-Ga Izakaya & Bar.
Co-hosted and organized by the California Young Democrats Asian Pacific Islander Caucus (CYD API) and the Korean American Democratic Committee (KADC), the Summer Kickoff Reception was a chance to bring diversity across API generations together.
There was the OG, Warren Furutani — former member of the Assembly and current State Senate candidate — giving a trademark fiery speech to the API youth in attendance — a crowd made up of people half as old as his political career — instilling the value of taking a seat at the table and reinforcing the idea that politics are necessary.
There was Al Muratsuchi, of the generation influenced by Furutani, spilling forth his heart and passion towards ensuring a bright future for not only the API community, but for the entire country. Muratsuchi is running to regain the Assembly seat that he lost in 2014.
There was San Gabriel City Councilmember Jason Pu, who grew up with Muratsuchi and in the footsteps of Furutani, Rep. Judy Chu, State Treasurer John Chiang, and State Controller Betty Yee (who was supposed to be in attendance but whose plane was delayed).
“I think it’s really important for our young people to gain a social consciousness,” Pu, who is second-generation Chinese American, told The Rafu Shimpo. “Once you have a social consciousness, you start to see how everything is connected. You start to see how politics and engagement and being involved in your communities and making a difference in the world, how all of these things are connected. That’s what motivates me. And I think that’s what motivates a lot of young people to get involved and stay involved in politics.”
A diverse mix of those exact young people were there Wednesday night — some with very little knowledge of politics, others fully passionate and committed to making their careers in the political realm, and others who find themselves somewhere in between.
The event was put together by a group of millennials who at one point or another in their lives found themselves identifying with all three stages of political awareness. From the KADC, there was president Gene Kim, and board members Jonathan Yang and John Yi. From CYD API, there was board chair Ryan Guillen, SoCal co-directors Faith Lee and Tran Le, secretary/treasurer Agustinus Pamungkus, and comms director Paco Torres.
And there was vice-chair of CYD API Jessica Ho, who really spearheaded making the Summer Reception Kickoff a reality.
“We need to build a pipeline,” Ho told The Rafu Shimpo prior to the event. “Building a pipeline allows more of us to have a voice in media. In sports. In politics. In business. So we are not judged by our skin color or our ethnicity, but by the ideas and words that we put on the table.”
Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved and in attendance at the event, that pipeline appears to be taking shape.
Carol Nguyen and Allen Chyr, both board members of APEX (Asian Professional Exchange) while socially active — APEX’s primary mission is to increase Asian American awareness through service, charitable fundraisers, cultural events, and community service — admitted that they were political noobs.
“Sadly, I’m not very involved in the political world,” said Nguyen, who met Ho while serving food at the Midnight Mission in L.A.’s Skid Row. “But after talking to Jessica a couple of months ago, I realized that I do care about causes. I just needed to find a cause that I cared about in order to get involved.”
Shirley Thao, a 23-year-old second-generation Hmong American who works for OCA GLA (Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Los Angeles), talked about being a minority of a minority and the growth over the past decade she’s seen in the API community reaching out to really target the needs of Southeast Asian Americans.
“I think we need more Asian Americans who are unapologetic of where they want to be, of where they deserve to be and who they represent and what they can do going forward,” she said.
One such unapologetic Asian American is Yang, a second-generation Korean American whose goal is to work his way up the political chain.
“I understand that politics helps change infrastructure and I don’t want to just assimilate to where I live,” Yang said. “We are trying to put our stamp on history. I really want to be able to say, ‘Yeah, I did that.’”
“The goal of this event,” said Guillen, a senior legislative aide at the State Capitol who is also looking to pursue a political career, “is to take this momentum and make sure the excitement and energy and political enthusiasm gets translated into more Democrats and more APIs being involved in the 2016 elections.”