By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
On any given day, Yoshi Minegishi checks his schedule and reviews the many tasks he has in his queue.
Minegishi’s life is entrenched in music — he loves it. However, he isn’t the performer people see on stage. As a director on the board of the Seattle Symphony, Minegishi is a facilitator, bringing great artists to the area.
He is also on the planning committee of the Oct. 16 event, the Asian American Pioneers in Music Awards Gala and Banquet.
Minegishi is one of many committee members who tirelessly dedicate their time — free of charge — in order to give recognition to the trailblazers in the Asian American community who are often overlooked.
“Music — ethnic, jazz, or classical — soothes our soul,” Minegishi said. “In this turbulent time, we can reduce our anxiety by listening to our awardees’ outstanding achievements and wonderful music.”
This event was founded in 1995 by Publisher Assunta Ng through the nonprofit arm of her newspaper, the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation (NWAWF). The event was originally Ng’s way of celebrating the anniversary of her newspapers, the Northwest Asian Weekly (NWAW) and the Seattle Chinese Post (SCP).
She wanted to create an awards dinner that celebrated the achievements of pioneers who have broken the glass ceilings in their careers. Over the years, the event has grown tremendously and now stands on its own.
Though Ng hopes the event will be fun for everyone, entertaining people isn’t her primary goal. “This isn’t just about music,” she said.
“It’s about showing the cultural richness and diversity we have in the Asian community. We’d like the mainstream community to know that our community has great performers and great teachers.”
“We are so lucky to live in a place as diverse as Washington state,” Laura Worth added. Worth is one of the event’s committee members and the marketing director of ResCare HomeCare. “Seattle, in particular, is very rich with different Asian cultures. I was raised with a love for Korean folk songs and can’t imagine a better way for us to celebrate our unique heritages than through something as universally enjoyable as music.”
Though committee members are quick to offer a smile and enthusiastic words about the event, planning it has had its share of challenges. Ng said it was particularly tough to identify who the pioneers were.
“Our culture [tends to] emphasize modesty,” Ng said. “A lot of people don’t want to get credit for their achievement.”
One way the committee has tried to find its pioneers was by approaching organizations and businesses and asking for nominations.
However, this had its fair share of challenges as well. “Many companies’ employees had not been educated in diversity during the earlier era,” said Ng. “So many of them don’t even know that the people of color their company employed were trailblazers.”
In the end, Ng and the committee members are more than satisfied with the names they came up with.
The honorees are jazz pianist Deems Tsutakawa, Garfield High School Orchestra Director Marcus Tsutakawa, guitarist Angelo Pizarro, cofounders of the Chinese Arts & Music Association Warren Chang and Buyun Zhao, opera singer Dieter Cui, cofounders of the Korean Music Association Young Hee Kim and Kyung-ah Oh, classical Indian music performer Sharad Gadre, and songwriter Thuy Mien Ngo.
There is a unique slant to the event. Instead of honorees receiving their awards and giving a speech, the honorees will do something unprecedented — they will cross ethnic lines through their music. The pioneers will perform together onstage.
“These honorees are the top in our community,” Ng said. “What’s unique is that they have not worked together before. By honoring them together, we provide an exciting opportunity for collaboration, creating something amazing, blending the East and West in music.”
Committee member Mary Ann Midori Goto of Makai Communications puts it more succinctly. “Music is the one language we all understand and can appreciate together,” she said. “Join us!” ♦
Stories about all the pioneers will run in a special issue of NWAW next week, “Asian American Pioneers: Celebrating Trailblazing Musicians.” To buy tickets to the dinner on Oct. 16 at China Harbor Restaurant, visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/82472 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit pioneers.nwasianweeklyfoundation.org.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.