By Ninette Cheng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Leadership, volunteerism, and movers and shakers were the name of the game at the Northwest Asian Weekly and NWAW Foundation’s Top Contributors to the Asian Community banquet on Dec. 7.
The banquet is held annually in December. First held in 1990, the foundation annually honors leaders who are passionate about their work and who strive to make the community a better place.
The event was held at the China Harbor Restaurant and honored 10 recipients, Bob Hasegawa, State Senator-elect; Mark Okazaki, Executive Director of Neighborhood House; Sam Ung, owner of Phnom Penh Noodle House; Joan Yoshitomi, board member of the Center for APA Women; Trong Pham, President of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce; Someireh Amirfaiz and ReWA; Dennis Su and the China Tomorrow Education Foundation; Asia Discount Center; Sesinando Cantor; and Jun Bae Kim. The banquet was emceed by Robert Mak, formerly of KING5. Guests and speakers included Govenor-elect Jay Inslee and State Attorney General-elect Bob Ferguson.
Inslee gave a speech congratulating the recipients and emphasizing education at the beginning of the event.
“This community has some of the most entrepreneurial builders in the state,” he said.
Honorees came from a variety of backgrounds, including politics, business, and philanthropy. Each honoree was asked a question about leadership and their careers.
Ung, owner of Phnom Penh Noodle House, arrived in the United States during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. He witnessed the loss of his loved ones and his country and felt he died several times over. In the United States, he opened a restaurant and wrote an autobiography about his experiences called “I Survived the Killing Fields: The True Life Story of a Cambodian Refugee.”
“I never lost hope, even through the darkest times in starvation and genocide,” Ung said. “[My parents] inspired me the most. Never forget who you are, where you come from, and respect others.”
Su is the founder of China Tomorrow Education Foundation (CTEF), a nonprofit dedicated to aiding and funding children in the most rural parts of China. Since its inception in 1999, Su and CTEF have raised an impressive $1.8 million to 171 schools in 13 provinces in China.
He emphasized education as a pressing issue the community needs to tackle. Education was also emphasized by Inslee and Okazaki, the executive director of Neighborhood House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving low-income communities and alleviating poverty in Seattle. Another common theme of the night was unity amongst different groups.
Trong Pham was forced to flee Vietnam to the United States in 1980. He became a vice president at Morgan Stanley and involved in many charities, including Komen’s Pink Tie Guys.
“[My] goal is to be the bridge between the Asian and Vietnamese community,” Pham said.
Cantor agreed and said the event brought the Asian American community together.
“It’s important that whether we are Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese, that we all work together and collaborate.”
Rep. Hasegawa, who represented Washington’s 11th District for 6 years before becoming elected to the State Senate, talked about how one can become involved in politics.
“Get involved with a union because that’s the best training ground,” he joked. “If you survive that, you’ll make it in public policy.”
Hasegawa later changed his tune with more serious advice.
“I don’t think politics should be a goal,” he said. “It should be a means to a goal. It’s about finding a cause you believe in and [asking yourself], how do I fight for it?”
Seattle entrepreneur Albert Shen attended the event and shared his thoughts on the future of leadership.
“I think it was a great example of the Asian American leadership in the community,” he said. “These Asian American leaders pave the way for future leaders. [Future leaders] need to consciously put themselves out there. When you want to do it, it provides leadership to others.” (end)
Ninette Cheng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.