By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
What is celebration for Superman like?
Last Sunday, Al Sugiyama, who is battling cancer, found out that he is much loved by many. A rainbow of over 500 (Asians, blacks, Native Americans and whites), packed the gymnasium of Blaine Memorial Methodist Church.
Al’s fans spread from young and old—those he had helped to get jobs, fight discrimination, give a voice, or mentor for close to half a century.
Designed by brother-in-law, Eugene Tagawa, Superman Al’s posters and buttons were proudly displayed and distributed.
“Didn’t recognize it was me,” said Al. In fact, he was embarrassed by the attention and title.
What he did, is not for the intent to get appreciation. “When people are successful, that’s how I get thanks,” he said. “I never expect to get something. What I crave for is a stronger community.”
That’s why the organizing committee described Al as Superman because Superman never expects anything in return for helping people. Superman uses his power to help the weak and disadvantaged and round up the bad guys.
Al has done that too—through protests, sit-ins, and meetings with authorities, face-to-face to challenge unjust systems.
I will always remember what Al said three decades ago why he wanted to run for Seattle School Board.
“If I don’t do it, who will?” he said. It’s no accident he became the first Asian American Seattle School Board member (elected in 1989) when he wanted to help students of color to succeed in education and narrow the achievement gap.
Just following Al, you will receive countless gifts of life lessons, said his nephew Tim Burrus. Even his oncologist, Dr. Soma Subramaniam, said Al inspires him.
“We love our job because of patients like Al,” Subramaniam said. “He loves to live life to the fullest.”
Even with cancer, he joined the protest at the Kings Hookah Lounge on July 24 over the death of Donnie Chin, a community hero. At one point, there was slow moment. The protesters turned to Al for leadership.
“What do we want?” Al shouted out the words without pausing. The crowd echoed his words.
“We want justice,” Al fired again. And the group chanted Al’s words again.
Even after 18 rounds of chemotherapy since last October, Al showed little signs of being worn out at the party. Standing tall, he mingled and hugged friends happily.
Then he gave a close to 15-minute speech, full of humor and anecdotes, without notes or stopping for breath. His spirit soared seeing the room filled with old pals, whom he hadn’t seen for a long time. It’s hard to believe he’s sick.
“I am happy to go to chemo,” said Al, “because it is helping me. I want to go.”
Where does Al get his powers?
“I surround myself with positive people,” Al replied. “I don’t want to have people feel sorry or pity me or say ‘poor me.’ You need people to talk you up.”
Al found his strengths from friends who care about him. He is grateful that they bring him food—call him regularly, take him out to lunch, praying for him, and emailing him and asking how he’s doing. That’s crucial collective power for Al.
“Al is pleased with the event and most importantly inspires him more to conquer his cancer,” said his close friend, Will Lew.
Born in the year of the OX, a tough animal, Al, now 66, just celebrated his birthday on Sept. 10. That toughness “is my birthright,” he said.
“I can beat it (cancer),” said Al. “I don’t waiver. I will keep up a good fight.”
That’s Superman’s strength. (end)