By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
It is an event organized by Northwest Asian Weekly and the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation to mark the noteworthy achievements of local Asian American and Pacific Islander leaders.
Held at the House of Hong Restaurant on Dec. 4, the 23rd annual Top Contributors to the Asian Community Award Dinner began with a thank-you presentation to former Seattle City Councilmembers Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Jean Godden, and Nick Licata.
Over 200 people attended and gave the former city councilmembers a standing ovation for their almost half-century of combined public service.
King County director of transportation and master of ceremonies Harold Taniguchi said, “Tonight, we honor eight leaders and role models who have dedicated their lives to serve others.” The dinner honored Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Services Northwest; Chong Dameron, vice-president of National Unification Advisory Council, Seattle chapter, and former director of Korean Women’s Association; Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) and CACA Seattle president Ming-Ming Tung-Edelman; Rick Polintan, chair of 11th Legislative District Democrats; Mel Kang, civil-rights activist and community volunteer; Bill Tashima, former president of Japanese American Citizens League (JACL); Vandana Slatter, Bellevue city councilmember-elect; and Elsie Taniguchi, former Puyallup Valley JACL president, who received a Life Achievement Award for her 50 years of community service.
Dinh-Kuno immigrated from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975 and arrived in Minnesota as a refugee.
She said, “I just want the new refugees and immigrants to remember the United States of America is the greatest country on earth for us to live, to work, to get our education and raise our children.”
While employed at Tacoma-based North Pacific Bank (now Heritage Bank), Dameron made the decision to volunteer at the Korean Women’s Association almost 30 years ago. Now, she serves as a mentor to the younger generation.
“For me, helping others is the greatest thing,” she said.
Tung-Edelman immigrated from Taiwan at age 14. She has worked as a clinical pharmacist for almost 20 years, runs her own clothing line – MiMi Bug Artful Wear – and co-authored with Stephanie Olson the children’s book, “MiMi Bug’s Day with Friends.”
To add to her busy schedule, she is a founding member of CACA Seattle – established in 2011 – and helped organize CACA’s 53rd Biennial National Convention in Seattle last August. She says CACA is a united voice for Chinese Americans to protect their civil rights and interests.
“At organizations like ours, it’s one place that you can talk about the issues that you encounter in your community,” Tung-Edelman added.
Retired from organizing nurses and healthcare workers for the Service Employees International Union (or SEIU Healthcare1199NW specifically), Polintan is still active empowering others to act. He is currently the chair of the 11th Legislative District Democrats.
He immigrated from the Philippines in 1980 and has over 35 years of community service.
“We’re the biggest minority community in King County, and yet when you look at the data, 49 percent of Asians are not registered to vote. So how can we expect to set policies that are important in our communities without changing that?” Polintan asked.
Kang is a third-generation Korean American and a U.S. Navy veteran who has devoted his life to standing up for immigrant and workers’ rights.
“Sometimes, we think that if we work really hard, we’ll arrive at a state where we’ll finally, once and for all, have a just and ethical society. But I think when we really participate, we realize that every generation has a responsibility and a role to move us toward that position, and that we can never stop working at moving in that direction,” he said.
Like Polintan, Tashima has a knack to get other people active and involved.
Raised in Cleveland by Japanese American parents who valued volunteer service, he served two terms as JACL Seattle chapter president.
He said, “It’s dawned upon me as a Japanese American, the power of our legacy is in the advocacy, the moral imperative that we have to advocate based on our own experiences.”
Slatter – an Indian American biotechnology professional and community leader born in Vanderhoof, British Columbia, Canada – will officially swear-in as the newest Bellevue city councilmember on Dec. 14. Like Tashima, her parents value community service.
“I come from a long line of community leaders who have served their community in three, different countries,” she said.
At age 5, Taniguchi and her family were relocated to internment camps in Washington state and Idaho. She served as Puyallup Valley JACL president for 17 years.
Dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono, she said, “It’s because of the sacrifices that our ancestors have made that we are what we are today.” (end)
James Tabafunda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.