By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Around the end of every year, there is a lot of conversation about how nice it would be if everyone maintained year-round the spirit of generosity and goodwill that is so prevalent during times of festivity.
At the Northwest Asian Weekly’s annual Top Contributors Dinner on Dec. 6, it was clear that this holiday spirit does exist all year in Seattle’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, and that it is embodied especially by our elected officials and other prominent community members. The Top Contributors Dinner is an opportunity to honor these “movers and shakers” as Asian Weekly publisher, Assunta Ng, described them —and to celebrate a shared mission of achieving equal representation and success for AAPI men and women.
And, there was lobster. So joked Ng by way of highlighting the generosity of the evening’s sponsors, as under the sparkling chandeliers of the China Harbor Restaurant, attendees mingled. Some caught up with long-time friends, while others took advantage of the opportunity to network and to extend the support system that is key to the accomplishment of individual and group goals. After standing for the National Anthem, sung beautifully by Rosa Leung, several of 2019’s AAPI newly elected officials were recognized and celebrated. 2019 was a banner year for the election of people of color into office in the United States, and as Ng explained, the Asian Weekly added this recognition of elected officials to the program. It’s important to support those who worked so hard to get elected so they can support us.
“We want to recognize the courage to run, and the desire to serve,” said Ng. “It’s very challenging for people of color to run for office…We are very excited and proud of their achievements.”
Co-emcee Kathy Hsieh, an award-winning actor, writer, and director, commented that when she was growing up, she “never got to see anyone who looked like me” on television. It was one reason Hsieh chose an acting career, and no doubt a reason many people in the room stepped up to advocate for increased representation of AAPI in all spheres of society.
Representing the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC), Michael Itti, executive director of the Chinese Information and Service Center, discussed the role of APDC in undoing the divisive stereotype of the model minority, fighting for equality, and ensuring the success of all segments of the AAPI community.
Co-emcee John Chen, CEO of Geoteaming, backed up the conversation by providing statistics that highlight the importance of getting more AAPIs into top positions. “On average,” he said, “Asian Americans have 200 percent of the professional degrees in America, but Asians have 50 percent or less of the executive jobs…So each contributor you see up here is breaking the odds and setting a path for [AAPI] leaders.”
APDC was one of seven remarkable contributors honored at the dinner. The first contributor to receive recognition was HUiwu Lai, a medical inventor and philanthropist, who gave a rousing speech in a Chinese dialect in which he extolled the values of strength, respect, honesty, and loyalty. Lai, whose company, 505 Group, is based in China, also encouraged the audience to maintain healthy relations with China. His words seemed to hearken to the current conflict in Hong Kong when he said, “Long live the friendship between the U.S. and China. Love live world peace.”
Throughout the evening, the honorees and the presenters were sure to give credit to those who came before, and urging everyone to support the next generation. Many already do. Lai endowed the University of Washington (UW) with a scholarship for students. Charlene Grinolds, co-chair of the Executive Development Institute’s board of directors, said that “giving back means a lot” to her, and asked that the young people she brought to the dinner stand for applause. Andrés Mantilla, the director of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, introduced the Tet Founders, and described how much he cherished being able to share Vietnamese culture with his children through events such as Tet in Seattle, which the founders established.
Yenvy Pham, one of three siblings who operates Pho Bac restaurant for her parents and the restaurant’s founders, Theresa and Augustine, laughed when the presenter asked her how she and her siblings would improve upon what her parents had already done. “We can’t do that!”
Larry Gossett, Metropolitan King County Council member since 1993, and one of the founders of the UW Black Student Union, answered this question: As an activist yourself, when you look at the young people today, how are you hopeful for the future?
“I am very hopeful of our future,” Gossett replied to a round of applause. Gossett allowed that young people today are not the same as those from the 1960s and 1970s, yet assured the crowd that today’s young people have “the same ideological commitment to racial justice and empowerment of people of color, and to making this country truly democratic for all residents of our community and our nation.” Gossett also asked the community to support his successor at the King County Council, Girmay Zahilay.
One way of supporting the next generation is by setting good examples. Seattle Deputy Mayor Mike Fong, who introduced honoree Carmen Best, the first Black woman to become Chief of the Seattle Police Department, stressed Best’s commitment to giving young women something to aspire towards, in addition to her responsibility to uphold diversity, be a voice for the underserved, and protect the community. “She is also a role model for so many young people.” Fong described a day when his nieces visited Chief Best in her office, who by her example gave them “a reminder that they can do anything and be anything they want to be.”
All of those honored at the Top Contributors Dinner were humbly inclined to praise those who had helped them along the way, to describe the efforts of those who are helping them now, and to show their continued support for those who will help the cause of diversity and equality in the future. Their combined sense of giving, and of looking out for others in the community, was clearly in the spirit of the dinner’s theme, which was “Unity and Celebration.” Yet without these contributors, and their parents and grandparents, we would not have had a chance to bring forward so many newly elected AAPI officials, or to look forward to further representation of AAPIs in the near future. “Thank you for making our community a better place,” Ng said.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.