By Minal Singh
Northwest Asian Weekly
Every year, the Northwest Asian Weekly and Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation hold a banquet in honor of the Top Contributors to the Asian Community in the past year. These honorees are passionate about improving their communities in such areas as education, health, activism, and politics.
The 22nd annual Top Contributors dinner was held on Dec. 5 at the House of Hong Restaurant. The event celebrated the achievements of nine recipients, including the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) Seattle Chapter; Lori Wada, operations supervisor for the Office of Insurance Commissioner; Dr. Dat P. Giap, dentist and community volunteer; Leny Valerio-Buford, director of Upward Bound at the University of Washington; Dr. Jai Jun Byeon, chief director of Cornerstone Medical Services; Louise Kashino-Takisaki, former president of Women’s Auxiliary of Nisei Veterans Committee; Fred Yee, community volunteer; Frieda Takamura, community activist; and Pramila Jayapal, Washington State Senator-elect. Jeffrey Hattori, CEO of Nikkei Concerns, emceed the dinner.
“These awards are honoring unsung heroes who have been serving our community for years and decades. You are an inspiration to all of us,” said Hattori. Throughout the ceremony, award recipients were asked to speak to the promises and challenges of building a stronger API community.
Sherwin Tsao accepted the award on behalf of NAAAP and amused the audience with the wordplay of its slogan “work hard, play hard, nap hard.” It is the goal of NAAAP to “make a meaningful difference in the community and help to break stereotypes,” said Tsao.
Wada, who is Korean with a husband of Japanese descent, was asked how different Asian communities can work together. “Both cultures should embrace each other, embrace their differences. There may be different foods, different customs, but we are not that different. We need to learn from history and move on, to embrace our similarities,” she said.
Giap was lauded for his humility about his achievements and was asked how the Vietnamese community can work to break through barriers. “There are so many challenges, such as drug use or school dropouts. First, we must acknowledge the problem and work together. This requires sincerity, harmony, unity, and charity. We must put community interests above the individual and have a willingness to work on [the problem],” he said.
Valeria-Buford has been an educator for 48 consistent years and gave advice on impactful techniques for mentoring young people. “I don’t know if I hold the secret, but I will change my personality to fit a student’s needs. This is something any parent or teacher can do. You don’t change your identity, but mold yourself a little to fit the kid in front of us. There is nothing better than teenagers. I see in them a group of kids ready to soar, ready to fly,” she said.
Byeon, founder of Cornerstone Medical services, which provides free medical and health related services to underprivileged Korean and other minority populations, explained that he observed many medically-needy people in the community and began organizing free medical services. “These services evolved into a regular clinic,” he said. He also gave advice to aspiring medical students. “There are four qualities important for future doctors. One, they are up to date on medical knowledge. Two, they care about their patients. Three, they are focused on the community. And four, they are a good person,” he said.
Jayapal, in her acceptance, spoke of the knowledge she’s acquired about the API community and discussed her agenda for when she takes office. “The Asian community is entrepreneurial, caring and generous, amazing community organizers, and fun,” she said. Her agenda is focused on education funding for early learning and higher education. As well, she believes that taxes should be fair and fund our values. Further, Jayapal addressed racial profiling and “the unfair nature of the system in the wake of Ferguson.”
Kashino-Takisaki gave a moving testimonial about the Nisei Veterans Club, which was formed when Japanese Americans were not permitted to join traditional veterans groups after returning from their WWII service. “It is my wish that our community would help us educate the general public about our experiences,” she said. As well, she spoke about the Japanese concentration camps created in America after Pearl Harbor. “This swift movement [by the U.S. government] without due process of law was a terrible injustice against a group of citizens whose only crime was that we looked like the enemy. Our parents lost everything they had worked so hard for, and most of all, they lost the very spirit they displayed when they first came to this country,” she said.
Yee was honored for his longtime contributions to health and human services in the community. In his speech, he talked about his involvement in a project in Walla Walla where he translated into English the gravestones of early Chinese pioneers. “To make that part of history a little more comprehensive was meaningful. Each and every name represents a real story we can learn from,” he said.
Takamura was honored for her contributions as an educator and policymaker. From her diverse history of advocacy, she was asked to share some advice. “Try to keep the system accountable. Many Asian students are doing well, but some are outside of the achievement gap. The existence of education leaders among Asians helps to give the future promise,” she said. (end)
Minal Singh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.