By Tim Gruver
Northwest Asian Weekly
Stories of struggle, triumph, and transformation defined the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation’s annual top contributors to the Asian community dinner on Dec. 2.
Held at the House of Hong, the event honored eight recipients — Chung-Hyung Lee, president of the Seattle Ewha Woman’s University Alumni Association; Kim Pham, publisher and editor-in-chief of Northwest Vietnamese News; Dorothy Wong, executive director of the Chinese Information and Service Center; John Laney, associate at Stoel Rivers LLP; Sili Savusa, executive director of the White Center Community Development Association; Jason Lee, CEO of Firstech, LLC; Gary Locke, former U.S. ambassador to China; and State Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos.
A middle child of six, Lee spoke about the challenges of relocating to the United States with her husband and children, while seeking to build the Ewha University Alumni Association up from a mere 10 members to 200.
For Lee, integrating into American society did not mean leaving her heritage or her professional life behind.
“When I came to the United States, I had to adapt if I wanted the Seattle Alumna Chapter to grow,” Lee said. “Strive to be the best person you can be and never lose perspective. ”
Pham’s daughter, Julie, spoke at length about her father’s legacy, which included putting others before himself.
“My father hates promoting himself, but he loves promoting others,” Pham said.
According to Pham himself, his work with his wife building Northwest Vietnamese News, the oldest and longest-running Vietnamese language news source in the country, is not so hard when he considers the joy it brings him as an immigrant.
“I love seeing my newspaper around town in people’s hands,” Pham said. “I love seeing them inspired about their community.”
Laney expressed his thanks for his wife and children for helping him get to where he is today as an associate at Stoel Rivers, representing clients in matters of corporate finance. He reflected on a childhood that encouraged him to see the world from other people’s perspectives.
“I want to always keep an open mind and assume people are well-intended,” Laney said. “I want to understand where people are coming from.”
For Jason Lee, the path that led him to be a leader in consumer electronics started with an idea and he encouraged everyone to realize their own dreams with action.
“I am always inspired by their humility and sacrifices,” Lee said. “I would like encourage you to take the opportunities in your life.”
The emcee asked Lee how he inspires others to be generous when he himself shuns the spotlight when giving. Lee said he does so through connections and identifying leaders.
Locke, who served as the 21st governor of Washington and as U.S. Secretary of Commerce, joked about the potential of the lifetime achievement award being a bad omen, but nonetheless thanked the Northwest Asian Weekly for its support.
“I’m not too sure about lifetime achievement awards,” Locke said. “I think of it like when you get one at the Oscars, like they’re suggesting you’re going to die soon. I can say that I expect to have a long life ahead of me.”
Representatives of various organizations that have been supported by Locke, were invited to the stage as Locke accepted his award. They included Jim Young, a board member of the Washington State China Relations Council, and also lawyer and founder of the Century Law Group, Diane Narasaki, executive director of ACRS, Sam Wan, CEO of Kin On, Jim Dawson, board member of Seattle Chinese Garden, and Diane Sugimura, board member of the Wing Luke Museum.
Santos, who was also honored with a lifetime achievement award, said she was proud to represent district 37 for the past 18 years and fight for the recognition of hard-working immigrants in a post-9/11 America often fearful of foreigners. She also spoke of the importance community and how gatherings like the Top Contributors awards dinner bring people together when they might not have otherwise met.
Several of Santos’ mentees were invited to the stage and each of them presented her with a red rose, as a token of their appreciation.
Savusa emphasized the generosity and support of Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander community that led to her long list of accomplishments — from being a family center coordinator for Southwest Youth and Family Services, to leading the CDA, to founding the first Samoan/Pacific Islander Parent Teacher Student Association in the nation.
“It’s really hard to receive this award because I don’t do this work alone.”
Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.