By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
This year, Elaine Akagi, Seattle resident and vice president of the national Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), watched as a group of non-Japanese members were sworn in as part of the national JACL. Among the group securing positions on the national JACL board, four were Chinese Americans, and only two were Japanese American.
JACL, one of the oldest national Asian American civil rights organizations, has broken away from tradition to elect Chinese American immigrant David Lin of New Jersey out of its 10,000 members to serve as the organization’s president. Lin won the election with 62 votes out of 88.
“JACL has become more of an API (Asian Pacific American) organization, not just a Japanese American organization. That’s the way it should be going, JACL needs to represent everybody,” said Akagi, noting that many of the Japanese community’s third and fourth generations are marrying outside their race.
JACL, not just for Japanese
Few consider what JACL has done as making history, including Lin himself. Lin, who emigrated to the United States from Taiwan at the age of 15, is the executive director of external affairs at AT&T.
“I don’t think in terms of history making,” said Lin. “JACL is not just for Japanese Americans, it is an Asian American organization. It has a great reputation. It’s the leading civil rights organization for the Asian community.”
Lin points to a landmark case as an example of how the JACL has advocated for the API community.
“The Vincent Chin murder case showed that Asian Americans should and could work together,” said Lin.
“What I believe I should do is to attract as many Asian Americans, especially the younger generation, to join the organization to make the organization [a] better, stronger, and more inclusive organization. It is important to have members with strong and unique skills and experiences to help the organization.”
Who is David Lin?
Lin has a master’s degree in Computer Science, an MBA, and a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, from Rutgers University. He has been involved with the organization since 2006 and joined the national board two years ago. While serving on the national board, Lin volunteered to take on the toughest board assignment as vice president of membership. At the time, JACL had been losing members. No one wanted to take that job, he said.
Lin said he worked hard to increase membership and noted that there are 58 new members so far.
In February, he announced his interest in serving as president to the board and nominated himself for the position. Instantly, seven members seconded his nomination.
“We support him,” said Bill Tashima, former president of JACL’s Seattle chapter. “I didn’t hear any complaints that he’s Chinese American. Our organization is changing. It’s indicative of the fact that JACL is expanding for a wider community.”
Lin has served both Asian and mainstream communities before joining JACL. He was a school board member of Hillsborough, N.J. He also served on many Asian organizations, including the Organization of Chinese Americans, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP), Asian Pacific American Legal Center, and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center.
“[Lin] is impressive, professional, open, and friendly. He is showing lots of leadership and has lots of expertise and connections,” said Tahsima.
A looser race than expected
While many might assume that there would be a pretty tight race to be president of a nationally recognized organization, Akagi points out that this is not the case. “It’s hard to get people to run for office,” said Akagi. “JACL’s presidency was never a hotly contested race for many years.”
Akagi noted that Lin has long been involved with JACL and also has had two years of experience on the national board, while his opponent has never worked on the national level.
Before the voting process began, both Lin and his opponent had a question-and-answer session with chapter presidents and members. Each chapter got one vote.
Going forward, Lin’s goal for JACL is to expand the organization with new chapters and new members. Besides membership, he aims to ensure that the group will remain financially stable while continuing its civil rights advocacy, preservation of Japanese American heritage and culture, and educating others about the relocation camp experiences. (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.