Top Contributor: Bryan Yambe

From crayons to council

By Sue Misao
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Bryan Yambe began his term as Fife City Council member, Position 1, with a swearing in ceremony at the Nov. 26 council meeting at Fife City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Louis Watanabe)

Bryan Yambe’s earliest foray into politics began when he was only 7 years old, sitting quietly in the corner of a room, drawing with crayons when his mother took him along to her Federal Way Diversity Commission meetings.

“I would be listening,” he said.

Yambe is the newly elected city council member (Position 1) for Fife. To fill a vacancy, he has already begun serving his term. Although new to political office, the idea of public service runs deep in Yambe’s life. His parents instilled strong values in him from the very start.

“I was taught that you have an obligation to stand up and speak for people who don’t always have a voice,” said Yambe, whose relatives on his mother’s side were interned in California during WWII. His father, an immigrant from Japan, emphasized to his son the importance of hard work and perseverance. “Those are the values I was taught,” he said.

During those meetings with his mom, Yambe as a young (and only) child was encouraged to pay attention and take an active role. “I wrote letters to the editor,” he recalled.

“Bryan has been interested in the political process since he was in grade school,” his mom, Mizu Sugimura, a third-generation Japanese American, wrote in an e-mail. “It is his hope that his candidacy and election will serve to encourage and inspire his fellow Asian American peers to consider public service as an option.

“Of course,” she added, “as a proud mother, my opinion is not by any means unbiased.”

Born in Tacoma, Yambe was raised in Federal Way. He attended Decatur High School and community college before jumping into retail work. For the past 20 years, he has worked on political campaigns, including President Obama’s Organizing for America. More recently, he worked on Shari Song’s campaign for King County Council.

He’s lived in Fife for the past two years, and has been a community organizer and member of the Pierce County Young Democrats executive board, the 25th Legislative Democrats executive board, the Federal Way Youth Commission, and the Browns Point United Methodist Church Staff Parish Relations board. The organizations that he’s volunteered for are too numerous to name.

At age 27, Yambe says he is “probably the youngest councilor ever elected in Fife,” and only the second Japanese American to do so. (Robert Mizukami was the first.)

“Asian Americans are not always known for being political,” said Yambe. “Statistics show we’re still kind of a subgroup.” Yambe thinks it’s important to show not only Asians, but young people as well, that government, while sometimes complicated, isn’t out of reach.

“If you want to make a difference in people’s lives and contribute to a greater good, public service is the highest calling,” he said.

Yambe’s top concerns as a new councilor involve the movement of Fife’s mostly agricultural and farming complexion to a more suburban, commercial, and industrial one.

“We’re a small, rural community transitioning into becoming a larger player in regional issues,” he explained.

“There are lots of issues about development.”

Social concerns are also on Yambe’s mind, he said, noting the need for mental health, homeless, and other services that come into play as a city grows. Currently, the most pressing issue is deciding what to do about 54th Street in Fife, which has been closed for about eight years, he said.

“One side wants it open for an exit and to accommodate emergency vehicles and the other side wants it to stay closed for student safety,” he said. “It’s contentious.” Yambe is leaning toward the “open it” side, but recognizes there is more to discuss.

Among his duties as council member, Position 1 requires him to be the “keeper of the jar,” he said. In other words, he is responsible for keeping the jar of jellybeans filled at council meetings.

Most importantly, Yambe often returns to a memorable bit of wisdom that his mother shared with him — something she learned years ago from one of her teachers: “Public service is the noblest profession.”

Yambe’s ultimate goal for Fife? “I’m hoping that we can create a community that is worthy of our children,” he said. (end)

Yambe will be honored at the Top Contributors award dinner on Dec. 6 at the House of Hong Restaurant in Seattle, from 6–9 p.m.

Sue Misao can be reached at editor@nwasianweekly.com.

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Photos on flickr