Past, present Asian activists connect and share insights

By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly

Civic leader Kim Long Nguyen talks to Linh Le, D.J. Nguyen, Liem Nguyen, and Johnny Le. (Photo by James Tabafunda/NWAW)

Speed dating brings total strangers together to meet each other and talk about themselves, all within one five-minute round after another with new partners.

A similar kind of timed — but longer — interaction took place between Asian American student activists and their predecessors from generations past at the Civic Leadership Dinner on May 16.

It was the first joint effort between the University of Washington’s Asian Coalition for Equality (ACE) and the Asian Pacific Islander Student Association (APISA) of Bellevue College.

Thirty-two college students from throughout western Washington and Oregon met with about 20 Asian and Asian American civic leaders at the Four Seas Restaurant.

According to the joint ACE-APISA website, “By connecting the past to the present, we honor those who took a stand in the Civil Rights movement of the 1970s and celebrate those who continue to fight for a more equitable community.”

Alan Sugiyama, executive director of the Executive Development Institute and former Seattle School Board member, introduced the activists from the 1970s.

Seattle police officer Alex Chapackdee, dentist Tom Vu, and state senatorial candidate Louis Watanabe spoke to the students during the civic roundtable and networking portions of the dinner.

Willon Lew, “Uncle Bob” Santos, Frieda Takamura, Y.K. Kuniyuki, Larry Matsuda, Diane Wong, Mark Okazaki, Kim Long Nguyen, Anne Galarosa, Debbie Uno, and Mike Tagawa are just some of the other civic leaders who attended.

ACE is “a community group, and so, the things that we do as many of our original ACE leaders know is that we are advocating for the visibility and social equality for the Asian and Asian American community here,” said ACE chair Monica Ng.

ACE began in the spring of 1969 as the first civil rights organization in Seattle “to mobilize Asian Americans in multiracial solidarity campaigns and promote Asian American consciousness,” according to the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project. It disbanded three years later, but started mobilizing Asian Americans again in 2013.

Michael Stewart is the marketing chair of APISA, a student organization that “welcomes students of any nationality, from all over Asia and beyond.”

“We just started, so we focus right now on gaining visibility at Bellevue College, then hopefully through that, we can do more community events,” he said. “We’re really excited and hopefully this [event] will continue for years to come.”

Ng said to the civic leaders, “For me as an Asian American, it’s really inspiring to see all of you who have really paved the way for us and really shown us what we can do and what we can become in the future.”

During the networking portion of the dinner, the students asked the civic leaders such questions as, “Who is your biggest role model?” “What advice do you have for young activists today?” “How can we build and support community?”

They also asked, “How have you practiced self-care during your activism?” “How has your civic work influenced your life?” “What do you think is the next step in the Civil Rights movement?”

Linh Le, 22, is Vietnamese and a senior at the University of Washington. She is concerned about Asian American teenagers not having a connection to their ethnic community.

She met and spoke to seven civic leaders, the most out of all the students. For her effort, she won a Starbucks gift card.

“Learning from them is very important, to know the history, how they got involved in what they do for our community,” Le said. “It’s good to know what struggles they got into and how to overcome them.”

Yukimi Mizuno, 23, is Chinese, but was raised in Japan. Attending Bellevue College, she is the director of APISA and will graduate this quarter.

After speaking to several civic leaders, she said, “Based on their efforts, we have an easier life, I would say.

“We have a responsibility to look back at history, what older generations have been through, and then appreciate them. I think we have to get together and then raise awareness and then do something about it,” Mizuno added.

Civic leader Frankie Irigon and his wife, Felicita, spoke to several of the students. He is a former chair of the Renton Technical College Board of Trustees.

He says issues of social justice – racism against Asian Americans in particular – have not changed much since he was a member of Concerned Asians for the International District in the 1970s and a student activist who participated in Kingdome demonstrations.

Irigon said, “The best advice that I could give them is listen to where their heart takes them to. Becoming involved means different things. They don’t have to demonstrate. They don’t have to get arrested.”

“All they have to do is be supportive of those involved in the movement,” he emphasized. (end)

For more information about the Asian Pacific Islander Student Association, go to

For more infor-mation about the Asian Coalition for Equality, go online to

James Tabafunda can be reached at

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