UPDATED:  May 1, 2008 10:02 PM
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By: Rita M. Gerona-Adkins

ARLINGTON, VA --- Reunions have a way of becoming just a happy memory of a get-together until the next time.

But Pan Asia, an organization of Asian and Pacific American women founded some 22 years ago, ended their second reunion faced with a challenge -- to get their organization back to its feet and moving again.

Its revival and possible return to the advocacy community is fitting news to the Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a national celebration of the contributions of Americans of Asian and Pacific origin.

The reunion event was held March 15, 2008 at Mei Asian Bistro in Arlington Blvd, just behind the George Mason University Law School, organized by Betty Lee Hawks and Linda Garcia Yangas, two of its past presidents. It was the second reunion after the first held in January in the Hawks residence in Northwest Washington, D.C. 

A Film Highlight

A highlight of the reunion was a showing of “The Queen of Virginia,” a 90-minute 2006 award-winning documentary about Pan Asia member Jackie Bong Wright’s experience of competing in a nationwide pageant that started in 1972 for women over age 60 “who can best exemplify the dignity, maturity and inner beauty of all senior Americans,” and win the title of “Ms. Senior America.”

The film also showed how Jackie “rebuilt her life in America after surviving personal tragedies suffered in the Viet Nam War” (from Double O Three Productions web site). It’s also worth noting that the subject of the documentary also happens to be one of the regular contributing writers of Asian Fortune.

Other than Jackie’s proud husband, Lacey Wright, a retired U.S. diplomat, the 40-some audience included the organization’s founders and members, many of whom had brunched out to the Federal government, developed careers in other areas of public service, pursued success in their professions, or carved fortunes in the business world.

All these while growing their families and nurturing the cultural life of their communities.

These include the following: Tin Tin Nu Raschid, president of the Bethesda Women’s Club; Lisa Ramadass, who is involved with Youth for Understanding and has recently hosted young people from different countries; Wendy Lim, who works at the Smithsonian, and her husband, Peter; Cora Yamamoto, who presently has a federal assignment; Tino and Diana Calabia, two of the APA community’s active advocates; Karen Narasaki, who was a member of Pan Asia’s board of directors, civil and human rights activist and presently is president and executive director of Asian American Justice Center [formerly known as National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium], and many others whose names and present positions are not available at this writing.

Linda Yangas -- who just retired from the Triservice Nursing Research Program after a long assignment with the Department of Commerce Bureau of the Census, and presently is a docent at the Textile Museum in addition to being with the League of Women’s Voters -- was the emcee. 

The Challenge: Revival

Before the goodbye hugs and exchanges of e-mail addresses, Juanita Tamayo Lott, who is one of Pan Asia’s “Sweet Sixteen” founding members, made impromptu remarks, parts of which are paraphrased below:

“We have to get [Pan Asia] back…for our children…who are going to be the leaders of the 21st Century. We have to be involved in issues…because if we, our children, don’t keep up with the global competition…train in science, engineering, statistics, all that hard stuff…guess what?... we will be left behind…as China, India and the Asia-Pacific region have become competitive.

“We have among us women who have been involved with various issues…refugee issues, women’s rights, civil rights, equal pay, you name it…And now, where are we going to be…after we’ve juggled our careers with our personal lives taking care of children and aging parents...There are still issues that face us, such as voting issues…Why not still be involved in issues that affect the next generation in the next critical era?

“So people…I thought I’d throw those thoughts out…”

Wide applause broke out, followed by a buzz of where the next reunion would be. It was agreed tentatively to hold it at the residence of Susan Au Allen, a immigration lawyer who also has built in the last two decades a business and international trade network as CEO and President of US Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation (USPAACC-EF).

Her organization will hold its 23rd Anniversary Celebrate Asian Business Opportunity Conference '08 on May 27-29, at the Hilton Washington Hotel in Washington, DC. This year's theme is "Business Beyond Boundaries, Here & Abroad." 

History, Track Record in Public Policy

With a long track record of having participated in meetings, conferences and workshops, and making an impact on national public policy issues, including civil rights, equal pay and representation, affirmative action, and skills and leadership training, Pan Asia, like the mythical phoenix, will likely rise again for more action.

The Organization of Pan Asian American Women, Inc -- or Pan Asia for short -- was conceived as early as 1976 as an offshoot of a national conference held by the National Institute of Education focusing on education and occupational needs of various ethnic women of Asian and Pacific ancestry. This led to the forming of the Washington, D.C.-based organization with an ambitious agenda: focus on national public policy issues that especially impact Pan Asian women and contribute to the nation’s policymaking changes.

It was a time heady with the global awakening about the importance of women’s contribution to society at the policy level – not only as recipients but also as participants in development. Laid out by the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-1985) and the Beijing+5 Conference in 1990 as a theme for its then-179 member countries (which now numbers 192) to caucus about and pursue, the message also stirred action in the United States down to advocacy groups in its minority communities.

At the national level in the United States, Pan Asia helped catapult the presence of Asian and Pacific American women to the highest levels of dialogue and public policy exchange.

There were 1.9 million Asian and Pacific Islander females comprising 51% of the APA population then in 1980, according to a 1984 article “Asian and Pacific American Women as Vital Forces Across the Nation” by Juanita Tamayo Lott, a U.S. Bureau of Census official who is one of the country’s prodigious writers on APA demographic growth and diversity. [Note: Article is in Pan Asian Women: A Vital Force, a 1985 publication on the organization’s first decade.]

As the APA population grew to the present over 14 million, questions about minority women’s policy issues and their impact on their families and communities continue to need attention. These issues are especially in the areas of health care, the affordability of health insurance, diseases common to Asian American and Pacific Islander populations such as diabetes and hepatitis and the little examined cervical cancer incidence among AAPI women; college costs, housing, language and other forms of assistance to seniors and elderly, immigration, violence against women, hate-mongering, access to jobs at federal and statewide levels, economic recession, and human right.

There are also other social issues, such as drugs, teen violence, on line vulnerability of children and young adults to predatory messages, and other concerns that impact AAPI and other minority families and communities.

All these wait for more collective voices to confront and if necessary, pressure the country’s policymakers to change and improve.

Regarding the advancement of women, there’s also the need to continue to draw inspiration from, and act on, the legacy of Patsy Mink, the late Hawaii congresswoman who helped push Congress and the country to literally level the playing field in sports and in the workplace for women by authoring Title IX Amendment to Education Act 1972.

That may have been behind Juanita’s challenge, and hopefully, it seems, could be the evolving new agenda of Pan Asia.

Meanwhile, they have already started drawing in young people; some of them were at the Arlington reunion.

“We hope not only to revive but grow Pan Asia, and we’ve invited four young women today,” Betty Lee Hawks told Asian Fortune.

The young women – all members of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF) -- are Deena Jang, Gening Liao, Ann Surapruik, and Tracy Ng. 

Pan Asia’s Movers & Shakers

Pan Asia’s organizational history includes the following:

1976 Steering Committee: Betty Jean Lee, Juanita Tamayo Lott, Canta Pian, TinMyaing Thein, Gwen Wong, and Joanne Yamauchi.

1977 “Sweet Sixteen” Founding Members: Freda Cheung, Esther Chow, Laura Chen Fernandez, Vennette Fuerth, Shirley Hune, Juanita Tamayo Lott, Betty Jean Lee, Susan Lee, Marcia Mau, Ella Miyashiro, Canta Pian, Florence Sato, TinMyaing Thein, Pattie Tom, Owen Wong, and Joanne Yamauchi.

Pan Asia Presidents: 1978 Betty Jean Lee; 1979 Vivian Chen, 1980 Marguerite Gee, 1981 Jo S. Uehara, 1982 Betty Lee Hawks, 1983 Wendy Lim, 1984 Rosalinda Garcia Yangas, and 1985 Katherine Jan Lee.

Many of these names [and other members not mentioned] are familiar to the AAPI community in their continuing, or newer, roles in areas of public service, advocacy, policymaking, business, volunteerism, leadership training, and humanitarian work.

The month of March – two months ago –was internationally observed as Women’s Month, a tribute to the role and contributions of women to society, whatever its varying forms of governance, history and culture.

From its track record and history, Pan Asia can be said to have also contributed to American society, and is likely to continue in that role by acting on the challenge of the present.  

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