Narasaki: Fight Racism and Bigotry
By: Jennie L. Ilustre
"We have an obligation to fight racism and bigotry, not just for Asian Pacific Americans, but for all Americans," top national civil rights leader Karen K. Narasaki said at the 33rd annual awards dinner of the Organization of Chinese Americans, D.C. Chapter (OCA-DC) on October 15.
Citing Asian American contributions to the country’s politics, economy, science and arts as well as the stakes in the Nov. 7 elections–with the unfinished business on comprehensive immigration reform, the resurgence of xenophobia or fear of foreigners, and hate crimes against Arab Americans, South Asians and Muslims–she issued a challenge to the community.
"What kind of country do we want to be?" she asked, adding, "America’s success and energy and vigor has been in its openness to new ideas and new people and in its commitment to what is fair and what is right. "
Ms. Narasaki is the president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), formerly the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium (NAPALC). APIAVOTE Executive Director Christine Chen introduced her as a community mentor and icon, for whom civil rights "is not just a day job–it’s also her passion."
Ms. Narasaki keynoted the event, and also received the organization’s Outstanding Leadership Award. The awards night drew some 400 members and guests, including local officials, at the New Fortune Restaurant in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Ms. Narasaki cited her father’s service in World War II, and Asian American men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "True patriotism and true love of country," she said, "means working to help America live up to the highest ideals."
Maryland State Senator Rob Garagiola (D) said: "She hit on a lot of issues on a critical level. The question is, will there be an affirmation or repudiation in these elections? I’m hearing that across the country, the answer is repudiation of the policies of the federal government on habeas corpus, Geneva Convention, wiretapping." He added xenophobia has been injected in the debate on immigration. The grandson of Italian immigrants, he stressed, "This is not the what the US is about, it’s not the country I know."
Ike Legget (D), three-time County Council president and now candidate for Montgomery County Executive echoed the high stakes in the elections on the local level. "Montgomery County is at a crossroads, it’s changing in so many ways, and the real test of leadership for the future calls for the ability to effect management and to work with different groups," he said, citing his diversity of experience. Among those present were Maryland State Delegates Susan Lee and William A. Bronrott.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) was conferred the Community Builder Award, with County Homeland Security Director Gordon A. Aoyagi accepting the award on his behalf. The Chinese Culture and Community Service Center (CCCSC) received the Community Service Award.
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to the late Dr. Robert Ting, a virology and immunology expert and biotech pioneer whose work endures. Dr. Ting collaborated with Dr. Robert C. Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV-1, the causative agent of AIDS. Allen Y. Lew, chief executive officer of the DC Sports & Entertainment Commission, received the Pioneer Award. He led the make-over of RFK Stadium and now leads the fast track efforts to build a state-of-the-art stadium for the Washington Nationals.
OCA as leader
Noting the number of successful Chinese Americans, OCA’s recent acquisition of the first national Asian American headquarters in the nation’s capital, and OCA’s historical trail-blazing role, Ms. Narasaki urged OCA to lead the effort in developing "a strong local political force."
She said Asian Americans should hold policy-makers, Congress and the media "accountable" to their actions. She also urged Asian Americans to share their "heartbreaking" personal stories–these touch the hearts "and compel people to make the right decisions." Asian Americans avoid confrontation and are "too polite." Quoting the saying, "The squeaky part gets the grease," she added, "We are not squeaking enough."
Once invisible, "there are now 20 APA organizations" with some presence in Washington. There are several APA appointees, but there’s still "a glass ceiling at the federal agencies." And in congressional staffs they are on both sides of the aisle–but "very senior positions are still too few." She lamented there’s "very little presence in the White House, and most of the national APA groups are vastly understaffed and under-funded."
In her opening remarks, Chapter President Lily Qi displayed the strategic and tactical thinking that makes her an effective leader. "The community dynamics and demographics has changed," she pointed out, adding there’s a need to refocus efforts on the local level. She cited three goals: greater visibility, value-added services and stronger communication with members and partners. Forums and connecting with other organizations focus on Big Picture issues and concerns.
OCA National President Ginny Gong asked for "continued support" to insure the success of the first APA building in the capital, citing mortgage, infrastructure improvement and staffing costs.
The tribute to Dr. Ting touched his daughter Jennifer, who listened on stage as Dr. Gallo, former OCA National President Michael Lin and University of Maryland School of Medicine Visiting Professor Dr. Alang Cheung honored her dad. She broke down before completing her remarks.
"It’s been tough on my family," she told Asian Fortune later. "Last night, we held a memorial service for my father, and we buried him today." She handed the speech she didn’t get to finish: "He would have been extremely proud to accept this award, as I am. I know my father was keenly interested in the rights and status of Chinese in America and firmly believed in the principles of OCA. I know he always enjoyed his interactions with fellow OCA members and was extremely pleased that it has grown and flourished through the contributions and efforts of all of you. Again, thank you for this wonderful tribute."
Vice President-at-Large Asuntha Chiang-Smith was the night’s emcee. Treasurer Phil Peng led the singing of the national anthem. The rest of the executive board: Jim McCallum, executive vice president; Dawn Li, VP for communications; Stan Lou, VP, programs; Lisa Lee, VP, community relations; Chuen-Yen Lau, VP, education and culture; Audrey lee, VP, membership services; Beth Wong, VP, public affairs; Margaret Chan, VP, records/secretary; Carol Lau and Francis Ng, Vice Presidents-at-Large; Alice Fan, County Asian American Student Union president, Student Liaison. Other volunteers were Chinese editor Tom Tsai and webmaster Dave Harker.
Platinum Sponsor was Allstate, represented by Field Corporate Relations Manager Debbie Pickford, who spoke about the company’s long partnership with OCA. Gold Sponsors were Asian Fortune and Prince George’s County, and HSU Development was Silver Sponsor. Table Sponsors were: The Asian American Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Education Association, A.G. Edwards, BB&T, CCCSC, Leadership Montgomery Class of 2005 (Sweet 16 Class) and UNIFI, Inc.