S.F. celebrates educators, honors diversity during APA Heritage Awards ceremony


San Francisco city officials and the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) community convened at the Herbst Theatre at the War Memorial Veterans Building in San Francisco to celebrate its eighth annual Asian Pacific American Heritage Awards ceremony and reception on May 7.

This year, the ceremony celebrated individuals and organizations that have contributed to the field of education. Thuy Vu of CBS 5 emceed the event, which city officials and diplomats from around the Pacific attended. The ceremony took place during San Francisco’s APA Heritage Month celebration.

Vu said the event was particularly important for San Francisco, wherein one-third of the city is Asian.

The celebration originated in 1977, when Rep. Frank Horton and Rep. Norman Mineta, of New York and California, introduced a House resolution that asked the president to establish Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. The following month, Senators Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga, both of Hawai‘i, introduced a similar bill in the Senate. Both bills were passed, and in 1978, then-President Jimmy Carter signed a joint resolution to declare the first 10 days of May Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. Then-President George H.W. Bush extended the celebration to a month in 1992.

May was chosen to celebrate APIAs on the anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants’ arrival to the U.S. on May 7, 1843, and the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in the U.S. on May 10, 1869, which was largely built by Chinese immigrant labor.

“Look around (the theater) … You can see the diversity of our city, the Asian Pacific American community is very diverse with over 50 ethnic groups,” said Claudine Cheng, founder and chair of the celebration committee. “Celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month provides the perfect opportunity for our community to connect, to share our stories, and recognize those who have dedicated themselves … to the community,” Cheng said.

The opening performance by Filipino dance group Tagabanua featured an interpretive tribal dance. The Gay Asian Pacific Alliance Men’s Chorus sang the national anthem. Fourth and fifth graders from Junipero Serra Elementary School in San Francisco debuted a Polynesian dance routine. At the end of the night, a cultural procession representing a variety of Asian Pacific Islander cultures appeared on stage in ethnic attire.

The award nominees this year encompassed three categories: Community Leadership, Community Impact and Lifetime Achievement. Each award honored educators who have helped APIA youths get an education and remain off the streets.

Emalyn Lapus of Japanese Community Youth Council (JCYC), Alameda County’s first Cambodian American Juvenile Justice/Delinquency Prevention Commissioner Sokhom Mao and City College of San Francisco Board of Trustee Steve Ngo were nominated for the Community Leadership award.

San Francisco School Board Member Emily Murase presented the award to Lapus. Vu said Lapus emigrated from the Philippines at the age of 7. She is the project director of the federally funded AACE Educational Services Talent Search (AACE TS) program, which the JCYC administers. Lapus has worked to expand JCYC’s outreach to disadvantaged high school students through creating the San Francisco College Access Center and expanding AACE TS in the Daly City area.

Lapus thanked the staff at JCYC and AACE and reflected on her years of service. “I’ve been at JCYC for 20 years … and working in school districts and working with low income youth to help them pursue their college education has not just been a job but a passion and career for me.”

The Community Impact award lauds organizations that help youths to succeed through community support. The finalists were: 4C the Power based in Acampo, Calif., just outside of Stockton, Community Youth Center of San Francisco and JCYC. San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi presented the award. “In the work that I do … we work with about a thousand young people every year,” said Adachi. “One thing we see is that … they don’t have the family support, they don’t have the community support and they don’t have the education support.”

Adachi presented the award to Diann Kitamura, executive director of 4C the Power. The organization was founded after she noticed the difficulties Hmong, Vietnamese and Cambodian high school students faced. Adachi said Kitamura was a full-time educator for 28 years before becoming the organization’s executive director. Her organization aims to connect youth with their community, culture and creativity, while building confidence. The organization facilitates workshops for youth in creative arts and organizes events to benefit the community.

Kitamura thanked the Asian American community and her collective family for making 4C the Power successful. “My particular passion is for Asian American students that don’t fit the somewhat stereotypical thoughts about Asian American students.” She said the Junipero Serra program will have a lasting impact on the Asian youth. “I think that the young children from J Serra Dance proved it perfectly,” said Kitamura. “They are fifth graders who will not remember what was on the California Standards Test they just took, but 20 years from now they’re going to remember the dance they learned, the culture that they studied, the creativity they were able to share with all of you and, most importantly, the confidence to come out here and do that.”

Each of the educators who were nominated for Lifetime Achievement had more than 25 years of experience. Frank Chong, superintendent and president of Santa Rosa Junior College and former deputy assistant secretary for community colleges in the United States Department of Education, presented the award finalists as one of the judges. The nominees were Gwen Chan, Elaine Kim and Marlene Tran.

“We know that education … is the key for us. These three individuals have spent their entire personal and professional lives dedicated to insuring that those youth don’t end up in Jeff Adachi’s system,” Chong said.

He spoke about the accomplishments and advocacy all three nominees have shown. He recalled Tran’s advocacy in empowering people on education issues, Chan’s ascendance as San Francisco’s first Asian American superintendent of public schools, and his memories of Kim, who mentored Chong and other UC Berkeley students in Asian American studies.

Kim received the Lifetime Achievement award, but was not present to accept it. “I am humbled by this recognition from my APA community and very sorry that I was out of town and unable to attend the ceremony,” she said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly.

This year’s ceremony also incorporated a public service announcement design contest, which the Academy of Art University administered. Sunny Teo, the executive creative director of Dae Advertising, and Jack Chin, general manager of SFGTV, presented Shaun Horrigan with the PSA Design Award. The ad will be played on SFGTV to promote APA Heritage Month. “This is the biggest award I ever won,” he said in accepting the honor.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee invited the various city supervisors, along with the consuls general and former Mayor Willie Brown, to join him in signing the proclamation for this year’s celebration.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu commented that the board has four Asian Americans. “After 160 years, San Francisco is the Asian American capital of the United States,” he said. Chiu commended the election of Lee, San Francisco’s first elected Asian American mayor.

The event also celebrated Lee’s 60th birthday with a cake made by the California Culinary Academy. The cake was presented to Lee after a cultural procession of APIAs in ethnic attire took the stage. Following the procession, a reception was held in the Green Room, where attendees sampled food from various restaurants and food distributors.

One response to “S.F. celebrates educators, honors diversity during APA Heritage Awards ceremony”

  1. Diana Tsoi Avatar
    Diana Tsoi

    Hi Di, here is an article from Nichibei re: the APA Awards.

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