by Rene Villaroman/Asianjournal.com
IRWINDALE – “Our strength is our diversity. But that strength is also our fundamental weakness,” declared State Assemblyman Warren Furutani at the 3rd Annual Asian Pacific Heritage Month Celebration at the Southern California Edison (SCE) Customer Technology Application Center on Friday, May 2.
Furutani was the keynote speaker at the event where SCE recognized community and business leaders and organizations.
“Unless we integrate, unless we diversify truly, in every shape, fashion and form, then all that strength in diversity will not be brought to bear,” Furutani said. “That is still a challenge that we have to deal with.”
SCE presented the Corporate Award to Lee Kum Kee, USA Inc., an Asian-owned business that has proven its commitment to the success of Asian American businesses and made significant contributions to the community. The Community Service Award was given to the Asian Pacific American Legal Center (APALC) for its commitment to justice and equality and Rafu Shimpo, a bi-lingual newspaper, for continued dedication serving the Asian Pacific American communities.
The Community Leadership Award was presented to Yul Kwon, winner of the reality TV show Survivor, for helping to change the media representation of Asian American men.
“It is a wonderful at Southern California Edison to celebrate and honor our corporate and community partners who contribute so much to our diverse communities,” said Frank Quevedo, SCE vice president of equal opportunity. “This event and others like it increase the awareness of the many and important contributions of Asian Pacific Americans.”
Furutani, a member of the California Assembly’s Wildlife, Parks and Utilities Committee, said that the business world has understood that the API community is no longer a minorities’ minority. “The API community is a dynamic powerhouse, an engine of the economy that is critical to the United States,” Furutani said. “Now we are regular people. We are in different commercials for cars. We are consumers; that’s who we are. They acknowledge our existence.”
On the political front, Furutani said he is not so sure whether the API community wields sufficient political clout. “I don’t know if you noticed, but there are twice as many Asian Pacific Islanders in the State of California than there are African Americans. And the only reason I referenced that is there will be a proverbial political power generated from these communities,” he said. “Clearly the Latino community is right there.”
“The API community is the fastest growing community in the State of California and in the United States. Our numbers have reached a point, where as voters, registration shows weakness for us. But even with this weakness in capacity, we are about 1.1 million voters in the State of California.” he added. “There are more than 3 million Latinos, and there’s about 500,000 African Americans. So relative for the state, that shows that we are on the incline to a certain degree. But relative to political power, it is clear that there is so much still to be learned from the African American community.”
“As a member of the California Assembly, I have in front of me a green button and a red button. And with the green button and the red button, I can protect the smelt in the waterways of Northern California to a point that it is going to really upset farmers that grow the food that you and I eat by pressing the red or green button,” Furutani revealed. “It is not that we all eat rice. It’s not the color of our skin. It’s not the texture of our hair. It fundamentally comes down to what we believe in, what our values are, what we stand for as an emerging community. If we are going to use the word civic, then let’s just be Asian Americans.”
Yul Kwon, a Korean American entrepreneur who wanted to change the way Asian men are portrayed in films and in television, said, “Asian men are being portrayed as kung fu masters who could kick ass, but couldn’t speak English,” he said. “At first I didn’t want to do it (join the Survivor cast) because I could embarrass myself and compromise my career. But opportunities like these don’t come often to Asians to try to educate the larger American mainstream that we are not alike.”
“It is very important to remember that we are not better or smarter than those who came ahead of us. We just have better opportunities,” said APALC founder Stuart Kwoh.