Award recipients helped give voice to all Asian-Americans

March 12, 2006

Award recipients helped give voice to all Asian-Americans

12:00 AM CST on Thursday, March 2, 2006

Esther Wu Angela Oh may well be remembered as the woman who stood up for Koreans during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.

I can still recall her appearance on Frontline to discuss the issue.

“But I didn’t set out to be the spokeswoman for Koreans,” the Los Angeles-based lawyer said. “It was a chaotic time. It was not a riot but more of an implosion of all that was happening at that time. I stood up for all people who were on the edge at that time – the unemployed, the disenfranchised and the poor – everyone whose voices were not being heard.

“I want to be remembered as the voice who pointed out that America at that time needed to move beyond the black-and-white paradigm of race relations in this country,” she said in a telephone interview this week.

But she conceded that most would remember her as a champion of the Koreans in this country.

Not necessarily a bad legacy, she admits. But it is not the complete story.

Ms. Oh is a recipient of the Asian American Journalists Association’s Legacy Award, which will be presented March 11 at the Fairmont Hotel Dallas.

As national AAJA president, I’ve been working with the local chapter to help organize this fundraising event, which will honor five Asian-Americans whose exemplary achievements have changed the world we live in and have inspired future generations.

Others who will be recognized are Silicon Valley entrepreneur Sabeer Bhatia, lawyer Bill Lann Lee and actors George Takei and Lou Diamond Phillips.

We chose them not only because of their commitment and dedication to the Asian-American community, but because they are unsung heroes. Their true legacies are often masked by fame.

Mr. Phillips is probably best known for his work in La Bamba, Stand and Deliver and Courage Under Fire. But to many World War II veterans, Mr. Phillips is a real-life hero. The University of Texas at Arlington graduate, who was born in the Philippines, has been speaking out on behalf of veterans of Filipino descent who are still fighting for military benefits.

Mr. Phillips narrated An Untold Triumph, a documentary about the 7,000 men of the 1st and 2nd Filipino Infantry Regiments of the Army who fought in World War II and were later known as Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s “secret weapon.”

Mr. Takei is known to many baby boomers as Sulu on the television series Star Trek. But in reality he was one of the first Asian-Americans on a regular television series who did not portray a servant – a houseboy, a gardener or a cook.

The man who journeyed into the final frontier with Captain Kirk spent much of his childhood behind barbed wire at Camp Rohwer in Arkansas and Camp Tule Lake in California. Mr. Takei and his family were among the tens of thousands of people living in the U.S. who were placed in Japanese internment camps during World War II.

Bill Gates made Microsoft a household word, but it was Mr. Bhatia who helped develop a Web-based e-mail system that is now known by almost everyone who uses a computer. Mr. Bhatia co-founded Hotmail Corp. in 1996 and later sold it to Mr. Gates for about $400 million. Today, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur is CEO of Navin Communications.

Mr. Lee became the highest-ranking Asian-American law enforcement official in the U.S. when President Bill Clinton named him assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1997 – no small accomplishment for the son of Chinese immigrants who ran a laundry.

In his speeches, Mr. Lee, who has devoted much of his life to fighting hate crime, often talks about his father, who suffered the brunt of racial slurs because of his poor English. And how for many years the family could not purchase a home because of their ethnicity.

These five people have opened many doors for Asian-Americans. Unfortunately, too few people know the stories behind their successes.

The Legacy Awards Banquet will be held at 7 p.m. March 11 at the Fairmont Hotel, 1717 N. Akard St. in Dallas. Tickets are $200 and benefit AAJA’s scholarship and journalism training programs. For more information, call 469-438-5627 or visit E-mail

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