Heidi Park at the Seattle JACL dinner this spring. Photo courtesy of Heidi Park.
Finally, there are many bright, young leaders emerging to provide leadership on issues important to Seattle’s communities of color. Among this group is Heidi Park, who is president of the Seattle Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and a policy analyst for Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn. Though she is not a homegrown product of neighborhoods like Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley or the Central District, she understands and shares the concerns of many who live in those parts of the city.
Like Tatsuo Nakata, one of the youngest presidents in the history of the Seattle JACL, Heidi cares deeply about issues of social justice, likes working on public policy issues and works tirelessly to build strong communities. “Tatsuo would have really enjoyed working with Heidi on JACL issues,” said Bill Tashima, former president of the Seattle JACL.
Born in Korea and adopted by an American family, Heidi grew up in a rural Minnesota River Valley. She lived in an all-white community with white parents who were loved her, but were not always able to understand her experience with racism. It was inevitable that after graduating from College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University in Minnesota, she would move to South Korea. There she worked as an English-language curriculum developer for a middle school. This experience played a pivotal role in helping her discover her cultural and emotional core as an Asian American.
A major reason for moving to South Korea was to find her birth mother. Although she was not able to meet her, the two exchanged letters which provided information about the circumstances under which her mother was not able to keep Heidi as a baby. Heidi soon realized that South Korea’s policies regarding the rights of women and children were not compatible with her more progressive values. And it was there that her keen interest in progressive public policies was born. She worked with adoptee-led organizations that advocated for welfare reform and women’s rights to help single mothers keep their children; she was also part of the community that worked to pass dual citizenship for Korean adoptees.
Upon her return to the U.S. Heidi settled in Seattle, working as a researcher for an online publication focusing on government contracts and as executive assistant for Eric Liu’s Guiding Lights Network Mentorship Organization and the True Patriot Network. While working at the Win/Win Network, she led the Washington State Asian Pacific Island (API) Civic Engagement Initiative to address the hidden opportunity gap for API students in K-12 education.
In 2011, she joined Congressman Jim McDermott’s staff to help address issues of concern to API and Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender communities. As his representative, she served as a liaison between constituents and local, state and federal agencies.
She joined the Seattle JACL while working on a bill introduced by Congressman McDermott to seek restitution for API fishermen who worked for Wards Cove Packing. Her commitment to the issue took her all the way to the National Convention where she introduced her resolution (endorsed by the Seattle JACL) to the National Council. The resolution passed unanimously, placing it on the advocacy agenda for its national staff in Washington, D.C.
Tashima believes “Heidi is a remarkable person — friendly with a passion for civil rights and social justice. She is organized, a natural leader and perfect for the role of Seattle JACL president in 2013!” Heidi’s major focus is her work for Mayor McGinn.
“Work is so much fun, and I like the Mayor’s progressive policies,” she said. “In Seattle, I’ve found an environment where cultural diversity is valued and I can share the API experience with others. I’m proud to have friends and mentors who support me like a member of a big family.”