“Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
President John F. Kennedy’s words changed my life, as they did for many of those who came of age during his presidency. They caused me to seriously consider the purpose of my life. I changed directions as a result of those words, and the thoughts they stirred up in me, enrolling in the graduate school for public administration instead of my original plan to pursue an MBA.
The only part of the country I truly know is Seattle. So when the time came to give something back, as JFK asked us to do, it was Seattle that I focused on.
I am a third generation Seattleite, who graduated from Roosevelt High School when there were only a handful of minority students there, as a result of housing discrimination in NE Seattle. It was a natural progression for me to enroll in the University of Washington after high school—why would I want to go anywhere else? While there, a small band of Asian students and myself—including kung-fu master Bruce Lee—would support each other and push each other to achieve, meeting regularly at the “HUB.” During these meetings, we would say our generation would build on the accomplishments of our ancestors and push us closer to the American Dream.
It was an optimistic time, but soon war was in the news. War in Vietnam.
Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, I spent over a year in the Far East commanding an Army company—time that instilled in me an even greater love for my country, and a greater desire to improve it. After my service, I moved into public service, focusing on what I was good at: budgets, audits, treasury operations and numbers. I worked in Olympia for Gov. Dan Evan’s budget office, where I developed a close relationship with Ruth Woo. Throughout my political career, she’s been there, whether I was serving as King County Auditor, Seattle City Treasurer, most recently as Seattle Port Commissioner and running for King County Assessor.
Ruth was there for me, and in a similar way, I’ve tried to create a support system for others who want to give back to their community and encouraged young leaders like Gary Locke, Velma Veloria, Kip Tokuda, Conrad Lee and David Della and others to run for political office. I founded community-based organizations like Employment Opportunities Center, which helped several local Asian leaders get a leg-up, such as Al Sugiyama, Mark Okazaki, Vicki Assukura, Alison Sing, and many others. I founded the International District Rotary Club, which was the first to break down the gender barrier and introduce women to the Rotary organization worldwide.
No man or woman is an island. We have to push each other to excel, and nothing in my life gives me a greater sense of pride than supporting my community, and trying to leave it a better place, so our children can truly benefit from the struggles of our ancestors.
Because when it comes down to it, our legacy should be one of giving back, not taking.