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Panel on public service educates, supports

Published: Monday, April 10, 2006

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

The Asian Pacific Islander Employees of Boston College (APIE) had their inaugural event, Thursday, with a panel forum on Asian-Americans in public Service.

APIE was created two years ago to address the need of having a group that promotes the welfare and interests of the Asian Pacific Islander American employees of BC and to serve as a vehicle for representing the professional advancement of those employees.

Dr. Frieda Wong, one of the co-founders of APIE who also works for University Counseling Services, believes that Asian-Americans in public service is an important topic, "for not only does public service apply to employees of Asian descent but to all people of different ethnicities. This then promotes more awareness and diversity within the AHANA employees' population of Boston College," she said.

Siu Ming Luie, another founder of APIE, who is also one of the coordinators for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this April, said that APIE will not only be for the employees of BC, but after some time, it will connect to the students as well. "APIE will create a community for all faculty, staff, and students who will serve as resources for each other," she said.

The diverse group of panelists shared their thoughts and experiences on how they became so involved in public service within the Massachusetts community.

ChanRithy Uong served as a city councilor in Lowell, Mass. He was the first Cambodian-American elected to be an official in the United States and the first minority to be elected to a political office in Lowell.

He does not see himself as a politician, rather, he sees himself as a community activist. "This is what I do - I mobilize and motivate people to come together to fight for their right to live as equals in the community," said Uong. The only way he saw to change the problems of racism in Lowell was to run for city councilor. "I went from hating politicians to actually loving being a politician because through it, I was able to make a difference in my community," said Uong.

Not only did he try to improve his community's circumstances in Lowell, he also went back to his homeland of Cambodia and helped mobilize Cambodians to vote during the free and fair elections.

Paul Watanabe is currently the director of the Institute for Asian-American Studies and is an associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Boston. In his speech, he disproved the stereotype that Asians are apathetic in public service and simply do not like to get involved. "We have been involved ever since we came to these shores 200 years ago in New Orleans," said Watanabe.

"Despite the Asian-American population being singled out as aliens unavailable for citizenship after WWII, and despite the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, they have fought for their right to live in the United States. This is what should be front page when speaking about Asian-Americans in public service," said Watanabe.

Asian-American involvement, according to Watanabe, is the fight against the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese internment camps; the fight for equality. "They say that there is no such thing as an Asian activist, but any person of color in this country trying to legitimize himself in the community is an activist," said Watanabe.

Suzanne Lee is currently the principal at Josiah Quincy Elementary School, which was named one of the Best 100 Elementary Schools in Massachusetts in 2005, but she prefers to be seen as a Chinatown activist before an educator. She came to the United States when she was 11 years old, and this was the first time she saw her father. "He left China before I was born and because of immigration laws in the United States, I did not exist in America," said Lee.

Lee decided to take on the task of rebuilding Josiah Quincy Elementary School because she wanted to see how far she could take it. And now, despite 65 percent of its student population having limited English proficiency, it has won an Excellence in Education award from the U.S. Department of Education. "I want to give my students the same opportunity that middle-class, suburban kids have," said Lee. "We are in it for the fight to show them what public education can be in America. This is why I do what I do; because I hate the way it is right now."

Through this panel, APIE showed the extent to which Asian-Americans are involved in public service, and through the panelists' stories, audience members became more aware about other races and how they came to be in America.

Romeo Ymalay A&S '06, said the panel achieved its goal. "It is crucial for us today to recognize their contributions because their struggles are our struggles, and we need to become active participants in this effort to protect our fundamental rights as Americans."

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