What does inclusive and intergenerational community leadership look like?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Happy Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month! AANHPI is a long, tongue-twisting acronym, but it is part of the continuing evolution of how we understand our communities, how we learn to be more inclusive, and how we make that inclusiveness meaningful. We should always be reaching out across generations and across ethnic lines to be more inclusive because we are stronger together.
In my town, as Ramadan drew to a close, we started off AANHPI Heritage Month and Taiwanese American Heritage Week with the clash of cymbals and beating of drums. Lion dancing! Chinese yoyo! And a gift of contemporary Taiwanese art prints for our local library. The high school students held a hands-on open community workshop to let anyone try out lion dancing and Chinese yoyo. I was impressed with how patiently the towering high schoolers taught the tiny toddlers and helped steady their yo-yo sticks – intergenerational and community learning and leadership.
At a recent 1990 Institute and U.S.-China Education Trust event, Ambassadors Linda Tsao Yang, Julia Chang Bloch, and Chantale Wong similarly brought together three generations of Chinese American women ambassadors for an amazing conversation as Wong begins her tenure as U.S. Director of the Asian Development Bank. Wong is also the first out LGBTQ+ woman of color to be appointed to an ambassador-level position in the U.S. They talked about mentorship, overcoming barriers, and the role of the U.S. at the Asian Development Bank. Another example of intergenerational and community learning and leadership.
I remember briefly meeting Bloch in Kathmandu when she was ambassador to Nepal. Everyone pointed her out to me, knowing I would need someone like her to look up to and learn from.
And now Secretary Norman Mineta has died at the age of 90.
Mineta was not only the first Asian American Cabinet member, the first Asian American mayor of a major U.S. city, the first Asian American Congressperson on the U.S. mainland, he was my Congressperson. As a teenager, I volunteered in his office, taking the bus for three hours one summer to type letters to his constituents one by one on the big IBM Selectric typewriter.
As a child, Mineta was incarcerated with his family during World War II along with 120,000 other Japanese Americans. He wore his Boy Scout uniform, thinking that might deter the soldiers. He was co-founder and the first chairperson of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC), and his leadership was key in passing the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which provided redress and reparations for Japanese Americans incarcerated during World War II.
He was Secretary of Transportation on September 11, 2001. At a Cabinet meeting the next day, when U.S. Rep. David Bonior said that Michigan’s large population of Arab Americans were concerned about some of the security measures that were being discussed, Mineta recalled that President George W. Bush said, “We want to make sure that what happened to Norm in 1942 doesn’t happen today.”
Mineta was key in making sure that the Bush administration did not use 9/11 “as a springboard for widespread and brutal legislation” against an already vulnerable group, said Mika Kennedy, president of Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)’s Detroit chapter. Many Japanese Americans felt a moral responsibility to stand in support of Arab and Muslim Americans, and Sikh Americans, she said.
Rest in Power, Sec. Mineta.