Virtual symposium addresses the challenges, accomplishments and resiliency of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across Orange County

“To know my name means to know my full name. My full name is William Virak Hin. My mom gave me my middle name to represent the top of the mountain and strength. I believe my name honors the same strength my grandparents had when immigrating to America from Cambodia as refugees in 1975.” – William Hin, senior at Santiago High School

“My mother and I escaped Vietnam on a small fishing boat, in the middle of the night, when I was eight. My sister, who was five at the time, was left behind. At the age of eight, I learned the value of freedom, survival, compassion, humility and most importantly humanity.” – Dr. Natalie Tran, department chair for secondary education at Cal State University, Fullerton

“As a Korean immigrant, the riots of 1992 changed my life. Out of the flames of destruction, came my personal inspiration to build. To build a coalition, to build friendships, to bridge gaps and create trust. To focus on the strength that diversity holds if we work together, not apart.” – Sukhee Kang, former mayor of Irvine

These are just some of the personal stories shared during an OCDE-organized virtual symposium celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month on May 12.

Event flier

Leveraging the theme “Know My Name, Face and Story,” the event drew nearly 100 participants and was hosted by Orange County Superintendent Dr. Al Mijares. Using their voices as a tool to help end discrimination and xenophobia, a diverse group of six panelists gathered together to share personal stories and celebrate the contributions of one of the fastest-growing populations of people living in the United States.

Hin, Tran and Kang were joined by other speakers including Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management for the California State University Dr. Luoluo Hong, local Philanthropic Business Consultant Janice Munemitsu, and Northwood High Junior Jasmine Chhabria.

During their brief but impactful discussions, panelists shared a common perspective — the need to create a diverse population of Asian American educators, leaders and role models in classrooms, higher education and local government.

“In alignment with the theme “Know my Name, Face and Story,” I suggest that we push a little bit further and create a learning environment where students can show themselves,” said Tran. “Where we are able to integrate language, culture, family and community. We have so much to learn from the children that we serve.”

During the event, OCDE Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Hittenberger presented two community leaders with the inaugural Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Award of Distinction.

This year’s honorees are Judge Joanne Motoike, who now serves as Presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court in Orange County and partners with OCDE to help craft programs and supports for students who seek new opportunities to thrive; and Janice Munemitsu, a local philanthropic business consultant whose life’s work builds on the tradition of generosity exhibited by the Munemitsu family, who in the 1940s cultivated a lasting relationship with members of the Mendez family who successfully fought to desegregate public schools.

Upon accepting her award, Munemitsu said, “I find it interesting that our family name Munemitsu means ‘source of light.’ I’d like to encourage all of us to be sources of light. So together we can educate and bring awareness to Asian communities and equity amongst all.”

For those unable to attend, a video recording of the forum can be viewed below.