Three Japanese-American women from different fields were among the 15 women of Asian and Pacific Island heritage that were chosen to receive the “Champions of Change” honor by the White House. They were chosen for contributing to make the United States “bigger and brighter again and again” in their chosen fields, from business, sports, education, activism and beyond.
Atsuko Toko Fish was born in Tokyo and became an American citizen in 2008. She was a former advisor to the governor of Massachusetts on tourism and trade and created an executive program for Japanese women to become non-profit leader. She raised almost 1 million dollars for disaster relief operations after the March 2011 disaster in Japan. Not only that, she was one of the first people on ground doing relief work, despite flying in from the US. She also helped start the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund-Boston and encouraged Japanese women to take a leading role in disaster recovery by being the “driving force behind the scenes.”
Natalie Nakase was the first Asian-American basketball player in the National Women’s basketball league when she was playing for UCLA and then became the first female coach in the Japanese professional men’s basketball league. Her dream now is to become the first female coach in the National Basketball Association. Nakase, now the video coordinator for the Los Angeles Clippers wants to show people who “the most unattainable goals can be achieved” and that courage is all it takes to achieve something that hasn’t been done before.
Karen Suyemoto was born to a father who survived being interned during World War II and a mother suffering from mental illness. Her parents’ experience with racism and disability has led her to pursue a life advocating for social justice. She and her team made a study on the correlation between racial and ethnic discrimination experiences with the development and mental health of Asian-Americans. Her academic career has been about improving the lives of Asian-Americans, especially those who are suffering from mental illness.
All the awardees were honored as part of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage month and a presidential proclamation about the honor was quoted by Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to U.S. President Barack Obama and chair of the White House Council on Woman and Girls. “These fifteen women represent the strength and diversity of the AAPI community,” she said, adding that they serve as role models for the young women of America.
You can see the entire list of awardees here.