BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Lino Surianto
Atlanta, GA, May 23, 2023: “I do not choose to live the life of an interned person; yes, I am in a free country and can move about where and when I wish inside the country. Is life worth living in a gilded cage? Obstacles this way, blockades that way, and the bridges burnt behind,” an Indian immigrant named Vaishno Das Bagai wrote in his suicide note in the year 1928. He had come to San Francisco thirteen years earlier with his wife and two children, “dreaming and hoping to make this land my home,” as he stated in the note. He opened a general store on Fillmore Street in San Francisco and became a citizen in 1920. He was denaturalized in 1924 due to an Act of Congress that barred all “Asiatics” from citizenship. A few years later, in 1928, Bagai sadly took his own life.
We have come a long way since then.
Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can trace their histories to a region that spans more than half the globe. They have played key roles in shaping America, leaving an enduring impact in areas such as work, politics, culture, and law. The history of Asians in the U.S. is the history of dreams, hard work, prejudice, discrimination, persistence, and triumph.
Celebrating this triumph, the 38th Annual Asian/Pacific American Council of Georgia (APAC)-GA Unity Gala, held on May 13, 2023, at the Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta, in Duluth brought together representatives of 15 countries, amplifying the voice of Georgia’s growing Asian Pacific American community.
“Asian Americans are the most successful rim in America. This makes me happy because this American dream was not just made for people born here. It was made for anyone who comes here, works harder than anybody else, who has an idea about what their dream is and where the opportunities are and takes advantage of it. Nobody takes advantage of that American dream and the opportunities better than the people from Asian American rim,” Richard Dean McCormick – US House Representative from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District told NRI Pulse.
Themed “Our Heritage, Our Voice!” the entrancing gala welcomed over 400 attendees, featuring several VIP Guests including Richard Dean McCormick – US House Representative from Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, Kirkland Carden – Gwinnett County Board Commissioners District 1, Pedro Marin – Georgia House of Representatives District 96, Long Tran – Georgia House of Representatives District 80, Carter Barrett, Georgia House of Representatives District 24, Rep. Sugun Adeyina, State Representative District 110, Major Adam Davidson – Georgia Wing Group II Commander, Alfred John – Forsyth County Commissioner District 2, Dr. Romeo Moriles – The Filipino American Association of Greater Atlanta, John Butler – Chairman Atlanta Vietnam Veterans Business Association, (AVVBA), Khoa Vuong – Morrow City Council, Van Tran- Morrow City Council, John Bradberry – Mayor of Johns Creek, Bob Erramali-Johns Creek City Councilman, Kartik Bhatt – Board of Examiners for the Water & Wastewater Treatment, Shiv Aggarwal – Global Mall President, Dr. Jagdish Sheth – Professor, Goizueta Business School at Emory University.
Kicking off with the parade featuring flags representing different Asian and Pacific Islander countries, the gala presented Asian/Pacific culture at its vivacious best. The dignified flag presentation by The Color Guard from the Civil Air Patrol and Gwinnett County Comprehensive High School enhanced the patriotic fervor, which was further elevated by a powerful rendition of the National Anthem by Hanna Raharjo. Mayette Bayani and Vince “The Voice” Bailey anchored the event, engaging the audience with their charm and wit.
Sudhir Agarwal, President, APAC, delivered a warm and welcoming speech, setting the tone for the event.
The presentation of the Gwinnett County Proclamation of APAC Heritage Month by Kirkland Carden, Gwinnett County District 1 Commissioner, followed by the State of Georgia Proclamation, with special introduction by Pedro Marin, Georgia House of Representatives District 96, and read by Long Tran, Georgia House of Representatives District 80, contributed richly to the celebration of APAC Heritage Month and the promotion of diversity and cultural appreciation in Gwinnett County and the State of Georgia.
“Each year, we recognize the most qualified and deserving graduating senior students from each APAC member country organization based on scholastic achievements, extracurricular activities and community service. I congratulate all the scholars for their achievements and contribution to society,” Agarwal said. This year’s recipients included Jensi Perng (ATAA), Cindy Bun (CAAG), Eleanor Beryl Ratmeyer (Fil-AM), Areen Nagle (IACA), Isabella Hong (KAAGA), Tiffany Dang (LAS), Rebecca Yu (OCA), Pham Xuan Thao Nguyen (VAC), and Georgiana Almira Erwin (ICHF).
“It’s not what you take credit for, but how you serve others that matters,” McCormick said in his keynote address, emphasizing the significance of fostering friendships. “If you want to make an impact in relationship, instead of trying to win an argument, win a friend and you’ll have true influence in this world.” Underlining the importance of turning inward with focus on self and local communities, he stated that the spiritual bond, the connection people share with others, holds the power to solve problems and propel us into the future.
“This is the second year we are initiating “Community Achievement Award” award and I am glad to recognize this in Honor of Late Dr Narsi Narasimhan, APAC’s Past president (2005). I would like to thank “SprinklingSmiles”, an initiative started in 2020, that provided 200K meals during Covid for sponsoring the award this year and commitment for future year,” Aggarwal said. The award recognizes the contribution of one member from each member Organization for their contribution in Academic, Social, Community and Philanthropic domain. Dr. Naresh Parikh was among those who received the award from member organization, IACA (India American Cultural Association). The Awards were handed by Sudhir and Swati Agarwal, Mustafa Ajmeri, and Le Doan.
The Event also featured Various Cultural Performances by different groups and individuals– Drumming by the Taiwanese School of Georgia Drum Team (ATAA), Cultural Dances by Nritya Natya Kala Bharti Dance & Music Academy (IACA), Gugak Association of America (KAAGA), Vietnamese Women Association (VAC-GA), Kathak Dance Academy (ICHF), Laotian American Society (LAS), and Songs by Mayette Bayani (FIL-AM) and Phi Loan (VAC-GA). These performances aimed to highlight the diverse cultures and artistic expressions within the Asian Pacific American community.
“Amazing amalgamation of colorful performances of different Southeast Asian nations at APAC gala. Some of the performances transcended geographic boundaries. A gala to look forward to year after year,” Kaushal Tripathi, President, IACA said.
Other highlights of the event included the Introduction of 2023 APAC Officers & Gala Committee, Recognition of APAC Past Presidents, Volunteer Service Awards, and Door Prize Drawings.
The event concluded on a high note with Line Dancing led by Hanna Raharjo (ICHF).
“It was a fantastic event. My family and I had such a nice time. The MC was hilarious and the entertainment was amazing. The future for our region and our state looks bright indeed. We were honored to be invited,” Barrett `remarked.
“This event would not have been possible without the participation, dedication and continuous generous contributions of our Distinguished guests, friends, MC’s, Awardees, Scholars, Volunteers, and Performers. We look forward to serving our community and continuing the legacy of APAC for many more years to come,” Agarwal said in his vote of thanks.
About APAC of Georgia
APAC of Georgia is the consortium of 15 countries with a mission to
- Preserve and promote the awareness, understanding and pride in our Asian Cultural Heritage within our communities and mainstream society through cultural activities and education
- Protect Asian American interests through lawful means, raise awareness and recommend correction to any unfair and discriminatory policies, laws, and regulations affecting our Asian American Communities.
Brief history of APAC Month
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in the United States during the month of May to recognize the contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. Rep. Horton’s House Joint Resolution 1007 was passed by both the House and the Senate, and was signed by President Jimmy Carter on October 5, 1978, to become Public Law 95-419. In 1990, George H.W. Bush signed a bill passed by Congress to extend Asian-American Heritage Week to a month; May was officially designated as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month two years later. On May 1, 2009, President Barack Obama signed a Proclamation recognizing the month of May as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
The first Asians documented in the Americas arrived in 1587, when Filipinos landed in California. Georgia is currently home to 444,677 citizens of APAC heritage and one of the fastest growing groups in the US. The celebration of APAC heritage, a far cry from the 1911 special commission established by the US Congress which declared that the earliest of this community was “universally regarded as the least desirable race of immigrants thus far admitted to the United States,” is reflective of the long and arduous journey treaded by our previous generations to pave a smoother path for the current and generations to come.