Established in 1983, Asian American Coalition of Chicago (AACC) stands as one of the longest-standing organizations that bring Asian Americans together in the city. Nearing four decades of service, they are brought upon by the mission of uniting the community “into a significant force for strengthening the Asian American Community in the United States; enriching Asian cultural values, and recognizing the importance of Asian American contributions to the American democracy and economy.”
There are 16 ethnic communities currently binding the organization. These are Bangladeshi, Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Nepalese, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Thai, and Vietnamese American communities. Staying true to its title, “Coalition,” AACC truly instigates a co-alliance between ethnicities as diverse as their list. To demonstrate and celebrate this, they organize the Annual Lunar New Year celebration yearly which “helps to celebrate these rich heritages and diverse histories.” AACC also missions itself to “organize and promote equal opportunities in government, education, economic development, and international affairs in order to empower all Asian Americans.”
One of their many ways to realize their mission is to give honor to those who continue to blaze trails so more Asian Americans can follow suit and create paths for themselves. AACC has four coveted awards during the ceremony--the Pan Asian American Ping Tom Memorial Award, Grand Asian American Sandra Otaka Memorial Award, Exemplary Community Service Award, and Youth Who Excels Award.
The Exemplary Community Service and Youth Who Excels awards by definition are self-explanatory, but the standards these distinctions uphold are tremendous. For the memorial awards, they have Ping Tom and Sandra Otaka. Ping Tom was recognized by Chicago magazine as one of Chicago’s Top 40 pioneers. As the president of the Chinese American Development Corporation, he dreamed of expanding Chinatown and creating more space for more Chinese Americans to create and build their livelihoods. He may not have lived long enough to see this dream actualized, but being one of the thirteen founders of AACC was already solid proof of his dedication to the community.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, Sandra Otaka is remembered as a politically active fighter for the Asian American Community. She is known as the organizer of a campaign against a Cook County Judge who hurled racist bluster against a Japanese person in his courtroom. It was so powerful that it stopped him from regaining his judicial retention in the next election. She also took part in dawning the county’s first Asian American associate judge. Being in the legal field as well, she was not just a candle lighter for progress but has also helped hold the candle herself. In 2002, she was elected as Cook County Judge and won retention by voters in 2008.
These awards and the annual Lunar New Year celebration are indeed more than trophies and parties. These are symbolic accolades given by the organization for the community. To operate these values, nine out of the 16 Asian communities take turns in hosting the much-awaited Lunar New Year Gala. These are Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Pakistani, Thai, and Vietnamese American.
Last year, the Thai-American Community worked hand-in-hand to bring the 38th Annual Lunar New Year Celebration with a theme, “Unity is Power.” This year, it will be a roaring celebration as the Malaysian-American Community takes the lead for the occasion with the theme “R.O.A.R.” (Respect, Optimism, Amity, and Represent). May we all look forward to the 39th Annual Lunar New Year Celebration and also to the many more to come!