By Abner Galino
FILIPINO American YouTube sensation and pop-rock artist AJ Rafael headlined the Asian Americans Advancing Justice inaugural black-tie gala at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Orange County last week.
Over 300 guests, composed of prominent business, legal and philanthropic leaders, came to celebrate and honor AAAJ’s 12 years of service and accomplishments in the Orange County community.
AJ Rafael said he considered it a great honor to be part of the celebration.
“I have performed in colleges and in shows, but I haven’t been invited to galas a ton. But Sylvia Kim invited me. And I am really excited because I am all about Asian American representation, Filipino American representation, not only in the entertainment industry, but also in things like this… So it feels good to be here,” AJ Rafael said.
The Filipino American singer said he had done concerts in the past for autism awareness and other meaningful advocacies.
Rafael treated guests to a special medley of popular Disney songs.
Foremost of the personalities that graced the affair were Anton and Jennifer Segerstrom and Anne Shih, chairwoman of the Bowers Museum, Sam Tang, Ed Lee, co-founder of Wahoo’s Fish Tacos were among the attendees, along with philanthropic leaders from the Kay Family Foundation and the Long Family Foundation.
“Each and every day we are on the front lines of serving the third largest and fastest growing Asian American population in the country,” said Sylvia Kim, regional director of Advancing Justice-OC.
“With a small but mighty legal service staff, we’ve served over 1,200 clients through citizenship clinics over the past year and we are excited to announce that we will be expanding our services to include voter education and civic engagement. With your help, we will continue to grow and transform Orange County.”
Since 2006, Advancing Justice-OC has been instrumental in serving the needs of the Asian and Pacific Islander community.
The organization was first established in the county due to attacks and even deaths of Asian Americans at the hands of white supremacists. Since then, it has grown both in size and capacity, providing linguistically and culturally competent legal services.
“I am proud to serve as the emcee for tonight’s event,” said May Lee, news correspondent for CGTN American and first Korean American anchor at CNN.
“It’s amazing and tireless organizations like Advancing Justice-OC that serve our community everyday, helping to amplify Asian American voices and encouraging an entire generation to make a positive impact in their communities.”
“We have a long-standing commitment to serving and fighting for the rights of all immigrants and refugees. And tonight, I am thrilled to announce that we have raised over $250,000 to support Advancing Justice-OC,” said Stewart Kwoh, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and key leader in the national Asian American civil rights movement.
The Gala ceremony included the presentation of two awards to outstanding trailblazers in the Asian American community.
Jeremy Lin, considered one of the most influential players in the NBA, was honored with a Public Image “Breaking Barriers Award for his leadership in breaking barriers and speaking out against Asian American stereotypes.
“I just want to thank Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Orange County for the 2018 Breaking Barriers Award. I know Advancing Justice is doing a ton of awesome work amplifying Asian American voices and encouraging a whole generation of kids,” said Lin, who is currently a point guard for the Brooklyn Nets.
“Oftentimes a lot of Asian American kids will come up to me to tell me thank you for being an inspiration. That’s something I’ve always cherished and embraced and I hope that as people look back on my story that will encourage young kids to continue chasing their dreams.”
Dr. Alethea Hsu, President of Diamond Development Group, was presented with the “Businessperson of the Year Award” for her trailblazing leadership in creating the iconic Diamond Jamboree Plaza.
“I am so honored to be selected as one of the honorees by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, along with Jeremy Lin. Unfortunately, he cannot make it this evening. But I promise you I am a pretty good substitute,” joked Hsu upon accepting her award.
“Jeremy and I have more in common than it might appear. We are both Taiwanese Americans and we are both dedicated to improving our communities. And I unleash insanity in my business practices.”
“We owe the success of Diamond Jamboree to the continued support of our patrons, and our ability to provide such a diverse community with restaurants and stores,” continued Hsu.
“Many of our patrons either find our menu interesting or they feel at home. We are encouraged to be able to please people with different backgrounds. And that is the secret of our success.”
“I invite each and every one of you to join us as we make history and build a legacy of fighting for justice on behalf of our communities right here in Orange County,” said Kim in her closing remarks.
“Now more than ever, we are in need of a unified voice to stand up for justice on behalf of our communities.”
The “Gala for Justice” Host Committee included Joseph Cruz (Ernst & Young LLP),Mark Furuya (Clark Construction Group), Gloria Lee (Rutan & Tucker, LLP), Vivian Long (Long Family Foundation), Ginger Ong, Jack Toan (Wells Fargo), and Mike Yim (Quantum Capital Partners).