Henry Yin: Mo­bi­liz­ing com­mu­nity in­volve­ment BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CHANG JUN in San Fran­cisco junechang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Chi­nese Amer­i­cans should cul­ti­vate their grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions to par­tic­i­pate in US civic and pub­lic af­fairs, pre­pare for fu­ture lead­er­ship by hon­ing their skills, serve so­ci­ety as re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens and see that their voices are heard in a struc­tured for­mat. That’s the ad­vice from sea­soned com­mu­nity ac­tivist Henry Yin.

“This is from hard lessons learned over my 40 years liv­ing and work­ing in the United States,” said 67-year-old Yin. He im­mi­grated to the US from Tai­wan in 1974, earned a mas­ter’s de­gree and worked as an en­gi­neer in Sil­i­con Val­ley be­fore start­ing his own busi­ness and get­ting in­volved in com­mu­nity mat­ters.

Chi­nese Amer­i­cans have long been stereo­typed as po­lit­i­cally pet­ri­fied, said Yin. “We usu­ally are the silent ma­jor­ity and won’t act un­less there is a fire at the doorstep,” he said.

The most re­cent “fire”, said Yin, was the Cal­i­for­nia Se­nate Con­sti­tu­tional Amend­ment No 5 or SCA5. Writ­ten by se­na­tor Her­nan­dez, SCA5 was passed by the state Se­nate on Jan 30 with a two-thirds vote and would al­low such pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions as the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia (UC) and the Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity (CSU) sys­tems — and even K-12 schools — to use race, sex, color, eth­nic­ity or na­tional ori­gin as a con­sid­er­a­tion for ad­mit­ting stu­dents or hir­ing em­ploy­ees.

The pas­sage of SCA5 caused a stir in Asian com­mu­ni­ties, with many fam­i­lies wor­ried that UC and CSU would ap­ply quo­tas on en­roll­ment.

“We Asians at­tach great im­por­tance to ed­u­ca­tion,” Yin said. “SCA5 would likely put hun­dreds and thou­sands of Asian fam­i­lies and their chil­dren on an in­vis­i­ble grill.”

The is­sue acted like a cat­a­lyst in­stead. It not only in­spired Asian Amer­i­cans in Cal­i­for­nia to take to the streets to ex­press their ob­jec­tions, but it fos­tered the for­ma­tion of grass­roots civic or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Sil­i­con Val­ley Chi­nese As­so­ci­a­tion and United Asian Amer­i­cans for Ac­tivism.

“The mo­men­tum is un­prece­dent­edly strong,” said Yin, adding he had been in­vited into 20 some or­ga­ni­za­tions through WeChat, the equiv­a­lent of Twit­ter in China, and was bom­barded by mes­sages from as many as 4,000 mem­bers each day.

“I’m very glad to see that more Chi­nese Amer­i­cans care about pol­i­tics, about is­sues of com­mon in­ter­est, and are start­ing to ex­press their views through demo­cratic chan­nels,” said Yin. “This is some­thing we wouldn’t dare imag­ine 40 years ago.”

The po­lit­i­cal enthusiasm of these vol­un­teers and the ev­er­grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of Asian Amer­i­cans are two pos­i­tive fac­tors which will help lay a solid foun­da­tion for our play­ing a big­ger and more im­por­tant role in civic and pub­lic af­fairs, said Yin.

Yin cau­tioned, how­ever, that good in­ten­tions only are not enough. He pointed to the cur­rent undis­ci­plined man­age­ment in some of these grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions, where in­for­ma­tion gets dis­sem­i­nated with­out be­ing fact-checked and self-con­tra­dict­ing sig­nals are sent out that con­fuse people and ruin our so­cial un­der­tak­ing in the long run.

“Pol­i­tics is a broad field that re­quires charisma, in­tel­li­gence and po­lit­i­cal acu­men,” said Yin.

Yin and the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Pub­lic Af­fairs (APAPA), where he has served as vice-chair of Bay Area Chap­ter since 2001, have held sev­eral town hall meet­ings and lec­tures to ed­u­cate the pub­lic and train po­ten­tial lead­ers.

In the past 13 years, the APAPA has ex­panded through­out Cal­i­for­nia and be­yond, with 30,000 mem­bers, ac­cord­ing to its founder C. C. Yin, Henry’s el­der brother.

Yin said the APAPA jumped into the anti-SCA5 move­ment be­cause he did not want to see to­day’s or­ga­niz­ers re­peat­ing his old mis­takes. Eco­nom­i­cally and ed­u­ca­tion­ally stronger than their pre­de­ces­sors, the new gen­er­a­tion of Asian Amer­i­cans should aim high and dream big. “They should gain a bet­ter foothold by tak­ing part in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics,” Yin said.

With mon­e­tary strength and grow­ing num­bers of Asian Amer­i­cans vot­ers — the two most pow­er­ful bul­lets, as Yin put it — Chi­nese need to unite and learn how to best in­te­grate their re­sources and help shape so­cial and civic un­der­tak­ings in this coun­try, he added.

Yin said he would prob­a­bly have lived the sim­ple life of most Chi­nese im­mi­grants — be­ing the bread earner of the fam­ily, a sup­port­ive hus­band and fa­ther and an in­dif­fer­ent US cit­i­zen — were it not for a sar­cas­tic ques­tion thrown in his face by a Cau­casian gen­tle­man in the 1980s.

“How much do you know about the United States and us?” the white man asked.

“Sorry, not much, but I’d love to learn,” Yin said. At that


Vice-chair, APAPA Bay Area Chap­ter Age: 67 Born: Chi­nese main­land • Mas­ter’s in Sci­ence San Jose State Univer­sity (1978) • Vice-chair, APAPA Bay Area Chap­ter (2001-present) • Chair­per­son, Cal­i­for­nia Green Tech Cen­ter (2012-present) • Founder & Pres­i­dent, USA-China-Link (2002-present) • Com­mis­sioner, Cal­i­for­nia Com­mis­sion for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (2010-13) • Pres­i­dent, Ro­tary Club of

Fre­mont (2006) • Chair­per­son, Fre­mont Cham­ber of Com­merce (2004) • Co-Founder, Cit­i­zens for

Bet­ter Com­mu­nity (1992) mo­ment, Yin re­al­ized that he was still a stranger to the US, its po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, so­ci­ety and laws.

That man’s ques­tion stuck in Yin’s mind and prompted him to change his way of think­ing. “We need to study this coun­try, ac­cept it as our home and strive to be part of the so­ci­ety,” he said. “If you feel there is so­cial in­equal­ity and abuse of power, use your vote and unite with people of the same mind to make changes.”

Yin’s po­lit­i­cal awak­ing goes back to 1980s when he lost an elec­tion for a seat on a lo­cal school board. His ri­val won by a ra­zor-thin mar­gin be­cause Asian Amer­i­cans in his district did not cast bal­lots as other eth­nic groups did.

“I came to re­al­ize that elec­tions are not only about fund­ing or mon­e­tary strength,” Yin said. “More im­por­tantly, it’s about how many vot­ers know about you, buy your point of view and how big and solid your grass­roots foun­da­tion is.”

In or­der to ed­u­cate the Asian com­mu­nity to care about the pub­lic and civic af­fairs, Yin in 1992 co-founded the Cit­i­zens for Bet­ter Com­mu­nity (CBC) which in­tends to unite Asian Amer­i­cans to get in­volved into civil and pub­lic af­fairs.

Some­time later, Yin shifted his fo­cus and eyed main­stream so­ci­ety. He got his foot in the door by join­ing the Fre­mont Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Yin said he was in­tim­i­dated at first speak­ing in pub­lic at monthly meet­ings. But he lis­tened in­tently and kept sharp­en­ing his pub­lic speak­ing skills. His per­sis­tence and con­nec­tions fi­nally paid off. He be­came the first Asian Amer­i­can ever elected chair­man of the 49-year-old cham­ber.

In 2006, Yin also be­came the first Asian Amer­i­can in 43 years to ever serve as pres­i­dent of Fre­mont Ro­tary Club. “To serve oth­ers is not a lofty slo­gan,” Yin said. “It’s con­crete deeds.”

In 2010, Yin was ap­pointed by then Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, and reap­pointed by the cur­rent gover­nor Jerry Brown, as the only Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mis­sioner of the Cal­i­for­nia Com­mis­sion for Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment. Yin won the Out­stand­ing Asian-Amer­i­can Leader Award from the Cal­i­for­nia state leg­is­la­ture in 2008.

“With my many so­cial net­work­ing re­sources in both the US and China and many years ex­pe­ri­ence in govern­ment, busi­ness and so­cial com­mu­ni­ties, I won’t hes­i­tate if the Federal Govern­ment chooses to use me for some­thing in the fu­ture,” said Yin.


Henry Yin, vice-chair of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Pub­lic Af­fairs (APAPA), Bay Area Chap­ter, said Chi­nese Amer­i­cans should cul­ti­vate their grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions to par­tic­i­pate in US civic and pub­lic af­fairs.

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