C.C. Yin: A story of suc­cess and giv­ing back BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco Kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

C.C. Yin im­mi­grated to the United States in 1964 when he was 28. He had $100 in his pocket, barely spoke any English and knew prac­ti­cally noth­ing about Amer­ica. What he did have was en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit.

Now, half a century later, he and his fam­ily own 32 McDon­ald’s in 12 Cal­i­for­nia cities, and he is the founder of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Pub­lic Af­fairs As­so­ci­a­tion (APAPA), a grass­roots non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that aims to em­power Asian and Pa­cific Is­lan­der (API) Amer­i­cans in civic and pub­lic af­fairs through ed­u­ca­tion, ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion and lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment.

When he landed in the US, Yin had a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing from Tai­wan Cheng Kung Univer­sity, which he soon found in­suf­fi­cient in seek­ing a ca­reer. He pur­sued a mas­ter’s de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, mar­ried his wife Regina and set­tled down in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area in 1969.

Af­ter work­ing as an en­gi­neer for 18 years, that en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit led him to pur­chase his first McDon­ald’s in 1984 in Oak­land. It was a rough start be­cause the restau­rant was in one of the tough­est neigh­bor­hoods in the Bay Area. The ex­pe­ri­ence, how­ever, gave him a “jump start” in un­der­stand­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics.

“As a busi­ness owner in a tough neigh­bour­hood, I re­al­ized I had to con­nect with lo­cal com­mu­nity, city govern­ment, the po­lice staff and in­di­vid­u­als, whether they were African Amer­i­cans, His­pan­ics, Cau­casians, Viet­namese, Korean, Chi­nese or Filipino. I also sought help when­ever needed from lo­cal Cham­ber of Com­merce, city plan­ning depart­ment, and the po­lice, which was re­ally an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me to get to know Amer­i­can so­ci­ety,” said Yin.

The found­ing of APAPA was trig­gered by a call in 2000 from 40 Asian- Amer­i­can lead­ers in Sacra­mento, ask­ing for Yin’s ad­vice about their con­cern that af­ter 150 years of Asian-Amer­i­can his­tory in Cal­i­for­nia, there were no API state-elected of­fi­cials.

“I was very much alarmed by the fact that Chi­nese and Asian com­mu­nity pop­u­la­tion was grow­ing at such speed, but there was no lead­er­ship rep­re­sent­ing us in the US govern­ment, let alone no de­ci­sion­mak­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion,’’ he said. “So I jumped in with the idea of found­ing APAPA, which was aimed at pro­vid­ing a plat­form and pipe­line to em­power Asians Amer­i­cans for po­lit­i­cal power. By 2009 we had 15 Asian Amer­i­cans elected to leg­isla­tive and con­sti­tu­tional of­fices; now we have 17, seven in con­sti­tu­tional, two in se­nate and eight in as­sem­blies.”

De­scrib­ing his life in the last 50 years as cov­er­ing three seg­ments — an en­gi­neer, McDon­ald’s owner and a po­lit­i­cal move­ment pro­moter — Yin said he has ded­i­cated him­self to pro­mote the im­por­tance of po­lit­i­cal aware­ness and civic en­gage­ment for Asian Amer­i­cans and new Asian im­mi­grants in the last decade.

“In or­der to pro­mote civic en­gage­ment to build po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment for Asian Amer­i­cans, the first thing we did was call­ing for unity: whether it was people from Korea, Viet­nam or China, as long as you are Asian, you be­long to our group. The sec­ond thing we did was to con­nect grass­roots across the na­tion. We tried to change the cul­ture of Chi­nese Amer­i­can im­mi­grants from be­ing good work­ers to also be­ing good civic govern­ment can­di­dates. We built our grass­root from city to city, town to town for po­lit­i­cal net­work, since all Amer­i­can pol­i­tics start in ev­ery town and ev­ery city,” he said.

APAPA fo­cused on three ar­eas to reach this goal: voter reg­is­tra­tion, voter ed­u­ca­tion and voter sup­port.

Yin said that APAPA founders and board mem­bers have been teach­ing Asian Amer­i­cans how to vote, whom to vote for and why, and or­ga­niz­ing them to vote. Lead­er­ship pro­grams are of­fered at high school, col­lege and pro­fes­sional lev­els.

“Amer­i­can democ­racy is very com­pli­cated, but if you look at it closely, the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic power is all lo­cal. The 50 states are like 50 coun­tries; their laws are in­de­pen­dent and dif­fer­ent. If we want to par­tic­i­pate in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics, we have to fol­low laws lo­cally to place our can­di­dates into the sys­tem, whether it’s a school board, com­mis­sioner or state as­sem­bly mem­ber,” he said.

“We ed­u­cate them through town hall meet­ings, me­dia and in­terns that go out to ed­u­cate them. Now from uni­ver­si­ties to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties we have voter pipe­line, ap­point­ment pipe­line, lead­er­ship pipe­line. We are still learn­ing, but three pipe­lines have pro­vided the es­sen­tial foun­da­tion for the en­tire Asian-Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal move­ment,” said Yin.

APAPA has three chap­ters in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, three in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, one each at UC Berke­ley and UC Davis and one each in Florida, New York and Texas.

In the 13 years since its found­ing in 2001, APAPA has more than 20,000 vol­un­teers and 200 ac­tive lead­ers across the coun­try. In the San Fran­cisco Bay Area, the lead­ers in­clude Al­bert Wang, Bay Area re­gion chair; Joe Wong, Henry Yin, Cheng Liao and Na­tional Hon­orary Chairs Hs­ing Kung, Sandy Chau, Ken Fong and John­nie Giles.

“We sup­port C100 (Com­mit­tee of 100) which deals with the high level US-China re­la­tion­ship. We work with 80-20, the voting group which mainly reaches ed­u­cated people, and we also work with nu­mer­ous other or­ga­ni­za­tion for al­liance,” said Yin.

Yin was born in Ren­shou County, Sichuan prov­ince in China, and he moved to Tai­wan when he was 12 in 1949. He said his pas­sion has al­ways

I be­lieve Chi­nese can learn well. One hun­dred years ago, we didn’t be­lieve in sci­ence. Look at us now. Chi­nese are among the best sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers in the world. If Chi­nese learn about the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, they will be­come the best, too.” C.C. YIN CHAIR­MAN AND CO-FOUNDER, ASIAN PA­CIFIC IS­LAN­DER PUB­LIC AF­FAIRS AS­SO­CI­A­TION (APAPA)

been be­ing an or­ga­nizer for people with com­mon in­ter­est. Next month, an es­ti­mated 300 APAPA mem­bers will gather at his home in Va­cav­ille, Cal­i­for­nia, for an an­nual gath­er­ing.

“My mother died when I was only six months old. I ex­pe­ri­enced WWII, the Ja­panese in­va­sion of China, a bro­ken fam­ily, and re­lo­ca­tion from place to place in my child­hood and youth,’’ he said. “My sur­vival skill was to net­work with friends and work with people of dif­fer­ences. I con­sider my­self very lucky be­ing where I am at to­day, and I am very thank­ful to this coun­try. I want to give back to the so­ci­ety by help­ing other Asian Amer­i­cans with sim­i­lar back­grounds be­come suc­cess­ful in this coun­try.”

Yin said that to­day’s Chi­nese im­mi­grants are very dif­fer­ent from his gen­er­a­tion.

“They are well pre­pared and ed­u­cated. A plat­form like APAPA can help put ev­ery­one to­gether through its net­work, since the young gen­er­a­tion of im­mi­grants are re­ally the bright­est and best. The world will be­come a bet­ter place if we can all work to­gether to build a bet­ter coun­try here and have more in­flu­ence in de­ci­sion mak­ing in both US and China.”

Yin, how­ever, pre­dicts that the road to a more pres­ti­gious po­lit­i­cal stage for Asian Amer­i­cans is still years ahead. Asians have to learn to work on a com­mon ground, he said.

“I be­lieve Chi­nese can learn well. One hun­dred years ago, we didn’t be­lieve in sci­ence. Look at us now. Chi­nese are among the best sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers in the world. If Chi­nese learn about the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, they will be­come the best, too. We al­ready have many suc­cess­ful po­lit­i­cal pro­fes­sion­als in Amer­ica: for­mer La­bor Sec­re­tary Elaine L. Chao, for­mer US Sec­re­tary of En­ergy Steven Chu, for­mer Wash­ing­ton State gover­nor and US Am­bas­sador to China Gary Locke, and now Judy Chu, the first Chi­nese-Amer­i­can woman elected to Congress.”

“Col­lab­o­ra­tion, al­liance and grass­roots are the key words we need to keep in mind when it comes to Amer­i­can pol­i­tics for Chi­nese and Asian Amer­i­cans,” said Yin.


C.C. Yin is chair­man and co-founder of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der Pub­lic Af­fairs As­so­ci­a­tion.

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