APA Spotlight: Kendee Yamaguchi, Executive Director, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs

APA Spotlight is a weekly interview of Asian Pacific Islander Americans (APIA) community leaders. It is a spotlight on individuals who have dedicated their careers to issues surrounding the APIA community with the goal of bringing much deserved recognition to their work and cause(s).

Kendee Yamaguchi is the Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. She was a director in the Office of Management and Administration at the White House. Prior to her appointment to the Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, she worked in the Office of Public Liaison on the signing of the executive order establishing the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. She has experience working as a television executive for one of the world’s largest networks and as a staff member in the Legislature. More recently, she worked as an attorney in private practice.

She has served on several boards and is the recipient of awards from the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, Japanese American Citizens League, Organization of Chinese Americans, Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership, and the Access to Justice Institute.

Yamaguchi earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and public communications with a minor in international affairs from American University. She is also a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship (PPIA) and earned a juris doctorate from the Seattle University School of Law.

What is the mission statement of your life?

To ensure my daily actions and values align with my goal to make a positive difference for my community.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing?

As a fourth generation Japanese American, my family was interned during World War II. My grandparents used to travel around the state giving slide presentations on their experiences to classrooms, churches, and community groups. Because of this, I felt a calling to work in government to ensure that history would not repeat itself.

I was very fortunate that my first job came through an appointment by President Clinton to work at the White House. It was very meaningful to me because I was able to work on the executive order creating the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. After this position, I worked as a television executive and a staff member for the legislature. More recently, I left the practice of law when Governor Gregoire appointed me as the Executive Director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.

Having come full circle in my career, it is truly an honor to combine my background in government, media, law, and the corporate sector for the betterment of the community.

If Hollywood made a movie about your life, whom would you like to see play the lead role as you?

I chuckled at this question because I don’t think that my life experiences garner the makings of a Hollywood movie. However, given our current selection of television shows covering just about anything, a reality television show might be in order.

How can people find out more about your organization or get involved?

The Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) is a state agency in Washington with the mission to improve the well-being of Asian Pacific Americans by ensuring their access to participation in the fields of government, business, education, and other areas. The Commission has an advisory board made up of 12 Governor-appointed commissioners representing the state’s rich diversity.

The CAPAA’s 36 year history marks a legacy of advocacy, community education, and outreach, as well as interagency and community collaborations to improve the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. More information can be found by visiting our website at www.capaa.wa.gov, calling us at 360/725-5667, or emailing us at capaa[at]capaa.wa.gov.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you see for the future of the Asian Pacific Islander American community?

Washington State has one of the fastest growing AAPI populations in the country. The total number of AAPI’s has increased from 110,052 in 1980 to 674,573 in 2010. This mirrors data trends on a national level. With this growth, I see great opportunities as well as increased policy needs for our community that must be met.

Bonus Question: What advice do you have for young Asian Pacific Islander American professionals?

My advice to Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander young professionals is to find a mentor in your community and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And, if you receive help, to please look back and provide the same to another person following in your footsteps.

Bonus Question: What are your comfort foods and what memories do you have associated with them?

I love chocolate and candies. It brings back memories of the many candy jars filled with Asian treats in my grandmother’s kitchen.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

My guilty pleasure is magazines. In the age of iPads, kindles, and nooks, I treasure reading print copies of magazines and flipping through the pages. Sometimes I read up to ten different magazines at a time ranging on subjects from interior design, clothes, current events, art, and cultural.

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Author: Koji Steven Sakai

Writer/Producer Koji Steven Sakai is the founder of Little Nalu Pictures LLC and the CEO of CHOPSO (www.CHOPSO.com), the first Asian English streaming video service. He has written five feature films that have been produced, including the indie hit, The People I’ve Slept With. He also produced three feature films, a one hour comedy special currently on Netflix, and Comedy InvAsian, a live and filmed series featuring the nation’s top Asian American comedians. Koji’s debut novel, Romeo & Juliet Vs. Zombies, was released in paperback in 2015 and in audiobook in 2016 and his graphic novel, 442, was released in 2017. In addition, he is currently an adjunct professor in screenwriting at International Technological University in San Jose.