APA Spotlight: Lee Ann Kim, San Diego Asian Film Foundation

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

Honored by San Diego Magazine as one of the Top 50 People to Watch in 2009, Lee Ann Kim is the founding executive director of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation, which serves more than 30,000 people each year. Lee Ann worked for nearly 12 years as a news anchor/reporter for KGTV Channel 10 where she earned numerous awards for her journalism including a regional Emmy for investigative reporting.

She was recently honored by KGTV as a 10News Leader, as well as the KPBS Hero of the Month for May 2010, San Diego Metropolitan Magazine’s Top 40 Under 40 in 2007, as well as Director of Excellence from the 2008 International Film Festival Summit.

Lee Ann also serves on the San Diego County Television Cable Commission, and on the boards of Orchestra Nova, Korean American Coalition in San Diego, and the Korean American Foundation for Educators.

The mission of the San Diego Asian Film Foundation is to connect audiences with the human experience through the Pan Asian media arts. Learn more about Lee Ann Kim’s work on the foundation, after the cut.

What is the mission statement of your life?

To connect people. To make a difference.

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

Fate. I blame it on growing up in Chicago in the 70s and always having to explain why I was there (as opposed to being in Asia), and what I was (no, I’m not Chinese or Japanese. What do you mean, “What’s Korean?”). So grew up as a storyteller answering these questions, while acutely aware that for some reason others felt like I didn’t belong here in America. Watched adults make fun of the way my parents spoke in their faces, and while I didn’t know it at the time, I felt so marginalized. I was embarrassed of being Korean American, but then again, my parents didn’t really explain why I should have felt otherwise.

Then I discovered break-dancing and rap in the early 80s… and how cool Filipinos were in Chicago. This was a turning point in my young life, watching people of color – and in particular, Filipinos in my suburban neighborhood – represent on the dance floor and behind the turntables. I felt at home with this culture and with the use of dance and rap to express oneself. This somehow led to my journey into theater and forensics, which eventually led me to journalism school, and then a dozen years in the field of broadcast news. Crazy, I know, but I can recite all the lyrics to Beat Street to prove it.

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

Jenna Ushkowitz from Glee.

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

Simply go to our website:  www. SDAFF. org. You can sign up as a volunteer under the SUPPORT section. Or better yet, just come out during our annual film festival in October. If you can’t afford it, we have free films as well… Or just email me and tell me your sob story. I’ll get you free tickets.

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

South Asians continuing to get ahead politically, but also a growing divide between parties in the Asian community. More Asian Americans behind the scenes in Hollywood with minimal change in front of the camera. What we truly need is our Asian American Jesse Jackson to really make a change. We don’t have that yet. So that is my hope, but not sure if we can get there with continuing apathy and lack of knowledge of Vincent Chin and internment among young APIAs.

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

1) Stop caring what everyone else thinks about you, and stop making excuses as to why you don’t know what’s going on in the world.

2)  Get involved in your community. Volunteer, donate, or lead.

3)  Find a mentor besides your parents.

4) Learn another language.

5) Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.

That is the same advice I’d give to anyone.

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

Ramen noodles with hot dogs and kimchi. Gross, but somehow, it reminds me of when times were simple.

Bonus Question: What’s your guilty pleasure?

Oh my, I have so many! Sex in the City, chocolate, wine, and 80s music.

Know someone we should highlight on 8Questions? Send an email with their name and contact info or website.

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About 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.
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