featured graphic for Thomas Umberg, California State Senator for District 34, during COVID-19

Senator Umberg honors API leaders for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Senator Thomas J. Umberg (D-Santa Ana) announced that he will be honoring Mai Lani Moua, Jonathan Bao Huynh, Kathia Lowisa Canlas, Ben Jaipream, The Cambodian Family, Tran Thi Thu Van, and Kieu Chinh as API Leaders for the 34th Senate District.

California is the most diverse state in the country – a fact that allows the state’s economy to flourish in every industry – from agriculture and beauty industries to entertainment and construction. API Americans account for about 16% of the state’s population and continue to be among the fastest growing racial and ethnic groups. In fact, California is home to about one-third of the nation’s API population.

“Many of us have been shaped or influenced by a person of Asian Pacific Islander-descent who has either blazed a path for others, improved their community, or who has regularly gone above and beyond in their daily life,” said Senator Umberg. “It is my distinct honor to recognize some of Long Beach and Orange County’s most impressive API leaders.”

In honor of May’s designation as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Senator Umberg received nominations from all over his district seeking to honor individuals from the API community who have made significant contributions to their locale. He sought nominations in a variety of categories, including ‘Emerging Leader,’ ‘Community Leader,’ ‘Unsung Hero,’ ‘Outstanding Organization,’ and ‘Lifetime Dedicator.’ Out of over thirty nominations of worthy individuals, the final nominees were honored at a virtual awards ceremony at 5pm on May 27, 2021.

Mai Lani Moua is Senator Umberg’s awardee for the ‘Emerging Leader’ category. A resident of Garden Grove, she is the eighth child of thirteen born to Hmong refugees who came to the United States during the Vietnam War. She attended UC Santa Cruz, where she was the first Hmong student to ever give a speech on behalf of the graduating class. Throughout the pandemic, she volunteered as a Pursuit of Higher Education Coordinator at the University of California, Berkeley to provide academic and informational workshops about higher education to underrepresented high school youth. She is currently a law student and was recently elected as Co-Director of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association at University of Oregon School.

Dr. Jonathan Bao Huynh of Fountain Valley was chosen as one of two 2021 Community Leaders. Dr. Huynh graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a double major in Biochemistry and Business Economics and earned the Chancellor’s Award upon graduation. He received his Doctoral in Chiropractic from Southern California University of Health Sciences in 2005 and has been practicing ever since. Beyond his work in the field of Chiropractics, he is also the owner of Pholicious Restaurant and Pizza D’Z in Fountain Valley. In addition, he owns the Central Broadcasting Network Channel 14.5, a local Asian TV station that runs 24/7 with news, youth programs, entertainment, and various shows on medicine, law, health, and beauty. This radio station has connected viewers from around the world to Dr. Huynh and kept the local community informed.

Dr. Huynh is also known for his generous philanthropy work. During the COVID-19 crisis, he donated over fifty-thousand masks, over ten thousand hot meals, and six hundred pizzas and turkeys to seniors, frontline health workers, and families in need. His dedication to the wellbeing of the community has not gone unnoticed; he has received the prestigious Golden Wave Award, a people’s choice award established by Little Saigon Radio, Viet Tide newspaper, and HonViet TV in honor of his service. Dr. Huynh is also the founder of the Asian Pacific Cultural Foundation and has been organizing the Asian Pacific Festival in Newport Dunes. This festival showcases live musical and dance performances, cultural exhibits, authentic food and arts, and ethnic performances highlighting different Asian cultures.

The second nomination for Community Leader is Ms. Kathia Canlas from Garden Grove. Ms. Canlas is the Organizing Director for the Orange County Labor Federation and has spent countless hours dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of her community. In addition to her professional role, she also serves as the Chair for the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and was recently elected to represent Assembly District 72 as one of the few Asian Americans on the Central Committee for the Democratic Party of Orange County. Beyond her official positions, Ms. Canlas has served her community by organizing a year-long food distribution program that has given over forty-thousand boxes of food to those in need. She has recently redirected her energies and is also now organizing vaccine clinics all over Orange County to serve local residents and ensure community health and safety.

Senator Umberg’s 2021 API Heritage Month Unsung Hero is Ben Jaipream, a police officer with the Seal Beach Police Department for nearly two decades. He has worked assignments in patrol, detective work, narcotics, vice, gangs, and was recently promoted to the role of Containment Team Leader for the West Orange County SWAT Team. Officer Jaipream has also been an instructor for the past ten years and is part of the Field Training Officer Program, Mobile Field Force, Chemical Agent, Firearms Range, and Defensive Tactics Instructor programs. He is known for being an advocate for the API community and is frequently called upon to translate between law enforcement agents and members of the community to minimize stressful situations. For this we honor both his service and dedication to this profession and public service.

Senator Umberg honored The Cambodian Family for their work as an Outstanding Organization. Founded in 1980, The Cambodian Family organization is a refugee resettlement agency. For decades, they have worked to improve the health and well-being of the Cambodian diaspora, including providing resources to address PTSD, untreated mental health and the associated stigmas, institutionalized racism and nativism, and systematic failures of the healthcare system. In addition to providing help for these community needs, the organization also offers ESL classes, mental health programs, an after-school youth program, and a youth-led substance use disorder prevention program.

In addition, this organization stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic to spread proper public health information and distributed resources required to keep community members safe. The Cambodian Family joined forces with other API-serving organizations in Orange County and across the nation to create the OC API Taskforce to ensure that COVID-19 testing sites were equipped with appropriate language materials and support. The organization’s current focus has shifted to making sure the elderly and most vulnerable are being vaccinated. The overall mission of the organization – to ensure that API refugees and immigrant families are healthy and self-reliant with good mental health and plenty of resources for success — is invaluable to our community and beyond deserving of commendation.

In the final category of Lifetime Dedicators, aimed at recognizing API community members who have made significant contributions to the community throughout their lives, Senator Umberg’s first awardee is the legendary actress Kieu Chinh from Huntington Beach. The legendary actress Kieu Chinh is a legendary Vietnamese American actress and philanthropist who has dedicated over six decades of her life to the motion picture industry worldwide. She was born in 1937 in Hanoi, North Vietnam and moved to South Vietnam as a refugee at the age of 17. At 19, she began her acting career and was featured in over 100 movies and television shows, including “M.A.S.H.” and “The Joy Luck Club.” She has received numerous awards for her acting career and is also an active philanthropies and API advocate. The legendary actress Kieu Chinh co-founded the Vietnam Children’s Fund in 1993 with Lewis Puller and Terry Anderson to build 51 schools in Vietnam to provide safe and high-quality education for more than 30,000 students. On March 16, 2021, Kieu Chinh received the Snow Leopard Lifetime Achievement Award for her film, humanitarian, and philanthropic work.

Senator Umberg’s second awardee for the Lifetime Dedicator category is Nha Ca (Tran Thi Thu Van) one of the most famous South Vietnamese writers in the second half of the twentieth century. She was born in Hue, Vietnam in 1939 and spent her youth there before moving to Saigon and beginning her writing career. Her works focused on love as well as the fighting and atrocities of the Vietnam War that ravaged her country at this time. Her experiences, expressed in the written form, resonated with people all over the world. In 1989, Nha Ca and her family left Vietnam and emigrated to Sweden, and later to the United States. They publish the newspaper Việt Báo Daily News. This newspaper has grown since its founding in 1992 to become one of the largest newspapers in Southern California. Senator Umberg commends Nha Ca for her lifetime of work.

Senator Umberg added that, “I want to thank the many residents of my district who nominated a mentor, colleague, or loved one for my first annual API Leadership Awards Event. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we share and recognize the good in our communities and the amazing work and dedication of our API population.”

This article was released by the Office of Senator Tom Umberg.