—— What is the mission of the ABA?
Well, we were started in 1990 with the idea of creating a platform and place for Asian people to be heard—to have a voice! They wanted to create a community association that serves as a forum and resource for everyone in the community; a place where business people can go and network and meet other people in the business community, to educate themselves and others. But more than anything, the ABA was created to provide us with a voice on business and cultural issues of interest to San Diego’s Asian and Pacific Islander community.
—— Was that because they felt they weren’t being heard through other channels?
No, not really. I think it grew more from the growth of the Asian population in San Diego over the years. They could see this, how things had been changing, how the Asian business community had been growing and they realized that they needed a vehicle through which people could get together, network and make their opinions known, both inside and outside the community.
—— One thing that stands out about the ABA is your inclusion of so many different groups within your organization. It seems like quite a team effort.
We are a melting pot! I think it has always been like that and it continues to be just like you said, a team effort. What’s great about the ABA is that we don’t limit ourselves to serving one group—we are here for the entire Asian population of San Diego. That is really special and important in today’s world that we have something that allows all of us to come together and collaborate with one another.
Our directors and members of the advisory committee come from all different kinds of backgrounds; they are role models for all of us and have provided us with great leadership. They don’t do it because they have too—they do it because they really care about their community. They care about what is happening and it is their passion and commitment that makes the ABA what it is! And that is why I’m so passionate about it myself!
—— Tell us about some of the events and services the ABA sponsors.
Well, we have quite a few. Every month we hold our “Rice Club” luncheons, and these are really our main networking event. They are held the 4th Tuesday of every month and usually feature a speaker from the community and they provide us with a forum for discussing a broad range of topics that affect all of us. It’s a great way to get out and network. We usually have about 50 people and have some great food. Getting involved is so important, because it’s the relationships you build that make you who you are. We also have a member-to-member page that lists each member and what they do. That way you’re able to find people who can help you. It helps us help each other, which helps us get to know each other and helps generate new business. For example, if you needed financial help you could look up all the various people that have expertise to help you with that. Another of our bigger events is PRESS 101. PRESS (Pacific Rim Entrepreneur’s Service) was started a couple of years back and serves as a business information source and resource for small businesses. It’s a great educational forum, where members can go to really learn about things that would interest a small business. For example, our next topic covers business entities, such as sole proprietorships and corporations. These are the kinds of topics that can be a very big concern to small businesses. Liability issues here can be very different than what some businesspeople are used to in other cultures. Even if you grew up here, many people might just not be aware of everything that is entailed in operating a business. We try to be resource for people who need to know more about how to run their businesses. We’re like the SBA, but geared towards the unique needs of the community, which makes us special. Whether they’ve been here their whole life or just arrived, we want to help them and educate them to help their businesses grow.
—— Speaking of coming to America, I understand your family was one of the first to make the journey from Japan.
That’s true. I’m gosei or 5th generation. My great- great -grandparents were some of the first emigrants out of Japan coming west. They came during the Meiji era, when Japan started letting people leave the country. They came and settled in Maui before the big wave of immigration and later we moved to Oahu. It wasn’t like today…their trip was long and difficult. Life in Hawaii was rather crude then too. There were plantations and people living in small villages. Eventually, they set up a shop providing the things that people needed: rice, soy sauce, etc. that’s what they did. To this day a lot people say if you really want a true sense of old Japan, you have to go to Hawaii to see it. There is a bit of a time warp and many parts of the culture have been preserved. For example when I was growing up, we made mochi the old-fashioned way pounding with a kine in the usu.
—— What were they hoping to find when they made such a big decision?
I don’t think back then they really knew what to expect. I think they gambled on something new...and the promise of something better. In other cultures, especially Japan of that time, your choices were a lot more confined. This generation and being here, we have a lot more freedom and more opportunities to do whatever we want. We are in America, and whatever you dream, you can make it come true! Some people think that is unrealistic, but I still believe it’s true. There are so many possibilities in America. We still have family back in Japan, but many came here to start their new lives. It is just heartwarming to know your history and to know the struggles your family endured to get you here.
—— So your ancestors had the same entrepreneurial spirit that you’re trying to foster in your work with the ABA.
Exactly! They took a chance going abroad, ran a shop and worked plantations. Nowadays, you see a lot of changes; a lot of people want to be entrepreneurs and they have bigger dreams and goals than working for one company their whole lives. That’s why you see a lot of people within the Asian community, taking that freedom and running with it, carving out something that is theirs. And you’re right, that is part of everything that I am trying to promote here with the ABA and the other organizations that I’m associated with. I want people to be able to take their dreams and run with them and make them a reality.
—— Tell me a little about the committee you chair with the ABA.
Well, I head up the “mixer” committee, which is a networking function and it’s a party. Basically, it gets people out there and to allows them to network in a more fun, casual environment. For example, our next mixer is on June 22 at Harrah’s Rincon Casino and everyone, a few hundred people, goes there to mix and mingle. We have horsd’ourves, food, food, entertainment, door prizes and its a comfortable, relaxing casual environment where people can come, have some fun, and get to know people in their community—all at the same time. We’ve held events downtown on the waterfront, at the House of Blues and we’ll have one coming up at the San Diego Zoo. We really try to choose unique and interesting places, so people get to see different places, places they may never have been before. So not only do we help bring the community together in terms of business itself, but we like to get out into the community and see what’s out there.
—— It must be challenging to bring all these wonderful cultures together?
Well, I tend to think of it as an opportunity. It’s only when you have this great mix of cultures and diversity that you truly have the opportunity to hear their voices and learn even more. We provide a forum for everyone and this variety makes it interesting. I think that is what makes us unique in terms of how we do business. A lot of people might think that it would be difficult, but what you are getting in exchange is such a rich mixture of ideas that makes everything even better. It is because there are people coming from different perspectives and from different cultures that makes us stronger. Coming from Hawaii, that’s something that I’ve grown accustomed to, so this isn’t anything new to me. Hawaii is the melting pot of the world and its population is so varied, but we all coexist in a very comfortable manner.
—— So you want to bring that Hawaiian spirit and mentality to the ABA?
Yes, exactly. It’s not a dream for us—we expect it. So I know it can be done, rather than hoping it can be, because that’s how I grew up. All the things you do make you what you are. We always have to remember where we came from because that is so important to who you are as an individual. We are is made up of so many things…culture, religion, business, and all those things make us well-rounded good people.
—— What’s been the driving force behind all this work?
Well, I think there are a lot of people who give and contribute their time and we have strong support from our board of directors and advisory board. They reinvest in their community because they know this is a good cause. These are the things that make a difference and that’s why the ABA is so successful. We’ve been here since 1990, but you still see many of the same people because they really care. If everybody helped just a little bit, the world would be a better place.
—— George, I know you participate in a number of other community groups too, what are some of them?
Well, besides the ABA, I support the Japanese Society of San Diego and Tijuana, Kiku Gardens, Friendship Garden and the Buddhist Temple. All of these groups and people make me feel that there is a reason why I am here, a reason why I am doing this. You see them working so hard for the community and you can tell they are doing it out of love and passion—and that inspires me. Another reason why I‘m involved in all of these groups is because I want to create a sense of unity among all of them. They are all unique in their own ways, but we all have to keep in mind what we all have in common. If we do this and work together towards common goals—that’s the only way we are going to endure and grow to be better than we are right now.
—— Does the ABA have an opportunity to collaborate with some of the other groups?
Yes, that happens a lot. For example, the upcoming mixer, which I’m in charge of at Harrah’s, will be in collaboration with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It’s an annual joint function that we hold with them and we get a nice mix of cultures and experience. We also collaborate with many of the other Asian organizations too, for example at our mixer in Viejas, we actually joined with five or six different Japanese associations: the ABA, Friendship Garden, The Japanese American Historical Society, Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana. It’s nice when we can reach out and bring everyone together. Definitely, working together is not a bad thing! Part of the reason why I volunteer with so many different groups in the community is to help bring them all together and the ABA gives us all a reason and a chance to come together.
—— What would you like to see more of in the future for the ABA?
Definitely I’d like to have more people see what we have offer and get involved. I want more people to be aware of all the educational programs, the community service projects, networking opportunities, so they can all take part in and enjoy their community. We can never have enough places and opportunities like this! We have to learn to work together as a community, while remembering our roots at the same time. We are in a world where you have to open yourself up so people understand where you are coming from and know what page you’re on. If you don’t, you can never grow beyond where you are. A lot of people ask, “Why do all this?” well my question is always, “Why not?”
(07-01-2006 issue, Interviewed by Terry Nicholas)