By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly

For the past four decades, the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs (CAPAA) has worked to improve the wellbeing of Asian Pacific Americans by ensuring their access to participation in the fields of government, business, education, immigration policy, and other areas.

In 2012, the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Executive Director Kiran Ahuja, center, met with past and present CAPAA commissioners, from left, Tyati Tufono, Quang Nguyen, Jagdish Sharma, and Frieda Takamura. (Photo courtesy of CAPAA)

On May 15, youth, community leaders, Governor Jay Inslee, elected officials, and commissioners will gather to honor the APA legacy and bridge generations around CAPAA’s mission to improve the lives of Washington’s Asian Pacific American communities. King 5’s Lori Matsukawa will be the master of ceremonies for the free event at the Crown Plaza Hotel in SeaTac. Doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

The program will feature former directors Mitch Matsudaira and Vivian Luna and former commissioners Sulja Warnick, Lua Pritchard, and Jagdish Sharma.

According to Michael Itti, executive director of CAPAA, more than 100 community members have volunteered to serve as commissioners since 1974. Through the work of commissioners and staff, CAPAA has made state government more responsive to the needs of APA’s diverse communities.

The history

On Feb. 26, 1974, the 43rd Washington State Legislature formally created the Washington State Commission on Asian American Affairs as a state agency. Due to pervasive discrimination and barriers in accessing government services, a group of local API community members met with the governor in 1971 to examine a broad range of issues facing the API population in the areas of employment, education, social services, community development, immigration, and civil rights.

In January 1972, Governor Evans created the Governor’s Asian Advisory Council by executive order.

On Feb. 26, 1974, the 43rd Washington State Legislature formally created the State of Washington Commission on Asian American Affairs as a state agency.

Former acting executive director of CAPAA Brian Lock feels that the 40th anniversary of CAPAA shows that the Washington State Legislature and past and current governors have recognized the importance of the API voice in key legislative and budget decisions.

Lock explained that there were a number of times that the legislature had pushed for the reduction or elimination of not just CAPAA, but other ethnic state commissions. However, he said, “CAPAA has endured and provided opportunities for the API community and business leaders to serve on the commission and provide input into the direction of some capital budget decisions, minority contracting, workforce diversity, health care access, recognition of API veterans, bilingual education, and helping build race relations and tolerance.”

Notable API community leader Alan Sugiyama, who played a role in creating the initial council, said, “The community always rallied to continue the work of the commission… it was successful only because the community stepped up to say it should continue as a separate entity.”

A look at some milestones

Former director Vivian Luna joined the commission because it was an opportunity to affect change from a legislative standpoint.

“Joining the commission opened up a whole door of opportunities to look at things from a global perspective, and see how it was affecting folks in the state,” she said.

During her tenure on the commission, Luna worked with the census bureau to understand the demographic profiles of the API communities for the state of Washington. She also helped organize a conference on Asian stereotypes in the media to hold a public discussion.

In 1995, Governor Mike Lowry signed a bill to change the Commission’s name to the State of Washington Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, to include Pacific Islanders. Lock was acting director at the time from 1990 to 1994, and worked with David Della, then a deputy staff member under Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, to change the name.

“CAPAA has endured and adjusted to the changing issues impacting API communities quite well over the past four decades… I also feel CAPAA has helped build bridges in state government that has allowed APIs to come in and succeed in management and administrative positions, as well as cabinet-level positions,” Lock said.

The creation and inclusion of the Commission validated the work and effort of the Asian Americans, Sugiyama added.

Current executive director of CAPAA Michael Itti first got involved with the organization three years ago on a grant project led by commissioner Frieda Takamura and Sili Savusa to raise the voices of APIs around addressing the educational opportunity gaps.

“At CAPAA, I’m able to continue working on improving education for APIs, but also address health and economic disparities by working with commissioners and community leaders across the state,” he said.

“CAPAA is a voice for our API communities in Olympia. We advocate for policies to make government more culturally competent and accessible to all. We are working to achieve goals in Governor Inslee’s Results Washington initiative that will reduce underage drinking and marijuana use, increase state utilization of minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses, and address health disparities,” Itti said.

Looking ahead

“I hope that CAPAA is successful in mobilizing API youth in public service and civic engagement. Government is still underrepresented by APIs at all levels, whether it is state, federal, or local,” Lock said.

“I’d like to see the Commission take an aggressive stance to unifying Asian communities throughout the state of Washington,” Sugiyama said.

Sugiyama added that he’d like to see a statewide API summit held every five years to bring individuals throughout the state together for the purpose of developing strategic plans.

“The fact that it’s come this far means the issues are still alive and well. There is an ongoing need for the Commission to be an information clearinghouse, to continue consulting and advocating. I just think that the community throughout the state should really be proud that there is this commission that has been able to achieve so much in the 40 years,” Luna said.

Itti encouraged community members to contact them for assistance in navigating state government programs and services.

CAPAA holds five public board meetings per year where they address issues of concern to the API community. Visit their website at to learn more. (end)

This article was originally published in the Northwest Asian Weekly: