C.C. Yin is chairman and co-founder of the Asian Pacific Islander Public Affairs Association. qidong zhang / China Daily
C.C. Yin immigrated to the United States in 1964 when he was 28. He had $100 in his pocket, barely spoke any English and knew practically nothing about America. What he did have was entrepreneurial spirit.
Now, half a century later, he and his family own 32 McDonald's in 12 California cities, and he is the founder of the Asian Pacific Islander Public Affairs Association (APAPA), a grassroots non-profit organization that aims to empower Asian and Pacific Islander (API) Americans in civic and public affairs through education, active participation and leadership development.
When he landed in the US, Yin had a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from Taiwan Cheng Kung University, which he soon found insufficient in seeking a career. He pursued a master's degree in civil engineering at the University of Washington, married his wife Regina and settled down in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969.
After working as an engineer for 18 years, that entrepreneurial spirit led him to purchase his first McDonald's in 1984 in Oakland. It was a rough start because the restaurant was in one of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bay Area. The experience, however, gave him a "jump start" in understanding American politics.
"As a business owner in a tough neighbourhood, I realized I had to connect with local community, city government, the police staff and individuals, whether they were African Americans, Hispanics, Caucasians, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese or Filipino. I also sought help whenever needed from local Chamber of Commerce, city planning department, and the police, which was really an eye-opening experience for me to get to know American society," said Yin.
The founding of APAPA was triggered by a call in 2000 from 40 Asian-American leaders in Sacramento, asking for Yin's advice about their concern that after 150 years of Asian-American history in California, there were no API state-elected officials.
"I was very much alarmed by the fact that Chinese and Asian community population was growing at such speed, but there was no leadership representing us in the US government, let alone no decision-making participation,'' he said. "So I jumped in with the idea of founding APAPA, which was aimed at providing a platform and pipeline to empower Asians Americans for political power. By 2009 we had 15 Asian Americans elected to legislative and constitutional offices; now we have 17, seven in constitutional, two in senate and eight in assemblies."
Describing his life in the last 50 years as covering three segments — an engineer, McDonald's owner and a political movement promoter — Yin said he has dedicated himself to promote the importance of political awareness and civic engagement for Asian Americans and new Asian immigrants in the last decade.
"In order to promote civic engagement to build political empowerment for Asian Americans, the first thing we did was calling for unity: whether it was people from Korea, Vietnam or China, as long as you are Asian, you belong to our group. The second thing we did was to connect grassroots across the nation. We tried to change the culture of Chinese American immigrants from being good workers to also being good civic government candidates. We built our grassroot from city to city, town to town for political network, since all American politics start in every town and every city," he said.
APAPA focused on three areas to reach this goal: voter registration, voter education and voter support.
Yin said that APAPA founders and board members have been teaching Asian Americans how to vote, whom to vote for and why, and organizing them to vote. Leadership programs are offered at high school, college and professional levels.
"American democracy is very complicated, but if you look at it closely, the political and economic power is all local. The 50 states are like 50 countries; their laws are independent and different. If we want to participate in American politics, we have to follow laws locally to place our candidates into the system, whether it's a school board, commissioner or state assembly member," he said.
"We educate them through town hall meetings, media and interns that go out to educate them. Now from universities to local communities we have voter pipeline, appointment pipeline, leadership pipeline. We are still learning, but three pipelines have provided the essential foundation for the entire Asian-American political movement," said Yin.
APAPA has three chapters in Southern California, three in Northern California, one each at UC Berkeley and UC Davis and one each in Florida, New York and Texas.
In the 13 years since its founding in 2001, APAPA has more than 20,000 volunteers and 200 active leaders across the country. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the leaders include Albert Wang, Bay Area region chair; Joe Wong, Henry Yin, Cheng Liao and National Honorary Chairs Hsing Kung, Sandy Chau, Ken Fong and Johnnie Giles.
"We support C100 (Committee of 100) which deals with the high level US-China relationship. We work with 80-20, the voting group which mainly reaches educated people, and we also work with numerous other organization for alliance," said Yin.
Yin was born in Renshou County, Sichuan province in China, and he moved to Taiwan when he was 12 in 1949. He said his passion has always been being an organizer for people with common interest. Next month, an estimated 300 APAPA members will gather at his home in Vacaville, California, for an annual gathering.
"My mother died when I was only six months old. I experienced WWII, the Japanese invasion of China, a broken family, and relocation from place to place in my childhood and youth,'' he said. "My survival skill was to network with friends and work with people of differences. I consider myself very lucky being where I am at today, and I am very thankful to this country. I want to give back to the society by helping other Asian Americans with similar backgrounds become successful in this country."
Yin said that today's Chinese immigrants are very different from his generation.
"They are well prepared and educated. A platform like APAPA can help put everyone together through its network, since the young generation of immigrants are really the brightest and best. The world will become a better place if we can all work together to build a better country here and have more influence in decision making in both US and China."
Yin, however, predicts that the road to a more prestigious political stage for Asian Americans is still years ahead. Asians have to learn to work on a common ground, he said.
"I believe Chinese can learn well. One hundred years ago, we didn't believe in science. Look at us now. Chinese are among the best scientists and engineers in the world. If Chinese learn about the American political system, they will become the best, too. We already have many successful political professionals in America: former Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao, former US Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, former Washington State governor and US Ambassador to China Gary Locke, and now Judy Chu, the first Chinese-American woman elected to Congress."
"Collaboration, alliance and grassroots are the key words we need to keep in mind when it comes to American politics for Chinese and Asian Americans," said Yin.