Colorado’s Asian American Heroes 2012

asianave May 7, 2012 Comments Off on Colorado’s Asian American Heroes 2012

Story by Patricia Kaowthumrong | Photos by Joe Nguyen

In its fourth year, Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network proudly announces the 2012 Asian American Heroes of Colorado:

Dr. DJ Ida, Executive Director of National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
Sum Nguyen, President of Unified Vietnamese-American Council of Colorado
Dr. Suegie Park, Clinical Pharmacist and Health Professional
Dr. Jaime Yrastorza, Founder of Uplift Internationale
Young Asian-American Hero AWARD: Pakou Xiong, Hmong community leader and Asian-American activist
Lifetime Achievement AWARD: George Yoshida, Retired social worker and war veteran, Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer awardee

Heroes were selected by a committee comprised of members from OCA Colorado, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Asian Avenue magazine, Mile-Hi Japanese American Citizens League, Colorado Asian Pacific Youth Association, Asian Pacific Development Center, Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network, and National Association of Asian American Professionals – Colorado.

Fourth annual Asian American Heroes of Colorado Award Ceremony and Brunch
Date: Saturday, May 26, 2012 Time: 10 a.m. to noon
Location: Kings Land Restaurant, 2200 W. Alameda Ave, Denver
Tickets: $20 each | $15 for students
To purchase tickets: Checks made payable to CACEN can be sent to:
CACEN, P.O. Box 221748, Denver, CO 80222

Or purchase online at:
For questions, call 303-937-6888 or email [email protected].

The award ceremony will include a dim sum brunch, recognition of the 2012 Asian American Heroes of Colorado, young hero award and lifetime achievement award recipients, acceptance speeches, and sharing unique stories of service. Come and be inspired!


Colorado native DJ Ida has more than 30 years of experience working with the Asian American Pacific Islander communities. Dr. Ida is a co-founder of Asian Pacific Development Center (APDC) and serves as executive director of the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA). Dr. Ida is a strong advocate in promoting mental health well-being within Asian American and Pacific Islander communities nationwide.

“Mental health is the core of so many things,” Dr. Ida said. “My goal is to make sure issues in our community don’t get lost.”

Dr. Ida’s work has a large impact with Asian-American communities, various nonprofit organizations and government agencies; she is frequently asked to speak on cultural competency and mental health issues.

Nominated by JR Kuo, Program Coordinator of NAAPIMHA, he said, “DJ devotes all her professional and personal time to empowering mental health consumers and fighting for their rights.”

A third-generation Japanese-American, Dr. Ida said her parents inspired her to pursue a career in mental health. Her mother was born in California and was not able to pursue a master’s degree due to post-World War II prejudices against Japanese-Americans; Dr. Ida dedicated her doctorate in clinical psychology from the University of Colorado to
her parents.

“My parents gave me the push early on in life to give back to the community because they always had,” she said.

Dr. Ida said it is a great joy to her to see Asian communities flourish on a national level. Although her work is nationwide, she refers to Colorado as “home base”; she works with APDC and other nonprofits in the Denver metro area.

Dr. Ida considers herself very lucky to be able to do work that she really loves. “Find that passion and that will get you
through the rough days,” Dr. Ida said. “Have a sense of pride in who you are and reach out to people who need help.”

Sum Nguyen

Sum Nguyen still recalls the exact date he fled communist Vietnam—it was April 30, 1975 when he and his family escaped the country to find freedom and peace elsewhere. They boarded a ship armed with nothing but hope and faith.

“We won’t survive; we can’t survive,” Nguyen said he thought to himself as he and his family sailed away from their homeland. “But we did.”

After traveling to Singapore safely, then to Marine Camp Pendleton in California, the Nguyen family would find a permanent home in Denver under the sponsorship of Denver Lutheran Church within a year of their departure from Vietnam. From serving as a carpenter’s helper to a warehouse shipping clerk, Nguyen worked in various industries to support his family. He eventually went back to school to receive his bachelor of science in electronic engineering technology and became an assistant engineer.

Before he left the country, Nguyen served in many positions in the Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam; he was promoted to captain and served as a boat group commander and the transportation office chief.

Now a U.S. citizen, Nguyen is the division commander of the United States Vietnamese American Veterans Alliance, Colorado Division. He was given the title of full colonel in 2010 by the commanding general of the United States Vietnamese American Veterans Alliance.

Through his service roles, Nguyen has made contributions to the veteran and Vietnamese communities, and to the city of Aurora as a whole. He said his goals included promoting education among younger generations and helping Asian Americans come together as a community. His current positions include president of the Unified Vietnamese-American Council of Colorado, advisor to Denver Public Schools and Ambassador for Peace to the Universal Peace Federation.

“I try my best to connect communities together to forget about hatred,” Nguyen said.

A strong believer in the importance of education, Nguyen is currently studying for his master’s in business administration from Colorado Technical University. He and his wife Anh have been married for 51 years and have ten grandchildren and three greatgrandchildren.

 Dr. Suegie Park

Clinical pharmacist Suegie Park didn’t receive her doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center until 2005 even though she obtained her bachelor of science in the field back in 1983. Dr. Park continued to work hard for her education, and her experiences as a Korean immigrant and healthcare professional have inspired her to help other Asian-Americans achieve better health.

“I like to help others keep a healthy life,” said Dr. Park. “There are immigrants here with language barriers who are not familiar with the healthcare system.”

As a victim of chronic pain, her passion is to help those who are suffering and don’t know how to get help. Dr. Park is the office manager at Colorado Alliance for Health Equity and Practice, a safety net clinic that provides medical clinic services at affordable prices. Dr. Park is also actively involved with the Asian Pacific Development Center;
she served on their Board of Directors for six years.

In addition, she has volunteered at the 9Health Fair yearly since 1995. Dr. Park helps translate wellness information for Korean communities and provides important health screenings. Some of her other achievements include working with various organizations to promote Hepatitis B prevention and serving as vice president of the National Unification Advisory Council of Korea.

Dr. Park and her family came to the U.S. in 1975 from South Korea. She served in the U.S. Army for three years and in the Colorado National Guard while she was a pharmacy student. Dr. Park said her experience obtaining a degree at an older age has made her a strong advocate of education and helping youth in the community. She has served the Korean Heritage Camps for more than 20 years by fundraising and preparing food at the yearly events.

“I like to contribute to the community, and my goal has always been to emphasize education,” Dr. Park said. “I want to help young people with whatever situations.”

Dr. Jaime Yrastorza

Jaime Yrastorza calls himself an active Rotarian and a proud American citizen. Dr. Yrastorza left his home in the Philippines in 1950 after graduating from high school. He earned his bachelor’s in psychology from the University of Minnesota and a doctorate in dental medicine from Washington University. Then he received specialty training in oral-maxillofacial surgery from Georgetown University. Dr. Yrastorza maintained a private practice in Wheat Ridge for 35 years before retiring in 1995.

In 1989, Dr. Yrastorza founded Uplift International, an organization that gathers a team of medical professionals and volunteers to travel to the Philippines yearly to provide care to children born with facial deformities, primarily clefts of the lip and palate. The volunteers provide care at no cost to families.

“It is a haven for healthcare experts who want to share their expertise in care of the impoverished,” said Dr. Yrastorza.

Dr. Yrastorza also served as program consultant in oral-maxillofacial surgery for the Phillippines for the United Nations; he helped organize and develop a training program with his expertise for a hospital in Manila.

Dr. Yrastorza said his work is fueled by awareness that there are countries in the world that have a high number of impoverished individuals and the U.S. has an abundant source of individuals who could participate in this wisdom. A father to five and a grandfather to 14, he encourages people to take advantage of the many opportunities the country has to offer.

“This is a country that is full of opportunities to achieve your dreams and a country that gives commensurate awards for hard work,” he said.

Young Hero Award: Pakou Xiong

Pakou Xiong developed a love for community service at a young age; her work in the Hmong community has inspired her to encourage others in the Asian-American community to get involved.

“I think the Colorado community is so unique,” she said. “I think everyone can contribute their culture.”

Xiong has been involved with organizations such as Hmong Colorado Radio, Hmong American Association of Colorado, National Association of Asian American Professionals, Colorado Dragon Boat Festival and Miss Asian American Colorado. She served as program coordinator for the Asian Women’s Health Program at Asian Pacific Development Center and was an executive director for the Hmong American Association of Colorado.

Although Xiong values all of the organizations she’s been involved in, she said the Hmong Student Association of Colorado is the group that is dearest to her and still serves as one of their advisors.

“The young people are the future, so I want to make sure the organization is always going in the right path,” Xiong said.

Xiong said the best part of her work is all of the relationships established and the trust she’s gained from other community members.

She hopes to use that trust to influence others to be active in their community.

“People like me do what we do because we love the work and never ask for anything in return; saying thank you is already enough,” said Xiong. “So to be recognized is truly an honor.”

Xiong advice to others is to always think positively, stay true to oneself and be confident in the decisions you make to avoid any regrets in the future.

Young Asian-American Hero defined as under 35 years of age.

Lifetime Achievement Award: George Yoshida

“Never in my wildest dreams coming to Colorado did I imagine I would be involved like this,” said George Yoshida, a retired social worker who has been recognized for his exemplary volunteerism many times. Nearly 80-years-old, Yoshida proves that a desire to help others transcends age.

A Korean War veteran and Hawaiian native, Yoshida worked as a clinical social worker for 35 years at Denver’s National Jewish Hospital. He retired in 1979, but decades of service and dedication to his community followed. Yoshida was awarded the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award and is now active on the committee that selects yearly honorees from the Denver metro area.

“If I’ve made some difference to someone, then I know I’ve achieved something,” Yoshida said.

Yoshida’s endeavors include acting as an advisor to Asian Avenue magazine, packing up medical supplies for developing countries in need with Project C.U.R.E., helping launch an Asian Film Festival and volunteering with the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival.

He is also known for spending a lot of time on the computer keeping people updated on diverse activities in the community.

Yoshida said he is grateful that his wife still edits all of his work.

“I like the spontaneity of doing different projects,” he said. “It keeps me busy.”

He said his hope to improve human relationships propels his work and encourages individuals to take advantage of the endless volunteer opportunities available. A father to four and a grandfather to five, Yoshida plans to continue volunteering for as long as he can.


Comments are closed.