From San Jose to Washington, D.C. – Raising Local Voices in Support of Public Lands

Michele Lew, President and CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), shares her experience of traveling to Washington, D.C. to urge support for public lands.

Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. on behalf of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), an organization that works to improve the health, mental health, and well-being of individuals, families and the Asian community in San Jose and throughout Santa Clara County.

This trip was a chance to visit our elected officials and representatives at government agencies and share local ideas from San Jose with those who represent us in Washington, D.C. In particular, I was lucky to spend time at the Council on Environmental Quality, which works closely with the White House and other agencies to develop our nation’s environmental policies and initiatives.

During my meeting at the Council on Environmental Quality, we discussed the important role community groups like AACI can play in preserving cultural experiences through our National Parks and Monuments, and how important it is that we protect these public lands for future generations.

Protecting our public lands an issue that’s important to me personally.  I remember my parents taking me to visit National Parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone and I will always cherish the memories of those trips.  Now, I’m the mother of a four-year-old son.  I want him to develop a love of the outdoors and National Parks, be physically active, and experience the wonder of visiting some of the most beautiful places on earth, just like I did as a child.

Given the importance of this issue, I’m glad that AACI can also play a role in protecting and expanding our public lands.  As an organization that works toward improving community health, we see public lands as integral to our well-being; both because public lands provide a space for outdoor recreation and physical activity, and because these places represent our community’s cultural experiences.

I shared with the representatives of the Council on Environmental Quality how earlier this year AACI hosted a forum with Congressman Mike Honda and local experts on regional planning, transportation, affordable housing, and national monument designations.

This event was a great opportunity to hear from our Congressman firsthand and recognize him for his leadership on these important issues.

At the forum, we also heard from Clarence Moriwaki, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial Committee.  Mr. Moriwaki spoke about his experience advocating for a National Parks system memorial that commemorates Japanese Americans who were sent to internment camps during World War II.

Mr. Moriwaki was successful in his efforts in 2008 when President George W. Bush signed a law protecting the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Memorial as part of the National Park System.

I discussed with the representatives at the Council on Environmental Quality how Mr. Moriwaki’s words moved the audience to think about how critical our National Parks and Monuments are to preserving our cultural experiences.  These places are a way to help us remember and honor our history – and preserve these memories for generations to come.

Thankfully, Rep. Honda and other members of Congress and the White House are listening.  Since my visit to D.C., President Obama acted upon the request of local communities and designated California’s Fort Ord our nation’s newest a National Monument, ensuring the protection of this historic and beautiful place.

Located near Monterey, Fort Ord was established in 1917 and is a significant part of our military history.  Today it is a place of great natural beauty with many trails and outdoor spaces for visitors to enjoy.  For those of us in San Jose, it’s close enough for a day trip with family and friends.

By designating Fort Ord a National Monument, the president is helping to boost California’s economy with jobs created by tourism and outdoor recreation activities.  This designation will also help recognize a shared story of service and sacrifice.  Americans of all different heritages and backgrounds – including Asian Americans – have served proudly in our Nation’s military and preserving Fort Ord is a tribute to them.

We’ll continue to advocate for the preservation of our culture and history in our National Parks and Monuments.  Join us.  As we protect these special places, so too will our community, economy, and future generations benefit.


Michele Lew is the President and CEO of Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI), Santa Clara County’s largest community-based organization focused on the Asian community. Our mission is to improve the health, mental health and well-being of individuals, families and the Asian community by providing an array of high quality health and human services; sharing expertise about the Asian community’s needs and best service delivery practices; and providing Asian leadership in advocating on key health and human services issues.  For more information, visit http://aaci.org/

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