The Asian Heritage Awards were created in 2004 by Rosalynn Carmen and Leonard Novarro, co-publishers of the newspaper ASIA, The Journal of Culture & Commerce. The Awards were established to honor achievement of San Diego’s Asian Americans in categories ranging from cultural preservation to community service but has since been expanded to honor achievement throughout Southern California. The first ceremony, in 2004, was held at Point Loma Nazarene College (now Point Loma Nazarene University) and was attended by leaders in San Diego’s Asian American community. The event was held as a luncheon and brought back to Point Loma in 2005. However, by that time, the popularity of the event had outgrown the venue. For the next two years, 2006 and 2007, the event, a combined luncheon and a theater ceremony, was held at the Joan Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. In 2008, the event became a night-time gala and in 2009 and 2010 was held aboard the USS Midway in San Diego as a formal dinner gala. The Midway became the venue for the gala because of the support from the U.S. Navy as a major sponsor. Another major sponsor supporting that move was the Ford Motor Company Fund. While the Awards for the first four years honored achievement in San Diego, in 2008 nominations were opened to candidates from Los Angeles and Orange Counties, as well. The following year, 2009, the event was completely organized and produced by The Asian Heritage Society, founded in 2005 by Ms. Carmen and Mr. Novarro as a non-profit organization to promote the cultural legacy of Asian Americans. The highlight of each ceremony is the Special Recognition Award that concludes the program. This award is selected by the board of The Asian Heritage Society and is not restricted to Southern California. Over the years, recipients of this special honor have included Major General Antonio Taguba, creator of the Abu Ghraib report and the second highest ranking Filipino American in the U.S. Army; California Senator Leland Yee, a strong advocate on behalf of education and children’s issues; and Tom Hom, the first Asian American to be elected to the San Diego City Council and only the third Asian American elected to the California Assembly. Others have included Sally Wong-Avery, founder of the San Diego Chinese Center, which advocates on behalf of Chinese Americans in San Diego, and Michael Inoue, former Honorary Consul General for Japan in San Diego. The Special Recognition Honoree is chosen by Rosalynn Carmen and Leonard Novarro, who reserve that right as founders of The Asian Heritage Society. However, Board members may make recommendations. Honorees in other categories are nominated and voted for by the Southern California community and greater community at large. The Honoree list in 2010 included Jonathan Ton, principal of Montgomery Middle School in San Diego (Education), David Du founder of DDH Enterprises (Business Enterprise); Kathy David, founder of IT Tech Pros Inc. (Entrepreneurship); Holly Fujie, former president of the State Bar of California and Michelle Nguyen, former president of the Vietnamese Bar Association (Legal Affairs); Cecil Magpuri, theme park architectural designer (Innovation and Technology); Lani Lutar, president and CEO San Diego County Taxpayers Association (Government); Dr. Charles Liu, voted one of “America’s top family doctors” by the Consumer Research Council of America (Health and Medicine); Aurora Cudal, columnist for the Filipino Press (Media and Film); Giovanna Pang-Garcia, author of “Why Chinese Women Are Not Broke” (Art and Literature); the Confucius Institute at San Diego State University (Cultural Preservation); Felix Fan, nationally renowned cellist and founder of Muzik3 performance series (Performing Arts); Navy Capt. Cynthia Macri, chief of Naval Operations for Diversity (Military); Dr. Lilly Cheng, international expert on bilingual language development (Humanitarian Outreach); and Margaret Iwanaga-Penrose, CEO and President Union of Pan-Asian Communities of San Diego. The award to Capt. Macri was presented by U.S. Congresswoman Susan Davis, an advocate of veterans affairs.
Each year, Honorees receive a plaque with the following inscription:
“We honor these men, women and organizations who have dedicated their lives for the betterment of humanity and community. We honor their work and integrity, their embrace of cultural differences, their accomplishments and achievements and their inspiration to others. By promoting harmony and understanding, and empowering others to follow in their pursuit of worthwhile endeavors, we honor their contributions and their legacy.”
For two years in a row, in 2007 and 2008, the San Diego Press Club honored the newspaper ASIA for its role in producing the Awards as a public service.