Seattle politicians and businesspeople in suits and cocktail dresses mingled among the jewelry cases at Ben Bridge Jeweler in downtown Seattle on Monday evening, while Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic played accordion with Soundgarden’s Hiro Yamamoto and other musicians. The eclectic group was out honoring the Asian Hall of Fame’s 2021 inductees and the 35th anniversary of the Robert Chinn Foundation.
The private induction reception featured speeches from many of the city’s top politicians and performances from some of its most famous musicians. A virtual induction ceremony will be livestreamed on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. on the Asian Hall of Fame’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The Asian Hall of Fame was part of the Robert Chinn Foundation, a family philanthropy founded by a prominent Seattle financier, until last year when it became its own nonprofit. It’s now working to become a well-recognized international organization that celebrates Asian excellence and supports Asians in early-career development and artistic pursuits with internship programs, grants and public discussions.
Maki Hsieh, the CEO of the Robert Chinn Foundation and the Asian Hall of Fame, says the organization has also been rallying for the Stop Asian Hate movement and raised over $150,000 this year to support the artistic endeavors of survivors of trauma, especially those who are victims of anti-Asian hate crimes. Hsieh says she’s talking to the cities of Seattle; Bellevue; Pasadena, California; and Glendale, California to find a physical hall of fame for the organization.
At the reception, which was partially a private auction fundraiser for the organization’s causes, Hsieh said recognizing Asian excellence is more important than ever with the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes.
“We believe if people and communities knew about the Asian contributions to the country, to humanity and to their neighborhoods, there would be no violence,” Hsieh said. “But how can you respect someone when you don’t know what they’ve contributed? And that’s why the Asian Hall of Fame exists.”
This year’s 10 inductees come from all over the world and diverse fields, including electronic dance music DJ Steve Aoki, former PepsiCo chair and CEO Indra Nooyi and the late Brandon Lee, an actor and son of Bruce Lee. Up until 2019, the Asian Hall of Fame was a yearly gala at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in Seattle honoring around four Asian Americans each year, most of whom had ties to the Seattle area. Previous inductees have included speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno and former Washington Gov. Gary Locke.
King County Executive Dow Constantine presented Nooyi, the one inductee who came to the event, with a letter of congratulations and proclaimed the day “Robert Chinn Foundation 35th Anniversary Day” in honor of the foundation, standing with Chinn’s daughter Karen Wong.
Wong, wearing a pale blue embroidered suit and a large ruby around her neck, talked about how her father started a bank in Seattle at a time when most banks wouldn’t give Asian people loans, and how he founded one of the country’s first Asian philanthropies to serve Seattle’s Asian community. Before starting the Asian Hall of Fame, the Robert Chinn Foundation ran the Asian Resource Center in the Chinatown International District until it closed in 2014. She said the foundation started the Asian Hall of Fame because “it was about time that Asians got recognition.”
Seattle mayor-elect Bruce Harrell took a moment to celebrate Seattle’s progressive values and the previous week’s election win.
“In a time when anti-Asian violence is unprecedented, when we see African Americans murdered publicly, the city had the audacity to elect someone Black and Asian,” Harrell said.
During Nooyi’s short acceptance speech, she said she appreciated her inclusion in the hall of fame, since Indians and other Asians are often considered separate groups. Nooyi is the first Indian to be included in the Asian Hall of Fame. She’s on Amazon’s board of directors and consistently ranks among Forbes’ list of the world’s 100 most powerful women.
Between speeches, famous musicians jammed while guests milled around eating snacks and drinking wine. Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic played some accordion and acoustic guitar. Soundgarden’s Hiro Yamamoto played jazz bass lines with Chicago’s Danny Seraphine on drums. And Jeff Kashiwa of The Rippingtons traded improv lines with pianist Ed Roth.
Hsieh says next year, the Asian Hall of Fame will hold an in-person ceremony at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles, which she hopes will be streamed on a platform like Peacock. She believes Asians in Seattle and elsewhere are still not properly recognized for their contributions and hopes the Asian Hall of Fame can help change that.