Award recipients in 2012

Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein was honored for her work to preserve the U.S. Immigration Station at Angel Island. As President Buck Gee noted, "It’s not just the funding you were able to get Congress to approve in order to preserve buildings in the Immigration Station, it’s the way you've spoken out on behalf of the need to preserve the station for future generations. As a grand-daughter of Jewish and Russian Orthodox immigrants, you have been able to truly exemplify what we seek in honoring immigrants and their descendants."

Linda Frank, Author and Advocate of the Arts

During the Nazi regime’s campaign against European Jewry, many countries closed their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing occupied Europe, but China was a notable exception. A self-professed history lover and bibliophile, Linda Frank learned about these refugees early in her education. But when she discovered that Jewish communities existed in China long before the World Wars, she was hooked.

“Chinese and Jewish cultures share many common themes, such as emphases on family and a good education,” Linda points out. She grew up in Milwaukee, WI, the granddaughter of Ellis Island Jewish immigrants. She studied Hebrew, read voraciously, and developed an early “international bent.” She left the Midwest to attend the University of Michigan, where she studied political science. She earned her Master’s in Journalism from the University of Chicago and worked as a journalist until moving into careers in investment brokerage, marketing, and public relations. But outside of her jobs, Linda fostered an immense curiosity for cultural exchange through community service.

During her terms as Vice President of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) of San Francisco and Board Member of the Sino-Judaic League, Linda Frank tirelessly advocated for dialogue between the Jewish and Chinese communities. She helped develop an art exhibit on the Kaifeng Jews—a community in China that traces its roots to the Tang Dynasty or earlier. The exhibit visited cities where Linda has lived: Milwaukee, Denver, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

On the Board of the AJC of San Francisco, Linda Frank has broadened the scope of its programming to build bridges worldwide. In the 1990’s, she traveled with the AJC to China. In 2010, she chaired the San Francisco run of the “Jews in Modern China” exhibit, a project sponsored by the China International Cultural Exchange Center that traces the experiences of Jewish immigrants to China between 1840 and 1949. After months of planning logistics, training docents, and fanning publicity, Linda’s team welcomed a Chinese delegation to the exhibit’s opening at the Presidio Officers’ Club. The exhibit ran at the Presidio Officers’ Club for three months, welcomed over 8,000 attendees, and featured guest lectures and film screenings.

“My father used to say that ‘nothing worthwhile comes easy.’” Linda cites this idea, and her passion for education, as main reasons for her continued cultural volunteerism. “The immigrant story is everybody’s story. Immigrant values are universal. It comes back to this idea…this hope that things can be better.”

Linda has visited China eight times and is working on her second fiction book, set in Shanghai. But what started as a curiosity, a “bent for the international,” has become the backdrop to her life. “My son has been [in China] for 12 years. His wedding had a beautiful view of the Forbidden City. We celebrated Passover there one year!” While she wishes her family could get together more regularly, Linda sends many packages of home-baked goods to him via express mail. After all, she has her own to-do list here in the states.

“I’ve helped plan two very successful Chinese-Jewish mahjong tournaments,” she says with a smile. “I think they really want me to do another.”


Vish Mishra, Venture Capitalist and Mentor

Vish Mishra founded two successful companies, served as CEO of four start-ups, and provided the venture capital to get countless businesses on their feet. But when asked what his favorite investment is, Vish will always reply: “people.”

In his opinion, investing in people, their talents and passions, is always the best way to ensure success. Vish, a Silicon Valley veteran with over 30 years of leadership and entrepreneurial experience, maintains that any company’s success hinges on the right blend of skills among its employees. And maybe a dose of good timing, too. After earning his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Institute of Technology at Benares Hindu University in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, Vish immigrated to the United States and obtained his M.S. in Electrical Engineering from North Dakota State University. In 1983, Vish co-founded his first company, a corporate IT networking project called Excelan, whose IPO in 1987 proved so successful that the company was sold after two years.

“I think the fundamental step of getting a company off the ground is just trying to identify big pressing needs in the marketplace,” Vish suggests. “You’ve got to experience the pressing need yourself. You can’t just read a report. Identify [that] pressing need that you have personal affinity to and try to identify how it’s being satisfied in the marketplace today.”

This “pressing need” took different forms for Vish through his career. He picked up high-tech industry insights across a spectrum of fields: software, Internet, networking, telecommunications, and more. In 2002, he joined Clearstone Venture Partners, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm with a branch in Mumbai. As a Venture Director at Clearstone, Vish handles deal flow and syndicate networking, but his position also allows him to focus on the human aspects of business ventures; he regularly provides company support and executive coaching.

Vish was educated on both sides of the Pacific Ocean, an expanse that shrinks with globalization and technology. Eager to promote entrepreneurship in his home country of India and around the world, Vish signed up to work with The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), in Silicon Valley, a not-for-profit network that fosters entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, membership events, and education. Founded in 1992 by businesspeople with roots in the Indus region, TiE has grown to over 13,000 members across 57 chapters in 14 countries. Vish is the current TiE Board President. Some upcoming Bay Area events include the TiE Startup Pitchfest, a panel on Women Entrepreneurs, and lectures on Software and Services in the Energy Sector.

Vish serves as an advisor at the San Jose State University College of Business and at the India Community Center in Silicon Valley, the largest facility-based Indo-American center in the United States. He has been interviewed by numerous international media outlets and has been dubbed a “legend” in the Silicon Valley, where he resides today.


Yuan Yuan Tan, SF Ballet Principal Dancer

Becoming a limber, ethereal ballet dancer is a youthful ambition among many girls. Every year, studios in every corner of the United States fill with tiny hopefuls dressed in pale pink. As novices gain technique, parents excitedly await the first “big stage” performance. For Yuan Yuan Tan, the San Francisco Ballet’s Principal Dancer, the “big stage” was thousands of miles from her Shanghai, China home. At the age of 15, Yuan Yuan Tan represented China at an international ballet competition in Helsinki, Finland.

“The [Western] dancers were so pure, classically, trained, and beautiful,” she recalls. But she returned from Europe with a medal. The following year, she claimed gold in Paris.

“I never thought I could make it abroad,” she claims. “It was my mom who insisted. I thought I was only ‘OK’.”

Yuan Yuan’s parents disagreed about their daughter’s pursuits at first; her father wanted Yuan Yuan to pursue medicine, but the two agreed to settle the matter in the fairest way they could think of: with a coin toss. Heads and Yuan Yuan would get the chance to train at the Shanghai Dance School. In the highly competitive realm of Chinese athletics, dance becomes more than a hobby—it’s a shot at national fame and cultural diplomacy, but only if you’re the best. Cultural exchange officers travel with China’s best dancers to international contests. In the aftermath of that fateful heads-up coin toss, Yuan Yuan was thrust into the ruthless dance world as her peers enrolled in regular school.

“[When I competed abroad], there were times when everything hurt. Your head, your feet, your everything, hurts.”

But after earning a handful of honors for China, Yuan Yuan finally realized that she might be “good enough”, and decided to pursue Western instruction. In the middle of an audition, she was spotted by someone at the San Francisco Ballet, who offered her a soloist position. Two years after joining the Ballet, she was promoted to principal dancer, becoming the youngest principal dancer ever in the history of the company and the first Chinese American principal dancer in history. When she first moved to the Bay Area, she would walk several blocks to the nearest pay phone to call home.

Yuan Yuan has danced lead roles in Giselle, Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, the Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and Othello. She has created roles in Tomasson’s The Fifth Season, Chi-Lin, Silver Ladders, and Possokhov’s Magrittomania. Her long repertory reflects her versatility as a dancer. Whereas Yuan Yuan’s earliest anxieties about her technique included her foreign training, critics have lauded her unique style and lines. She rehearses and performs nine months of the year and usually headlines an international tour during her “off” months.

Yuan Yuan is an icon in China. She has been featured in overseas versions of Vogue, Esquire, and Tatler and was named a “Hero of Asia” in Time magazine. Since joining the Ballet, Yuan Yuan has observed an odd trend in the audiences for her shows. Every year, there are more and more Asian faces in the crowd.

“I’m grateful for their support,” she says. “I think…I think they’re there to see me.”

Imagine that.

Chinese Hospital, the Chinese Community Health Plan, and the Chinese Community Health Care Association

The interrogations that immigrants faced on Angel Island were only the start. They often faced wariness and discrimination against foreigners in their new homes. Between 1870 and 1897, there were never more than 34 Chinese admitted to San Francisco City and County Hospital in any given year. Chinese Americans who had to walk long distances to hospitals become victims of rock throwing and mob violence. If they managed to find their way into a clinic, linguistic and cultural barriers made the experience so unpleasant that few returned.

Towards the late 1800’s, new hospitals opened up for French, German, and Jewish communities, but all refused care to the Chinese. Finally, in 1892, Chinese community leaders submitted a petition for a Chinatown dispensary. The Tung Wah Dispensary, the first organized institution to offer culturally competent health care for its community, opened the doors to its 25-bed facility at 828 Sacramento Street. Rebuilt on Trenton Street after the 1906 earthquake, the dispensary soon faced demands from a growing Chinatown community that outstripped its resources. Another round of fundraising later and the new hospital opened its present-day location at835 Jackson Street on April 8, 1925.  The construction of an adjacent hospital building in 1979, with its capacities for specialty programs, emergency services, intensive care units, and same-day surgery finally capped a century-long fight for adequate health care.

“We must ensure that our community continues to receive the highest-quality care. This has been the purpose of Chinese Hospital since 1899,” says James Ho, the President of the Hospital Board of Trustees. However, supplying the space and physicians doesn’t always ensure unfettered care. “Many people think that having bilingual staff is enough,” Brenda Yee, the Hospital’s CEO of 13 years, remarks.

“But it’s more than that. It’s about being available. Patients need an environment that understands them, that welcomes them.” She points to the late 1970’s, a time when health maintenance organizations (HMOs) sprouted and formed provider-insurer webs in California that once again excluded Chinese physicians and enrollees. The situation once again necessitated proactive community solutions, so in 1982, 54 physicians organized Chinese Hospital’s own managed care group, the Chinese Community Health Care Association (CCHCA), which is a non-profit serving a community that health care analysts might deem “risky”. After all, the San Francisco Chinese community is more likely than the general population to be low-income, elderly, and to live alone. These groups faced stiff premiums from other insurers or cultural misunderstandings in public benefit systems. Finally, in 1984, Blue Shield and Chinese Hospital announced a solution: the Chinese Community Health Plan, which has since earned national accolades for its performance in a time of mounting health care costs.

“If you look at our programs from the last two decades, you might notice that we kind of just follow our patients wherever they need us,” says Brenda. Chinese Hospital and CCHCA worked to open three community clinics in the Sunset District, Daly City, and the Excelsior. The Hospital and its affiliate programs are on an endless quest for improvement. “Our most recent focus is wellness. We’ve partnered with the YMCA. We’ve worked on a number of awareness campaigns.” As Brenda lists myriad hospital initiatives, new and old, she flags her dedicated staff as the vehicle behind Chinese Hospital’s success and growth. According to management’s records, 15% of Chinese Hospital’s physicians, nurses, and support staff were born there.