3 API Trailblazers We Honored for API Heritage Month 2020

For API Heritage Month, the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce has dedicated social media posts every week to celebrate the #APITrailblazers from California. These wonderful API leaders have lent their talents to improve their communities over the course of their lives. Their achievements bring inspiration to API communities because they defy boundaries and show that any goal is possible. While there is no singular pathway or blueprint for success, these fearless API leaders have paved a way forward for the next generations to come.

To bring a close to API Heritage Month, we are taking a look back on the leaders we shone a spotlight on this year:

Tani Cantil-Sakauye, First Filipina-American California Chief Justice

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye is the first Filipina-American and the second woman to serve as California’s Chief Justice. She was sworn into office in 2011 and is still dedicated to interpreting the law in a fair and just manner, will all facts present and without discrimination.

Chief Justice Tani’s accomplishments have been marked by hard-won awards including:

  • Justice Vaino Spencer Leadership Award – National Association of Women Judges

  • Community Victorious Award – Institute for Civic Engagement

  • Judge of the Year – California Asian Pacific American Bar Association

  • Civic Leadership Award – Asian Pacific American Leadership Institute

  • Commitment to the Legal Community Award – Arab American Lawyers Association of Southern California

  • Remarkable Women of UC – President's Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, University of California

Chief Justice Tani’s identity and family history places her in a unique position to fight for the values of the API community and for the rights of immigrants. Even now, she has continued to fight for the global issues that matter, including climate change and homelessness. Her strength is source of inspiration to many API youth, showing time and time again that representation matters.

Judy Sakaki, President of Sonoma State University

In 2016, Judy Sakaki became the 7th president of Sonoma State University and the first Japanese-American woman in the United States to lead a four-year college or university. As a first-generation college student, she worked twice as hard as her peers to complete her education. Eventually, she earned three degrees: Bachelor’s in Human Development, Master’s in Educational Psychology, and Ph.D. in Education. Her passion to improve the higher education system has never stopped, and she has made it her mission to prioritize students and make the college accessible to everyone.

Judy’s many accomplishments in education include:

  • Region VI President’s Award in 2018 – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education

  • President of the Year in 2017 – California State Student Association

  • Women In Business Award in 2017 – North Bay Business Journal

  • Founding member of Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education

Judy Sakaki’s amazing career trajectory can be attributed to her tenacity, passion, and personal values regarding higher education. She views higher education as a life-changing opportunity that should be accessible to all students. The support from her family and her community continues to be a major source of motivation for her goals.

Fiona Ma, California State Treasurer

Fiona Ma is California’s 34th State Treasurer. She is the first woman of color and first woman Certified Public Accountant in this position. She was also the first Asian-American woman to become Speaker pro Tempore of the California State Assembly.

Before she was elected to this position, Fiona served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, as the 19th District Assemblywoman, and on the Board of Equalization for many years. Her lengthy experience, helped her earn the trust of many voters in 2018. In fact, she currently holds the highest number of votes (7,825,587) than any other treasurer candidate in the state's history.

She has a long list of accomplishments and awards, including:

  • Davis College Democrats: Democratic Empowerment Award (2019)

  • UFCW: Trailblazing Women Leader Award (2019)

  • Fresno County Women Lawyers: 2018 Outstanding Services & Leadership Award (2018)

  • My Sister’s House: Civic Leader of the Year Award (2010)

Despite her long political history, Fiona never lost sight of her goals to improve the financial well being of California citizens. Her integrity and reliability comes from her strong values for transparency and accountability. Fiona’s longstanding success has been an inspiration to many Asian-Americans who are studying law and politics.


API Heritage Month is a time of cultural celebration and its special designation to the month of May was made in recognition of API contributions and accomplishments within our diverse country. It creates opportunities for our API communities to show their pride and share stories of adversity, adventure, and Asian Pacific Islander ancestry. The openness of this celebration brings awareness and invites people outside of API communities to listen, learn, and participate.

This month-long celebration is another way for our API communities to confidently show their pride and sense of belonging; opens up conversations to connect older generations with newer generations; and it is a way for our current generation to learn, and pave a new path forward to become the new API leaders of tomorrow.

Although this year’s celebration has come to a close, the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce is already making preparations to enthusiastically celebrate API Heritage Month next year, and all the years to come.

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