Event Recap & Photos: 2017 Asia Society Southern California Gala

The Asian immigrant story took center stage at Asia Society Southern California’s Annual Gala Dinner on May 7. The diverse group of honorees represented the immigrant success story and Asia Society’s mission of bringing cultures together. Global Co-Chair Henrietta Fore attended, as did Trustees Nicolas Berggruen, Mitch Julis, David Nazarian (an honoree) and Tom McLain, who is also Chairman of Asia Society Southern California. Actress and writer Nadia Hatta was the emcee for the evening. 

The celebration started with the Arts Visionary award for the cast and executive producers of “Fresh Off the Boat,” the hit series developed by Fox Television and aired on ABC. In his introduction, Ben Sherwood, Vice Chairman of Disney Media Networks and President of Disney|ABC Television Group, recalled his late father’s role in bringing Asia Society to Los Angeles. He said FOTB, only the second network TV show starring an Asian-American family, was a move in the right direction for diversity and had “changed the game” because it struck universal cords. “Fresh Off the Boat succeeds not because it instigates,” Sherwood said, “but because it resonates: feeling like the other, chasing the American Dream, trying to build a family.”

Executive Producer Melvin Mar and cast members Randall Park, Hudson Yang, Forrest Wheeler and Lucille Soong accepted the award. “I hope this means we’re getting season four,” Park said, looking at Sherwood. Less than a week later, ABC indeed renewed the show. Executive Producer Mar thanked Fox and ABC for “putting an Asian American family back on TV after 20 years” and said he was proud that FOTB’s Huangs had joined the list of American TV families, up there with the Huxtables of “The Cosby Show,” the Keatons of “Family Ties” and the Dunphys of “Modern Family.” Yang and Wheeler said they hoped the award and show would inspire writers and producers to include Asian Americans in media to create a better, more diverse world.

Adrian Zecha, an innovative hotelier who founded Aman Resorts, said he was honored an embarrassed to receive the Hospitality Visionary award. “Actually, all I’ve done…is what I really love to do, and that is to build wonderful hotels. Now that I’ve been called a visionary, that makes it more difficult,” he said, drawing laughter. Zecha, who was born in Indonesia but had to flee to Singapore, is 84 years old and still building hotels. He said retiring would be “irresponsible.”

Henrietta Fore spoke about the global Asia Society and introduced our Educational and Philanthropic Visionaries, David Nazarian and his wife, Angella Nazarian. She praised them as a perfect fit for Asia Society and a power couple who empower each other. “They bring innovation and positive change, renovation and transformation, to each business and industry, organization and social sector in which they engage,” she said.

Angella Nazarian, a best-selling author, spoke about her feeling of cultural “doubleness” as an 11-year-old refugee from Iran. She cited her interest in cultural anthropology to explain her passionate community service. West Africa’s Dagara tribe, she noted, assigns a mentor to each young member, a nurturing act that is really a gift for the common good. Her own search for a mentor led her to found two nonprofit groups, including Visionary Women, an empowerment and mentorship platform. Through them, she has been able to build modern-day tribes, or communities, of common values and find outlets to “nurture a part of ourselves that yearns to express itself in a way that is beyond our everyday self-preoccupation.” David Nazarian remarked on how misunderstood he and Iran were by Americans when he arrived high school here in 1977. He developed a deep commitment to education, as a necessary ingredient for a strong middle class and societal progress. “When we talk about education, we are really discussing access to affordable and quality higher education…schooling across the population that rewards hard work, intelligence and talent among students regardless of gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” he said. And he has created that, through a generous gift to and fundraising for the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at his alma mater, California State University, Northridge. He said it was important to contribute to a state university to create the greatest opportunity for diverse students, including many who are the first member of their family to go to college.

After a musical performance by pipa player Jie Ma and tabla percussionist Christopher Garcia, Sotheby’s Chairman, Americas, Andrea Fiuczynski, led a live auction, and we celebrated our Business Visionary honoree, Donald Tang. He was introduced by Dominic Ng, Chairman and CEO of East West Bank, who provided the perfect bookend: He recounted Tang’s history of working to advance Asian Americans in the business world and predicted that Tang Media Partners would become a major entertainment player, paving the way for more shows like “Fresh Off the Boat.” Tang cited Ng as a mentor who never expected anything in return and who introduced him to Asia Society 20 years ago. Tang, a former Vice Chairman of Bear Stearns and once Chairman of Asia Society Southern California, said he values Asia Society because it is committed to “shared growth.” The organization includes people from “all walks of life who are bound together by the ‘paying forward’ mentality and principle of making sure we all help each other in the community.”


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