New York-based entrepreneur Julie Azuma was recently honored by the Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans with the first annual Lotus Award for her long-term involvement in Asian-American community affairs, coinciding with the start of Asian Pacific Heritage during May in the United States.

Azuma, 63, a daughter of Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, has been active with CAPA for nearly 20 years.

“It’s so thrilling,” Azuma said of her award, noting she has always been a supporter of the organization’s Asian Pacific Heritage festival. “I always loved the idea of the Asian-American community as a whole, not just Japanese-American, or Chinese-American, or Korean-American. All of us together — we create a voting bloc, we create a real force and energy within our community, and the nation.”

Born and raised in Chicago after her mother left the Tule Lake internment camp in California so that she could grow up “without the stigma” of being an internee, Azuma said her parents never spoke about the experience until the 1970s.

“I am a child of the generation that was in internment camps,” she said. “What happened to all of us that were Japanese-American was our parents never talked about it — it was like a secret.”

When Azuma finally learned more about the internment camp experience in the 1970s, “it was like a catharsis,” she said.

“In the early ’70s and ’80s, I was very involved in Japanese-American social activities and causes, and somewhere from 1979 on, I realized that being Japanese-American really wasn’t enough here. You had to really be involved in Asian-American issues and politics in order to be a real voice in the country.”

The former apparel designer graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, where she says she “learned a lot about prejudice.”

After moving to New York in 1971, Azuma worked in the apparel industry until 1994, when her daughter, Miranda, was diagnosed with autism. Working from home, she started a business providing learning products for children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Throughout the years, Azuma has remained active in promoting Asian-American affairs. “What CAPA is to me is a series of different leaderships that take this idea of Asian-American community and bring it to the forefront, and bring it to the attention of the mainstream,” she said.

The energetic entrepreneur said she believes adults today between the ages of 20 and 30 view themselves “as Asian-American” more than as their specific ethnicity.

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