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Asian representation rising in San Diego's leadership roles

Sid Voorakkara and Kent Lee
Posted at 9:06 AM, May 24, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — 2024 is an exciting time for the Asian community in San Diego when it comes to representation in leadership roles.

According to the latest U.S. Census, Asians and native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders, make up about 12% of San Diego County's population, but their representatives in elected or appointed roles throughout San Diego have been few and far between.

The San Diego API Coalition and Pacific Arts Movement says their census data shows that in San Diego County, the Asian population is approximately 413,000, comprising of around 11% of the total population.

Within the city of San Diego itself, the Asian population is estimated to be around 225,000 -- making up about 15% of the city's total population.

As ABC 10News celebrates AAPI Heritage Month, we took a look at how Asian-American representation is on the rise, with one more Asian leader making history this year.

That leader is the Port of San Dego's newest commissioner as of Februrary 2024, Sid Voorakkara.

However, his appointed role starts with Councilmember Kent Lee of City of San Diego's 6th District, also known as "The Convoy District."

Lee, who was elected in 2022, told ABC 10News, “I’m actually only the fourth individual of Asian American Pacific Islander decent to serve in an elected office, in the City of San Diego.”

The San Diego API Coalition said before Lee, there were only three other Asian-Americans who served before him:

  • Tom Hom, who was the first Asian American elected to the City Council in 1963.
  • Todd Gloria became a City Councilmember in 2008.
  • Lee's predecessor, Chris Cate, who was elected to the council in 2014.

"I think one of the big factors that changed that was in 2011, when the city was undergoing redistricting, then again in 2021," Lee said.
Lee said redistricting changed the voting power. It allowed for greater representation in the Asian community across the county.

"Our district, the 6th district, now covers Mira Mesa down to the Convoy region, University City to portions of Scripps Ranch, and 41% of our residents are AAPI,” Lee said.

Lee said he never saw himself in an elected office position, but his peers did. They lifted him up and now he’s eager to uplift other Asian voices throughout San Diego.

“I think a part of our responsibility now looking forward is how we can help inspire others who may not think of public service," Lee said.

One person he inspired, even nominated, was Voorakkara -- the first Southeast Asian to be appointed as a Port Commissioner.

Voorakkara said, “When I was a kid, I didn’t have anybody who looked like me in a leadership position, so I take this very seriously."

Voorakkara also serves alongside Port Secretary Ann Moore, who is the appointee for Chula Vista and of Japanese descent.

The last Asian commissioner to serve on the board of Port commissioners was Susan Lew, 20 years ago.

"She [Lew] was one of the first people I called after I was appointed, and I just thanked her for her service, and told her that I stand on her shoulders," Voorakkara said.

Voorakkara said he has plans for the Port of San Diego to show its rich Asian history.

"How do we lift up the voices of the Filipino, Chinese, and Indian community?" Voorakkara said. "Those kinds of things matter to me."

The next Asian voice Kent and Voorakkara said they're looking to support is Dr. Darshann Patel, who is currently running for state Assembly.