On Saturday, April 16, 2022, Chinese American Parent Association (CAPA) held a virtual fireside chat with Dr. James S.C. Chao and Secretary Elaine L. Chao on Chinese American civic engagement.  Dr. James S. C. Chao, one of the most prominent Chinese American philanthropist, is the Founder and Honorary Chairman of the Foremost Group, a respected international shipping company headquartered in New York known for its integrity, performance and reliability.  He was joined by his daughter, the Honorable Elaine L. Chao, 24th U. S. Secretary of Labor and the 18th Secretary of Transportation, the first Asian American woman ever appointed to a President’s cabinet in U. S. history and the longest serving cabinet member since World War II.

During the fireside chat, Dr. Chao and Secretary Chao answered audience’s questions, offered insights and encouragement.  They also shared their own immigrant experience, challenges and ways to adapt, and remain resilient.  They also discussed ways for Chinese-Americans to be more involved in mainstream America and become more civically engaged.

Speaking to the audience, Dr. Chao said, “Mulan and I have established scholarships for many universities.  Even when we didn’t have much money in the early days, we always donated.  Because we had such a difficult time obtaining an education, we wanted to help outstanding young people access education to improve society.  It was also our goal to help lift the status of Asian Americans to show we can also give major gifts in this country.  Since I have many daughters, we made the gift to Harvard on the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to the Business School.  It was named after my late beloved wife, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, who was my soulmate and lifelong partner.  The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center is the first building named after a woman and an Asian American in Harvard’s history; we hope the Center will be a place of inspiration for all those who visit.”

Secretary Chao shared her belief on the need for more Asian American civic engagement against the increased violence toward Asian Americans, “U.S. China relations is among the most important bilateral relationship in our world today.  It is very sad that this relationship is in its most tense stage since President Nixon opened up China in 1971.  The deteriorating state of U. S. China relations has adverse implications for Chinese Americans and Asian Americans.  This distrust of China is translating into more distrust of Chinese Americans.  Our patriotism is questioned; more Chinese American professors, scientists’ activities with China are suspect.  There is great anxiety in our community amidst the increase in violence, harassment, and hate crimes against Asian Americans.  We are now over 6% of the national population in America;  we should feel comfortable speaking out, engage more with mainstream America to share our culture, our traditions to foster greater understanding of our community.  We can write letters to the editor, approach our elected officials, elect more Asian Americans, contribute to more candidates/office holders, get more involved in our communities.  We need to expand beyond our own comfort zones.   The government can do some things but they can’t do all things.  We need to step up and exert ourselves more as well.”

Dr. James S. C. Chao has dedicated his life to the maritime industry and philanthropic activities to help others. He is the Founder and Honorary Chairman of Foremost Group, a highly respected American shipping company whose motto is:  Honor.  Integrity.  Performance.  He grew up in an educated family in a small farming hamlet in Jiading County, outside of Shanghai.  Early in his career, he advanced rapidly to become one of the youngest ocean-going sea captains at the age of 29.  He then took the 4-day National Examination and achieved the highest score ever recorded.  This achievement gave him the opportunity to pursue further studies in the United States.

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After earning his MBA in Management from St. John’s University in New York City, Dr. Chao founded what later becomes Foremost Group.  An early adopter of green technology, Foremost Group has incorporated fuel-efficient designs and technology in its fleet, which are ranked among the world’s most eco-friendly bulk carriers.  For his outstanding contributions to the maritime industry, Dr. Chao was inducted into the International Maritime Hall of Fame at the United Nations.

Dr. Chao and his late wife, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, have dedicated their lives to promoting education and philanthropy.  Scholarships from their foundations have benefited thousands of students.  To commemorate Ruth’s legacy of faith, family, and philanthropy, generous gifts have been made toward the construction of many institutions including the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center at Harvard University.

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The recipient of innumerable honors and awards, Dr. Chao has been recognized with the Horatio Alger Award of Distinguished Americans at the United States Supreme Court and the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.  The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recognized Dr. Chao as an Outstanding American by Choice.  He is the recipient of honorary doctorate degrees from St. John’s University, Niagara University, Nyack University, Fu Jen Catholic University, National Chiao Tung University, National Taiwan Ocean University, and Massachusetts Maritime College.   He was also presented the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award by the Chinese American Academic and Professional Society. The U.S.-China Education Trust awarded Dr. Chao with its Leadership and Achievement Award in recognition of an inspirational leader who made a difference for his community, country, and the world.   Massachusetts Maritime College awarded Dr. Chao with its inaugural Admiral’s Distinguished Service Award for inspiring leadership and contributions to the world.  The Chinese Institute of Engineers, USA presented its Centennial Medal to Dr. Chao for his leadership in adopting energy-efficient and eco-friendly ship design and technology.  Columbia University awarded Dr. Chao its inaugural EPIC Achievement Award.  SUNY Maritime College awarded Dr. Chao its Admiral’s Award for his inspiring leadership. Lloyd’s List presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Chao.  Most recently, Dr. Chao is the subject of a best-selling biography entitled, FEARLESS AGAINST THE WIND, a complement to the best-selling biography on his late wife, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, CALM AMIDST THE STORMS.

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Secretary Elaine L. Chao is the first Asian American woman to be appointed to a President’s cabinet in U. S. history.  She is the longest serving cabinet secretary since World War II.  Few Americans have achieved the rare distinction of serving in two cabinet posts.  She has been confirmed on a bipartisan basis to two Presidential cabinet positions:  U. S. Secretary of Transportation and U. S. Secretary of Labor.

Despite her success, she has never forgotten her community and is well known for being a filial daughter.  An 8-year old immigrant who didn’t speak English upon arrival in America, she received her citizenship at the age of 19.  She has dedicated her life to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to build better lives for themselves and their families. During her tenure as Secretary of Labor, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to record monthly employment data on Asians Americans in its own category for the first time in history.

Prior to becoming the Secretary of Labor, Secretary Chao was President and CEO of United Way of America and Director of the Peace Corps.  In each position, she was always the first Asian American to be appointed and blazed the path forward for other Asian Americans to rise in America.

Secretary Chao earned her MBA from the Harvard Business School and is the recipient of 37 honorary doctorate degrees.  She is the eldest of six daughters born to Dr. James S. C. Chao and the late Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.

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