Mayor's Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs

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2017 Commission Biographies

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs advises the Mayor and advocates for the interests of the Asian and Pacific Islander (API) community in the District. 

Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs

Commissioners’ Biographies

Gregory Cendana, strategist, politico and coalition builder, was the first openly gay and youngest-ever Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership & Advancement and now serves as Senior Advisor. He is also the Co-Chair of the DC Asian American & Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus, immediate past Chair of National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Treasurer for the Labor Coalition for Community Action and is the youngest General Board member of the AFL-CIO. Gregory has been named one of Washington DC’s most influential 40-and-under young leaders, one of the 30 Most Influential Asian Americans Under 30 & the “Future of DC Politics”. Previously, he served as President of the United States Student Association (USSA), where he played an integral role in the passage of the Student Aid & Fiscal Responsibility Act and Healthcare & Education Reconciliation Act. In his spare time, Gregory enjoys singing karaoke, choreographing dances and trying to cook.

Martha Watanabe is a founding member of the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and served as Chair from 1990-93. She has been a resident of Ward 6 for thirty years and has seen a lot of changes in the District over those years. She remains committed to helping provide a voice for the growing Asian American and Pacific Islander community in the District to the Mayor and DC government agencies. During the day, Martha is a Management Analyst at the Department of Justice. She serves in an advisory capacity to several national Asian American and Pacific Islander organizations. In her spare time, as a “hobby,” she is a special events coordinator.

Koustubh “K.J.” Bagchi is a political consultant versed in strategic policy advocacy and targeted fundraising. He currently serves as the Director of Development for the AAPI Victory Fund. In the past, he has provided counsel and policy advice for elected members at the local and federal levels, including Councilmember Jim Graham at the D.C. City Council and Congressman Mike Honda. He also served as the Democratic National Committee’s Director of AAPI Engagement, as well as Hillary for America’s AAPI Finance Director. During his time on the campaign trail, he launched Progress AAPI, the DNC’s vehicle to engage with the AAPI community through programs, trainings, and conversations meant to continue the Democratic Party’s efforts to embolden and empower the AAPI community.

Benjamin Takai is an infectious disease epidemiologist with experience in infectious disease prevention policy at the local, national, and international levels. He currently works coordinating the evaluation of HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI), Hepatitis, and Tuberculosis prevention services for the city of Washington DC. He has also served on advisory workgroups for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on national HIV monitoring as well as worked with the Department of Health and Human Services on the development of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the Obama administration. Prior to joining the Commission for Asian and Pacific Islander affairs, Mr. Takai served as an advisor focusing on health policy for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, advocating for health issues affecting the LGBTQ community. A third generation Washingtonian and Ward 4 resident, Mr. Takai also enjoys yoga in his free time as well as volunteering at events in support of both the AAPI and LGBTQ communities. Mr. Takai is also proficient in French and conversant in Japanese.

Easten Law was raised in the D.C. metropolitan area and has lived in the city for the past six years with his wife and two children. He is currently studying for his PhD in Theological and Religious Studies at Georgetown University with a focus on religious identity and public life while also serving as a residential chaplain for Georgetown's Office of Campus Ministry. Before pursuing doctoral studies, Easten taught intercultural relations at American University's School of International Service and earned his MDiv at Wesley Theological Seminary. He continues to provide trainings and lectures in intercultural competency with NGOs and faith communities engaging dynamics of race, ethnicity, and culture with a special interest in the cultural sustainability of D.C.'s Chinatown. Easten also actively advocates for affordable housing and promotion of inter-religious dialogue through New Community Church, based in the Shaw neighborhood.

Helen Lee is a Program Analyst at the DC Department of Public Works working to advance sustainability and waste diversion in the District. In 2017, Director Christopher Shorter designated Helen as the DPW designee to the Commission on APIC. Prior to joining DC government, she worked at American University for eight years to integrate sustainability into campus operations through projects related to the President’s Climate Commitment, LEED green building certification, and zero waste operations. Helen holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from American University and a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Technology from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is a 1.5 generation Korean American and in her leisure time she enjoys photography, exploring DC, and spending time with her dog, Danchu.

John Tinpe is a business leader and public servant in Washington, DC. He is Chair of the Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs of the District of Columbia, since October 2016, a post he held from 2001 to 2007. He is also Chair of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C (ANC2C) in the Government of the District of Columbia. The District he chairs borders 395 highway in the east, 15th St in the west, Massachusetts Avenue and New York Avenue in the north, and Independence Avenue in the south. He is in his fifth year and third term as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and third year as Chair of the Commission.  He held Board member positions as Member of the Board of Director of Chinatown Cultural Center, President and Secretary of Chi-Am Lions Club, Board member of AQUA and Board Member of Miss DC/America Pageant. Currently, he serves on the Advisory Panel for the Design Review of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. He is the recipient of the Chinatown Steering Committee’s Community Service Award (2004), the Allies Building Community’s “Friendship Archway Award” (2005), Pride and Heritage Award of the APIA LGBT Communities in Washington, DC (2005), Allied Building Communities’ Community Award (2006), Migration Heritage Commission’s Centennial Honoree (2006), Kennedy/King Gala, Richard Rausch Grassroots Leadership Award (2007), Asian American for Action Fund, Community Award (2014) and DC Council Member ‘s Community Cornerstone Award (2015). He graduated from Bucknell University, in Pennsylvania and United World College of Southeast Asia, in Singapore. He studied at the Institute for American Universities, in Aix-en-Provence, France. He is a graduate of Leadership Development Council, Washington, DC (2014), Council of Governments’ Transportation Planning Board, Community Leadership Institute (2014) and Federal Bureau of Intelligence, Citizen’s Academy (2015).  He performs as Supernumerary in the Washington National Opera and Kennedy Center Ballets, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He lived in United Kingdom, Serbia, Burma (Myanmar), India, Singapore and France. He is a resident of Ward 2 in the District of Columbia.

Elena V. Son is the Executive Director of the American-Uzbekistan Chamber of Commerce (AUCC), US-Kyrgyzstan Business Council (USKGZBC) and US-Tajikistan Business Council (USTJBC). Ms. Son joined the chamber in July 2011 with the prime emphasis on expanding the chamber’s membership, advancing bilateral trade agenda and obtaining greater public support for AUCC member-companies’ business endeavors in the US and Uzbekistan. Prior to joining AUCC, Ms. Son was with CAI in Columbia, MD where she was responsible for the agency’s international programs in Russia, China, Jamaica and Ukraine. Ms. Son also worked as the UK Trade and Investment Officer at the British Embassy Tashkent, Uzbekistan where her main responsibilities included promoting British investments to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan; she also played a key role in helping UK companies secure contracts and projects in Central Asia and representing their interests at the Uzbek-British Trade and Industry Council. Ms. Son has extensive experience in the US private sector with concentration on business development, programmatic and financial management, advocacy and fundraising. Ms. Son is a winner of the Christian Adams Golden Award bestowed by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Best Commercial Officer working for the British Embassy. Ms. Son is a Rebranding Ambassador for the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. Ms. Son has Masters degrees in Business Administration and International Policy and Practice. Ms. Son is fluent in English and Russian and has some knowledge of Spanish and Arabic.

Niranjan Adhikari is a resident of ward 2 in North West Washington D.C. He is a strong supporter and the activist for the cause of statehood for the District Columbia. Nir is a lawyer by profession and represents businesses and individuals on the matter of immigration and nationality law and private international law. Throughout his career, Nir used his education and experience to support a variety of public interest and pro-bono activities for diverse communities. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Executive Board of the Durga Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Virginia. Nir is actively engaged in community development and also writes prolifically to provide clarity on changes in immigration law and policy through his publications and talks at public events. Nir is a member of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Asian Pacific American Bar Association-District of Columbia, American Bar Association (Section of International Law and the India Committee), American Society of International Law, South Asian Bar Association, Network of South Asian Professionals. Nir is fluent in Asian languages such as Nepalese and Hindi and conversant in Urdu, Bhojpuri. Nir received his graduate degree in law from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law and undergraduate degree from Kathmandu School of Law, Nepal. In his free time, Nir enjoys playing soccer and biking.

Meina Banh is a second generation Chinese-Vietnamese American and brings over a decade of experience with the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community having worked in the federal government and with local nonprofits on AAPI issues. She is currently the Policy and Innovation Advisor at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where she focuses her efforts on providing financial education to underserved communities. She was formerly a Senior Advisor at the US Small Business Administration, where she oversaw outreach efforts to increase the number of women and minority owned business participation in investment programs. Meina also served as Legislative Assistant to Congressman Mike Honda and was core staff member to the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). In addition, she has worked with local AAPI organizations including National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD) and the Pacific Asian Consortium for Employment. Meina graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a Master’s in Public Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Sociology. She is currently a resident in Ward 6.

Jennifer Hara has lived in Washington DC for almost 20 years. She has been an active member of her community, Columbia Heights/Petworth, since moving there in 1997. Specially, Jennifer has served on the Board of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), an organization that serves the new immigrant community in Washington, since 2005. She is also very active in her Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Washington DC, which is 105 years old. Jennifer served as President of the Club for the 2014-2015 Rotary year and she has been a member of the Club for over ten years. She is currently President of the Club's Foundation, which has an endowment of over $6 million, and gives away over $200,000 every year to the local community. Professionally, Jennifer is a Director of PPP Services for Tetra Tech, an engineering services company. She brings over fifteen years of experience in the private sector, focusing on project finance and public private partnerships (PPPs) in the emerging markets and North America. Jennifer has a Master of Arts in International Economics from the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and International Politics from Seattle University. She was born and raised in Seattle. Her father is Japanese American and a local retired politician in Seattle.

Julie Jaehee Won, a first-generation Korean immigrant, is a liaison for private sector corporations to public sector organizations. With a heart for public service and a zeal for innovative thought leadership, she worked in IBM's Federal practice managing Federal Civilian accounts. She has now transitioned into a new role at IBM as an Organizational Change Management Consultant specializing in enterprise-wide transformation projects. Internally, Julie leads corporate social responsibility efforts by coordinating local public service activities for IBM employees and is also a candidate for IBM's Corporate Service Corps to be deployed 2019-2020. Externally, she serves as a commissioner for the DC Mayor and serves as a member of the Council of Korean Americans. Julie received her BA in International Relations and BA in English Textual Studies with high distinction from Syracuse University. As an advocate of Public-Private Partnerships, Julie continues to champion greater operational efficiency in public service by leveraging private sector technology and innovation.

Kishan Putta has lived in Ward 2 since 2005.  He is committed to improving the District of Columbia and to serving its residents. He is a second generation Indian-American who has worked hard to encourage Asian-Americans to get more engaged in civic affairs and public service.He is currently the Community Outreach Specialist at the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority where he focuses on helping DC residents – particularly underserved populations – to gain affordable health coverage through "DC Health Link," the District's health insurance marketplace.  He has worked in health policy for over a decade.  He previously worked as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, the Providence Journal, Inside Washington, Straits Times (Singapore), Times of India (Bangalore), and also co-wrote two travel guides – Let's Go: India & Nepal and Let's Go: Chile. Mr. Putta served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Dupont Circle (ANC 2B04) from 2013-2015, during which time he successfully advocated for the creation of four new affordable childcare facilities across the District, for greatly improved bus service for thousands of residents using the most popular bus route in the District, for better law enforcement, and for making the District’s most popular bike lanes safer for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. He is currently Vice President of Friends of Stead Park where he has played a key role in the transformation of an underused public field into a modernized multi-use facility popular with all ages. Last year, he was selected for the 2015 Metropolitan Police Department's Community Engagement Academy where he learned first-hand the importance of community involvement in law enforcement – and how to improve it.  He has continued to serve the residents of Northwest DC on a Department of Transportation Citizens Advisory Council.

Mr. Putta attended Dartmouth College and Harvard University where he studied Government and Public Policy. He has worked extensively with the Network of South Asian Professionals to spearhead all public service programming for their national convention held in the District as well as with various other organizations such as the Washington Leadership Program to inspire young Asian-Americans to engage in public service and civic affairs.

Janet Namkung is the Membership and Development Manager at the Council of Korean Americans (CKA). She spearheads membership engagement initiatives, manages donor relations and prospect cultivation, and engages CKA membership and the Board of Directors. Outside of CKA, Janet serves on numerous local organizations. Janet is the External Chapter Co-Chair for AmeriCorps Alums DC Board and serves on the Board of Directors for the Conference of Asian Pacific American Leadership (CAPAL), where she leads the Human Resources Task Force.

Before joining CKA, Janet worked with OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates -- as the Senior Civic Engagement Associate and Chapter and Membership Associate. She also served as a Team Leader for AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps in the Southwest Region. Born and raised in New York City, Janet is a second-generation Korean American. She is a graduate of Ramapo College of New Jersey with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Janet was the first to attend and graduate from college in her family. In her spare time, Janet enjoys going on food vacations, craft beers, exploring new cities, and attending live shows. She currently lives in Washington, DC.