I dedicate this post to my father, Haruo Hayashi (“Papa”), who in many ways symbolized the contributions, achievements, and sacrifices made by many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Within days of arriving in San Francisco from Japan in the summer of 1954, Papa hopped on the back of a pickup truck and headed to the peach orchards of Central California. Covered in dust and irritating peach fuzz, at each day’s end he counted the number of baskets he filled in the 90-degree heat. Calculating in his head the meager wage he would earn for each basket, he thought about the orphanage where he grew up in post-war Hiroshima. In his mind, he thanked the couple that took him in along with a dozen or more children who lost their parents in the War. When the picking season ended, he returned to San Francisco and washed dishes at a Japanese restaurant where he learned that he had been drafted into the Army. Barely speaking English, he finished basic training and spent the next 2 years near the 38th Parallel (Korea). After finishing his service and receiving his U.S. citizenship, he enrolled in San Francisco State University to become an engineer. While a student, he experienced many hardships, but was able to get through because of the help of others. This experience led him to find his true calling, and he became a minister. Papa spent the rest of his life helping others to show his gratitude.
Papa instilled in me the importance of community service, and I found my calling in promoting the health of the medically underserved. After I graduated from medical school in New York, Papa and I decided to drive back to San Francisco. On a stretch of Interstate 80 between Des Moines and Omaha, I told him about my plans to be a primary care doctor for poor communities. I then asked him what he would have wanted to do if he had more options. Papa said, “Exactly what you’re doing.”
I feel fortunate that I am able to work alongside dedicated federal colleagues, primary care providers, and community advocates to improve access to comprehensive, culturally competent health care services through the Federally Qualified Health Centers. In 2009, Health Centers served roughly 19 million Americans, including nearly 500,000 Asian Americans. Nearly two-thirds of Asian Americans served by Health Centers had limited English proficiency. Health Centers serve one in 16 Americans, one in 28 Asian Americans, one in 4 Americans who are poor, and one in 7 uninsured.
This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I reflect on the experiences of the individuals who walk into Health Centers everyday and thank Papa, his sacrifice and his inspiration to committing to our most underserved communities – something I hope to instill in my own children.
Dr. Seiji Hayashi is the Chief Medical Officer, Bureau of Primary Health Care, Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.