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Published: Tuesday, 9/4/2012 - Updated: 2 years ago

Multiple generations share drive to support old, new communities

BY LIYAN CHEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dr. Antonio Paat, left, one of the earliest Filipinos to settle in Toledo, visits his son Dr. Richard Paat in the younger Dr. Paat's office in Maumee.
Dr. Antonio Paat, left, one of the earliest Filipinos to settle in Toledo, visits his son Dr. Richard Paat in the younger Dr. Paat's office in Maumee.
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Sitting in his son's office, Dr. Antonio Paat, the chairman of the Filipino Association of Toledo, was surrounded by his son's honors, photos, and newspaper clippings on the walls.

Smiling proudly, Dr. Paat pointed to a framed newspaper story. It was about a relief mission trip to Honduras led by his son, Dr. Richard Paat, in 1999.

"The second generation has followed our footsteps. Richard led a team to Honduras then for the first time, and he is now in Honduras again," Dr. Paat told The Blade.

Dr. Richard Paat, who returned from his 13th medical mission trip to Honduras in July, has led more than 40 medical service trips to five countries.

His team has performed more than 200 major surgeries and served between 3,000 and 4,000 patients.

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As the elder generation of Asian-American Toledoans retires and steps behind the scenes, the younger generation has taken over and become active in the Toledo community.

The Paat family is no exception.

Today, Dr. Antonio Paat, 82, is retired and spends most of his time in his garden.

Since he first came to Toledo in 1965 as a physician, Dr. Paat has become deeply rooted in Toledo.

"We have fulfilled our American dream," he said.

Like many first-generation Asian-American professionals who arrived in the 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Paat worked with his fellow Filipino professionals to found the Filipino Association of Toledo in 1978.

'Still very close'

"We started with about 35 families. Now we have about 300 families in Toledo, and the Filipino community is still very close," the senior Dr. Paat said.

The Filipino Association was founded to maintain Filipino culture in Toledo.

But as its members have settled in, they wanted to give back to their country of origin as well as the local community.

The Special Commission on Relief and Education was born in 1987. Dr. Richard Paat, whose father was organization's founder and chairman, has been involved since its first meeting, after finishing medical school in 1986.

In 1994, he led his first trip to the Philippines. Since then, he has led a medical mission team to the Philippines every year.

"We go back to the Philippines as a way to give back to the country of our heritage," he said. "It is very important to do that. We have the responsibility to help them."

Many destinations

But the Philippines was only one of many destinations for the younger Dr. Paat.

In 1999, the city and University of Toledo asked him to lead a medical relief trip to Honduras after Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998.

He then started to work with different organizations and helped patients around the world, including in Guatemala, Tanzania, and Haiti.

He has also done a lot for the Toledo community. As a volunteer for the local mobile clinic, Dr. Richard Paat has helped more than 300 migrant workers since 2010.

"[It] was one of the first teams to New Orleans after Katrina Hurricane in 2005, and to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. We also serve the poor in Toledo," said the elder Dr. Paat.

Dr. Richard Paat now is a member of Ohio Gov. John Kasich's Asian-American Pacific Islander Advisory Council and advises the governor on Asian-American issues in Ohio.

Like Dr. Paat, many second-generation Asian-American Toledoans have been active citizens and contributed to Toledo and the world.

A mission trip

In July, Jessica Lee, a 17-year-old Korean-American, gave a presentation to a Sunday service at the Korean Church of Toledo about her mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

Born and raised in Toledo, she spoke with a standard Midwest accent. She confidently discussed her experiences as she addressed more than 50 church members.

Although her parents were also on the trip, Miss Lee said she was the one who wanted to go in the beginning.

"I love traveling. My dad is an engineer so he travels a lot. I often hear my dad talking about his trips, so I want to travel too," she said.

In the Dominican Republic, Miss Lee and the team helped local churches in projects including painting houses, giving sermons, and talking to people.

"Even though they don't have much, they still live happily. The country is so beautiful. It made me want to live only with what's necessary," she said. "My expectation was much less than what was offered."

The mission trip was her second trip outside of the country. She said it reminded her of her first trip abroad, to South Korea, when she was 10.

"I actually remember a lot of it, even the plane ride. … But I was too young, so I couldn't do much," she said.

Miss Lee said that she loves watching Korean TV dramas and films. At home, she often tries to understand her parents' conversation and converse with them in Korean from time to time.

"I really want to go back to Korea so badly. It's the culture and the race," she said.

Bias claimed

It is difficult to imagine that the confident 17-year-old experienced what she called "traumatizing" discrimination growing up in Toledo.

"I got bullied a lot. My friends always made jokes about race. To me, it was never OK. … Racism is a thing in the United States. I get used to it, but it still makes you feel bad," she said.

Miss Lee told The Blade that when she and her brother took the bus to their elementary school, random strangers would try to trip them and throw things at them.

At middle school and high school, discrimination was less physical. But strangers and even fellow students sometimes said mean things to her.

"I never talked to my parents and teachers about it. I just kept it to myself," she said.

Despite such experiences, Miss Lee is still confident and sociable. She plans to teach English in Korea, although she has not thought of the plan carefully.

"As I am older now, I want to experience the [Korean] culture. I also want to be able to walk in streets without anyone staring at me," she said.

Unlike Miss Lee, Dr. Richard Paat said that he did not experience "blatant discrimination."

"You always felt a little bit different, but there was no gross evidence of racial prejudice. … In fact, because we were the only Asian faces, I felt like I was representing the entire race and wanted to do better," Dr. Paat said.

As Asia's economy develops rapidly and Asian-Americans in the United States have increasing roles, many Asian-Americans in Toledo said they were confident in the future of Asia and Asian-Americans in Toledo.

"There are over 200,000 Asian-Americans in Ohio now, and we are the fastest-growing minority group," Dr. Richard Paat said.

Changing attitude

Some of the community leaders said that they have observed the changing attitude toward Asia and Asian-Americans.

"The perception of Korea changed in the past 50 years," said Yun-Hoon Chung, 82. "We were not confident of Korea because of the war, but now we are proud of our Korean heritage. Many young people [Korean-Americans] want to learn Korean."

As Toledo attracts more Asian investors and students, native Toledoans have greater opportunities to learn and understand the long history and deep roots of Asian and Asian-Americans in the local community.

"According to traditional Chinese wisdom, three elements determine a good outcome: perfect timing, good location, and right people. There are so many great things about Toledo," said Simon Guo, a Chinese deal broker and a Toledo-area resident who has repeatedly brought Chinese investors to Toledo.

"Fundamentally, I think Chinese and Americans appreciate each other. We understand each other culturally."

When Dr. Richard Paat bought property in Maumee to open his first clinic in 1989, he did not know that the office of his father had been in exactly the same spot.

"I never knew that the office that I bought was where my father's very first practice was. It was kind of weird. We came full circle," Dr. Paat said.

As a son of first-generation immigrants and a father of three third-generation Asian-Americans, Dr. Richard Paat paused and pondered when asked to reflect on the experience of different generations of Asian-Americans.

"It is always the most difficult for the first generation. You face the challenge of assimilating to the culture. You want to do well, obviously, and watch your family. There's a language barrier. You want to stay with your community as well. You want your family to do well too and that's why you come here and struggle," Dr. Paat said.

"And then my generation is kind of [an] in-between generation," he continued.

"We are kind of torn between two worlds. At school, you want to act as Americans, but at home, your culture is Asian. You try to maintain tradition and language. A lot of us are torn between which language to speak at home. That's the in-between generation. You have to walk the line between two worlds."

"The next generation is the easiest," he said with a smile.

"Traditional Asian values like family are still important. But because we the parents are not too foreign to them, it's easier. My kids are all doing well. My youngest daughter is starting college at Bowling Green State University this [year]. It is very exciting."

Liyan Chen, a graduate of Grinnell College, was a summer intern for The Blade. A native of China, she now attends graduate school at New York University.



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