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Joaquin Lim

Episode 047

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One of the First Asian American Politicians

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About Joaquin Lim

From 1995-2012, Mr. Lim served as the mayor and council member for the city of Walnut, California. During his tenure on the council, he also served two terms as the president of the Chinese American Elected Officials (CEO) in Southern California. He was a delegate to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), and he sat on the board of directors of several government and private agencies. His community achievement earned him the honor of being featured in a 2002 book entitled “Distinguished Asian American Political and Governmental Leaders.”

Prior to becoming the President of AIEF (American International Education Foundation), Mr. Lim served as the executive director of the California Institute of Public Administration (CIPA) from 2004 to 2013. He is currently an adjunct faculty member at California State University in Long Beach.

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Joaquin Lim Quotes

  • “As a young kid growing up in Hong Kong, I had a love for America. I used to watch American TV shows. My favorite shows were Route 66, Shindig!, Hollywood A Go-Go, and Playboy After Dark.”
  • “I am so thankful and grateful that America is my country of choice.”
  • “When I ran for city council, I wondered how I would market myself. Back then, Walnut was conservative and predominately Caucasian. How would they receive and support a Chinese guy with a Spanish name? I had to find common ground with them, and that was the love of our country.”
  • Born in China and adopted by a Philippine family, Joaquin grew up loving America while living in Hong Kong.
  • He attended college in America but dropped out to serve in the Army.
  • After the Army, he reenrolled in college, graduated, and attended grad school.
  • Joaquin ran for the Walnut City Council and served as a councilman and mayor from 1995-2012.
  • He also co-founded the Chinese American Elected Officials (CEO) organization to focus on Civic Engagement, Member Education, and Community Outreach.

YOU HAVE BEEN A LEADER FOR A WHOLE GENERATION OF LEADERS THAT HAVE COME AFTER YOU IN THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY.

I was one of the very first Chinese Americans to be elected to a position in this city.

I was elected to the Walnut City Council in 1995, and at that time, Chinese people were beginning to move into the San Gabriel Valley. One of the reasons so many chose to move here was the same reason I did because of the excellent school district.

There were not too many Asian Americans who ran for public office. I was one of the first ones to do it.

WHY DID YOU DO IT?

I was motivated to run back then because the city was about to approve a project to bring Target into Walnut. It’s a very small community that is filled with mom-and-pop stores, and they wanted to bring in a big box store. That mobilized me to get involved.

YOU STARTED THE CHINESE AMERICAN ELECTED OFFICIALS ORGANIZATION (CEO).

I was one of the founders, along with Judy Ju. There were so few of us back then it was more important that we came together.

Right now, we have over 100 members.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR NAME?

My dad was Filipino-Chinese. He was of Chinese descent but was born in the Philipines, and he mainly spoke English and Filipino, and that’s why we (my siblings and I) have Spanish first names.

My middle name is Anthony, so I have a Spanish first name, an Italian middle name, and a Chinese last name.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR EARLY LIFE IN HONG KONG?

As a young kid growing up in Hong Kong, I had a love for America. I used to watch American TV shows. My favorite shows were Route 66, Shindig!, Hollywood A Go-Go, and Playboy After Dark.

I don’t know where my love for America came from, but I had a goal of attending an American college. Because of this, I deliberately flunked my entrance exams in Hong Kong, and my mom said, “Ok, well, you have to go somewhere,” so I came to America.

YOU CAME OVER AS A TEENAGER TO GO TO COLLEGE, THEN?

I was actually adopted out of China because I was so poor. A family from Hong Kong and the Philippines adopted me at the age of two, and we went to live in Hong Kong, and I lived there for 17 years.

I went to a boarding school because Hong Kong was British, and I hung around with a lot of British and American kids.

Because of that, I told myself that I wanted to be American.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHEN YOU HAD COVID?

It was one of the most traumatic experiences that I had. I’m 70 years old and have never been in the hospital, but when I had Covid, I didn’t think I would make it.

I stayed in two hospitals for over three weeks and then in rehab for another three weeks.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHEN YOU RAN FOR THE WALNUT CITY COUNCIL?

When I ran for city council, I wondered how I would market myself. Back then, Walnut was conservative and predominately Caucasian. How would they receive and support a Chinese guy with a Spanish name?

I had to find common ground with them, and that was the love of our country. The way I showed how I love our country was through my service in the military. Those three and a half years in the Army turned my life around.

DID YOU GO INTO THE ARMY AFTER COLLEGE?

No, I dropped out of college to join the Army. When I started college, I was doing really well at first. I was on the dean’s list my first year, but by my junior year, my GPA was dropping steadily. So, I dropped out and joined the Army.

After three and a half years, I reenrolled and graduated. Then I went to grad school.

WHAT DID YOU DO IN THE ARMY?

I wanted to be a pilot, but I failed my eye test. I asked them if there was anything I could do with aviation, so I became a helicopter medic. I was stationed in an M-A-S-H unit in Korea.

WERE YOU CLOSE TO THE DMZ?

No, I was stationed in Osan and spent some time in Seoul.

DID YOU SPEND ALL THREE YEARS IN KOREA?

I did, and I met my first wife there. I loved Korea.

HOW DID THE ARMY CHANGE YOU?

Two significant changes happened.

One was I became a man of my word. If I promised someone I would do something, I would do it. Whether or not I succeed, that’s another issue.

Two, I became more punctual. Being on time was very important in the Army, and I’ve carried it over to the rest of my life.

These traits have helped me as a professional negotiator for the government, Lockheed, Boeing aircraft, McDonald Douglas, and Rockwell International.

 

SGV III

  1. Asian food. My first choice is Japanese food. I like Japanese foods, and it wasn’t until five years ago that Japanese restaurants started coming into the SGV. After Japanese restaurants, Korean food is my second favorite.
  2. Karaoke. I love going out and singing with my friends.
  3. Hiking. I love hiking.

 

DIDN’T YOU OVERSEE THE DEVELOPMENT OF HIKING TRAILS IN WALNUT?

Yes, there were 17 equestrian trails, but they weren’t used by the horses much anymore. The city we decided to turn them into hiking trails.