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Asian American Hero of CO: Erin Yoshimura

By: Patricia Kaowthumrong

Erin Yoshimura with Mayor Michael Hancock at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival | Photo Credit Jon A. Yamamoto

Erin Yoshimura was devastated to be abruptly laid off from her 15-year career in high tech in 2001—but the situation turned out to be a defining moment in her life.

Yoshimura found herself enrolled in her first professional coaching workshop, which led to a career as a trainer and coach, who is certified in many disciplines and modalities. The same year, she and her husband, Gil Asakawa, were asked to join the operations committee for the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, and Yoshimura eventually served as executive director of the organization from 2010 to 2016. Running the nonprofit without any previous experience and managing to expand it while posting a profit annually is one of her greatest achievements.

Erin Yoshimura (second from left, back row) and the 2020 cohort of Dragon 5280 Emerging Leaders Program. | Photo Credit: Andrew Ho

“It really came down to finding amazing staff and volunteers to work tirelessly for the sake of strengthening the Asian American Pacific Islander communities while edutaining Coloradans about the breadth and depth of our culture and contributions in the U.S,” she says. During her tenure, Yoshimura also launched the Colorado Dragon Film Festival (the first Asian American film fest in Denver) and Colorado Dragon Boat Festival’s Emerging Leaders Program, and continues to manage the training program for young AAPIs. She is also the founder and chief empowerment officer of Empowerful Changes, LLC, which empowers clients through leadership and diversity training and executive coaching. “She has never sought the spotlight from the AAPI community, preferring to do her work without the applause,” says Asakawa, who nominated her for the Asian American Heroes award. “Her accomplishments are many, but she also has been fearless in representing the area’s AAPI communities in the media, both in media relations for organizations and being quoted in media coverage of the community and our issues.”

Yoshimura served on the Denver Asian American Pacific Islander Commission for six years including as chair. She currently serves on the board of the Nikkeijin Kai of Colorado, the oldest Japanese American organization and is a co-creator for the Diversity in the Arts internship program for traditionally underrepresented college students in Colorado.

The Yoshimura Family | Photo Credit: Gil Asakawa

A fourth-generation Japanese American, Yoshimura has lived in Colorado for all but six months of her life. Her parents’ families are from Sacramento, California, and settled in Denver after being released from a Japanese American incarceration camp. While Yoshimura’s parents grew up in Denver, they moved to Los Angeles, then back to the Mile High City when she was six months old. In addition to her 34-year-old son, Yoshimura feels fortunate to have both her parents, a brother, and a large extended family.

“We’re all born with an inner wasabi, that fiery passion inherent within... here’s yours?” is the mantra Yoshimura lives by and she encourages younger generations to find their vision, purpose, and passion early. “Let those guide the careers you choose, the volunteer work you do and the way you spend your time. One thing my lay off taught me is to live life by choice, not by circumstance.”

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