Not long after Cynthia Chung Aki retired from the military and moved to Colorado Springs, she felt a need to give something back to her new community.
Since her arrival 21 years ago, she’s volunteered her time serving on numerous boards and committees for city and county government initiatives, as well as for local businesses and nonprofits. But it wasn’t until 2011 that Aki — who was born in Honolulu to parents of Chinese descent — discovered her calling.
Having immense pride in her Chinese ancestry, Aki found it disconcerting that there were few to no outlets in her new home for those of Asian descent to celebrate their customs and culture.
She couldn’t find a single monument or physical structure in town dedicated to honoring the heritage of those from Asian countries.
So she decided to take action by launching the Golden Lotus Foundation — a nonprofit advocacy group that provides intergenerational opportunities for those in the Pikes Peak region to experience Asian heritage and traditions.
Part of her inspiration was a chance interaction with a young neighbor.
“While I was walking to my mailbox one day, this happy little girl comes bouncing down the street and she looks at me and she says, ‘You have black hair just like me!’” Aki said.
“My neighbors had adopted a Chinese daughter. She was 4 years old and she had never seen anybody that looked like her. So I thought, ‘Gosh, more needs to be done.’”
In founding Golden Lotus, Aki sought to “make sure the next generation benefits by learning their heritage and cultural experience.”
Aki and the Golden Lotus Foundation have promoted Asian culture in Colorado Springs by offering Asian cooking classes, keeping a running list of local foreign language interpreters, and hosting Asian-centric workshops, art exhibitions, musical performances and an annual Chinese New Year celebration.
It’s also the only local organization, Aki said, that sponsors and arranges activities for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month each May.
As Golden Lotus’ president and CEO, Aki has become an informal spokesperson for the Asian community in Colorado Springs and has set ambitious goals for the future of her foundation.
Her ultimate aspiration is to fund and build an Asian heritage complex that would include a multi-purpose cultural center with a tea house and botanical gardens that would incorporate traditional garden fixtures from different Asian cultures.
Building the complex to the extent Aki envisions would be a massive endeavor — one that likely would cost tens of millions of dollars to complete. But she is undeterred. She feels that Colorado Springs — with its military installations, higher education institutions and U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center — is the perfect location for such an attraction.
“Although we are all Americans, deep down inside of us we all want to know our roots. We want to know and practice what our heritage is,” Aki said.
“So somehow [the foundation] was like a calling. Because if I didn’t do it, who was going to?”