First-Rate Fellows

Posted April 15, 2008 at 4:52pm

Through donors, the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies sponsors a number of Congressional fellows. Climbers has the privilege of profiling three of them for this edition.

[IMGCAP(1)]Jonathan To, 23, is the legislative fellow for Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii). To works on health and telecommunications issues as well as campaign finance and election reform. He also helps with letter-writing, constituent meetings and tours.

His job keeps him alert. One tour group, for instance, included a woman who used a wheelchair.

“That was the first time I had encountered that situation, so when we were in the Capitol Crypt I told her and her helper to meet the rest of the group in the rotunda by taking the Crypt elevators,” To said. “When they entered the elevator, I took the rest of the group up the stairs. Little did I know, the elevators didn’t go to the rotunda, and when I ran back down to find them they were gone.”

Ten minutes of frantic searching resulted in a police officer locating the missing woman and her aide, and leading them back to To’s tour.

“Needless to say, I gave them an earful of apologies for the rest of the tour,” he said.

Embarrassments aside, this Russellville, Ark., native is chock full of experience. He worked as a production intern for the Center for Asian American Media, as an intake counselor for the American Civil Liberties Union and as a research intern for the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse.

To earned his bachelor’s degree in 2007 from Washington University in St. Louis. There, he majored in political science and minored in economics.

He is the communications chair for the Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership and is a volunteer producer for Arlington Independent Media, a nonprofit membership organization that assists the community with producing films. And he was once a hip-hop choreographer.

He said that one day, he hopes to become a TV producer, “focusing on stories detailing how policy and government affect society.”

To is joined by Paulo Pontemayor, who is from the “beautiful island of Guam.” Pontemayor works for Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) as a Congressional fellow and tackles issues of housing, education and commerce. He also works with the Budget Committee and the communications team.

Pontemayor, 26, was an APAICS intern in the office of Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam). He was a manager for various local and state campaigns in Washington state as well.

He is proud to work on the Hill.

“My grandfather came to Guam, working as a janitor and carpenter after WWII,” Pontemayor wrote in an e-mail. “So I find it empowering that I am in the halls of Congress, where the status of Guam was debated.”

Pontemayor majored in American ethnic studies and legal studies and minored in political science at the University of Washington in Seattle. He graduated in 2005.

His goals are “to continue working on the Hill, working on budget issues,” and to “advocate on behalf of the Asian Pacific Islander community in some capacity.”

When asked whether he belonged to organizations or clubs, Pontemayor said, “There are too many to mention!”

Gene Kim is the APAICS legislative fellow in the office of Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). He works on education, cybersecurity, science and technology.

He also serves as a liaison for the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.

The 23-year-old is from Chino Hills, Calif., and the move to D.C. has had one bad influence on him. Before arriving on the Hill, he never drank coffee. But old habits die fast in the hallowed halls of Congress.

“On my first day of work in Rep. Al Green’s office, my coworker Ann took me to Longworth and bought me a tall Americano,” Kim wrote in an e-mail. “Since then, I’ve had at least one Americano a day for every day I’ve worked in Congress.”

Kim earned his bachelor’s degree in rhetoric and sociology from the University of California at Berkley in 2006. He is a member of numerous staff and Congressional organizations, and his work experience is varied. He was an editor for the California Legal Studies Journal, a contributing writer for Hardboiled Magazine, an SAT instructor for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, and a co-chairman for the Berkeley chapter of the “Toxic Free U.C.” Environmental Justice Campaign.

“My plan for now is to spend a few years in D.C. before going to law school and pursuing a career in advocacy and policy,” Kim said. “While I have a general sense of where I would like to be in the future, I believe it’s important to remain flexible so I can take advantage of the opportunities that come my way.”

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