Allan and Mary Seid: A family affair


In reflecting on their life's work -- a veritable mountain of social and political projects -- Mary and Allan Seid credited the values imparted to them by their parents.

Allan's grandfather received immigrant men from China with open arms, helping them as a community leader in San Francisco's Chinatown to find housing, medical care and employment. Allan's father expanded those services for the city's Chinese community.

Mary's parents raised her in a poor, hard-working neighborhood in Stockton before World War II. Though her family was lucky enough to own a restaurant, they saw many other families and individuals struggling to get by.

"My father said, 'If we can, we should help them out,'" Mary said.

The family served leftovers from the restaurant to hungry immigrants from southern Asia, and her parents gave her pork and chicken buns to hand out to fellow students at school, many of them Latino, who would bring them back to their families.

Inheriting this sensitivity to the plight of others, the Seids have continually devoted themselves to social causes and fighting injustice -- whether it was by sitting on nonprofit and governmental boards, working with individuals struggling with drug addiction and domestic abuse, or founding the umbrella organization Asian Americans for Community Involvement (AACI, or Ah-kee). And through it all, they've labored to convey the importance of service and family to their children and grandchildren.

Though they went to the same church in high school, Allan and Mary's relationship didn't begin in earnest until early college, when by chance they shared a caroling book during a Christmas Eve event. They married in 1959.

With Mary working to support him, Allan studied medicine at the University of Southern California, graduating in 1962, and then completed a one-year internship in San Jose. Soon after, he realized that working as a physician wouldn't offer the kind of human interaction he was searching for. Mary suggested that he explore psychiatry, and he followed suit, receiving his training and a master's degree in cross-cultural studies from Stanford University.

In the early '70s, after they had settled down to raise a family in Palo Alto, another important decision surfaced. Their children were in school at Green Gables (now Duveneck Elementary) School, but Mary felt that, amongst the mostly white, middle-class students there, they were missing out on the rich cultural experiences she had as a child. She and Allan decided to transfer their kids to Ventura School, where there was a greater variety of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, including Latinos, African Americans and Asians.

"They had really a different experience. ... And I think they (benefited) a lot from it in their thinking," Mary said.

In the midst of raising a family, Allan and Mary found time for public service. Mary helped out at her childrens' schools, organizing field trips to take students for the first time to San Francisco. In 1973, Allan ran for Palo Alto City Council, losing a seat by a margin of 33 votes. Though friends encouraged him to run again, he turned his attention with Mary to a new project, Asian Americans for Community Involvement.

AACI began in the summer of 1973 as an all-volunteer group that met in the Seids' living room. In the early years, its members focused primarily on advocacy -- in getting Asian Americans onto governmental bodies, fighting employment discrimination and encouraging positive media portrayals. In the education realm, Mary also worked with others to identify and do away with racist and sexist material in school textbooks.

When the Bay Area began receiving an influx of refugees from Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War, AACI faced a dilemma: whether to continue to focus on advocacy or devote resources to assisting these newcomers.

"'They're just like our grandfolks who came here,'" Allan recalled AACI members saying. "'They're going to experience 100 percent the same kind of difficulties ... and we've got to help them, make life easier for them.'"

Ultimately, the solution was to do both. AACI's efforts to support immigrants led to more funding opportunities from the county and state, which allowed the organization to move into a larger facility in San Jose in 1980. Just more than a decade later in 1992, AACI was able to purchase a 100,000-square-foot building in San Jose, which today houses its headquarters and about 30 different social and health programs.

Beyond holding major AACI leadership positions in the 1980s and early 1990s -- Allan as executive director and Mary as director of administrative services -- the Seids have each engaged in many other causes and projects, both inside and outside of AACI.

In addition to serving on the California state boards of education and mental health, Allan contributed energy to projects involving drug abuse. Along with Dr. Kenneth Meinhardt and politician Norman Mineta, he helped to found Pathway Society Inc. in 1968, a nonprofit offering drug rehabilitation services in San Jose and drug prevention programs throughout Santa Clara County. In 1970 and 1971, he also chaired the Drug Abuse Task Force in Palo Alto, which was created by the City Council in response to increased drug use locally.

After hearing from many Asian women about the pressing issue of domestic violence, Mary led an AACI effort in 1990 to establish a safe house for victims of domestic violence, which is still in place today. She was also on the Midpeninsula YWCA Palo Alto's board for 12 years and was a founding member of the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council, which was formalized in 1993.

Over the decades, AACI's annual budget has ballooned from less than $60,000 to around $17 million in 2015. Its services have also expanded to cater to other groups besides Asian Americans, including Latinos, African Americans, Caucasians and refugees of international conflicts and torture -- a fact which the Seids are particularly proud of.

As the Seids' three children grew up, they each acquired their parents' impulse to look beyond themselves. Their oldest daughter Arlene took an early interest and founded a teen group within AACI to work on social justice issues and programs for the poor and homeless. Through high school and college and into adulthood, she and her siblings Marcine and Marc followed their own interests, which ranged from work on domestic violence to immigration reform and environmental preservation.

Today, Allan, 79, and Mary, 78, stay involved with AACI (Allan is working on a long-term project to document the organization's history), but they're kept plenty busy in their retirement by spending time with their nine grandchildren.

With the goal of acquainting them with their heritage, the Seids have traveled to China with a few grandchildren at a time; another trip is planned for the summer. In addition to visiting key cultural sites like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army, the Seids have taken them to Allan's ancestral village in the Pearl River Delta area, where his forebears took up residence in the 14th century.

To provide a counterpoint, they also make a stop in Shanghai, where their grandchildren witness the city's ultramodern skyscrapers and technology.

"(They) end up with a picture that China is not just something of the past, but of current and future," Allan said.

Click on the links below to read about the other Lifetimes of Achievement awards honorees.

Ann DeBusk: A leader of leaders

Gib Myers: Nurturing startups, philanthropists -- and bison on the range

Bob Harrington: Neighborhood champion praised for commitment to bettering the community

Barbara Carlitz: Kudos to a serial board chair

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4 people like this
Posted by Facade
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 1, 2015 at 9:30 am

No mention of their son, Troy, who is now resting in peace. We Paly alums miss him but know he is in a better place - Heaven!

4 people like this
Posted by Appreciative
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 2, 2015 at 10:05 am

Allan and Mary are visionary leaders who have made a profound impact on our community through co-founding AACI and continuing advocacy in Palo Alto. Great to see them honored by Avenidas!

Like this comment
Posted by Paly
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 24, 2016 at 9:58 am

[Post removed.]

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