Fly On the Wall: Things You’d Hear in My House

In honor of Tom Lin’s (vp, director of Urbana, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and unrelated to basketball’s Jeremy Lin, though all three of us have ties to InterVarsity and also are Asian American) FB status, I thought I’d get off my soapbox for awhile and lighten up the mood.

Things you would hear coming out of my mouth if you were a fly on the wall at my house:

  1. You will be walking to school today because your legs work and I’m paying good money to live this close to the school.
  2. How is it that your legs work for dancing but not for walking?
  3. Did anyone see my coffee?
  4. If I knew where you left your iPod do you think I would tell you where it is?
  5. No, I do not have your allowance yet.
  6. If you don’t want to (fill in the blank with a household chore) then please pool your allowances together so that I can get a cleaning lady. No? OK. Let’s get back to work.
  7. Wait. Let me see the problem. I can’t do math in my head.
  8. Please chew and swallow before talking again.
  9. My keys are in my purse.
  10. I love you.

What would I hear if I was a fly on the wall in your house?

 

 

 

Leadership #Fail and Other Fun Lessons

I’m actually better at talking about my lack of success than about my successes. It’s who I am – Christian Asian American woman. I was taught Christians are humble. I was raised in an Asian American home where we spoke and considered community over the individual. As a woman I learned that speaking up meant being labeled as Arrogant. Aggressive. Ambitious, other “A” words and just other words with negative connotations.

But talking about failure gets tricky. It means airing out dirty laundry. It means showing vulnerability and need and weaknesses. It means being honest and accountable.

And in my book it means being a leader.

Sometimes we are to be like the servant girl who twice calls out Peter as one of the disciples. The Apostle Peter, the Rock, denies Christ for a third time, failing to align himself and own his relationship to Jesus.

“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: ‘Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.” Mark 14:72 TNIV

We’ve all failed miserably, and there are many times I’ve failed and wept. Too many times I’ve wept because I got “caught” in my failure and not quite ready to deal with the consequences and learn from my failures. Finding out I’m human shouldn’t be, but too often is, unnerving.

Next month a group of incredible Asian Pacific Islander women leaders will gather in Los Angeles to learn from one another about Leadership Over the Long Haul. (Registration is still open, to both men and women, and it is going to be an amazing time. Think about it!)

And I have the privilege of speaking on leadership failures and success. Not hypothetical failures or case-study failures. My failures.

Sounds like fun, no? The trick is I have a time limit. The Lord is merciful!

What are some examples of your real-life leadership failures? What did you learn about leadership? About yourself? About God? About others?

A Case of “The Others” – Asian-owned Businesses in Black Neighborhoods

Why are so many dry cleaners owned by Koreans?

Why are so many nail shops owned by Thai or Vietnamese?

Why are so many donut shops/convenience shops owned by Indians?

Why do Asians and Asian Americans own businesses in Black neighborhoods?

Why are they taking our money?

Why are foreigners who don’t speak our language and disrespect us take our money out of our communities?

Are these stereotypes or archetypes?

I’ve heard all of those questions posed in various ways, most recently from Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. and recent victorious incumbent in Democratic primary race for the D.C. council seat he has held since 2005. He celebrated as cameras rolled by saying,

“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

You can take a look at Barry’s twitter feed  and read the WP article to get a sense of how things unfolded. It’s typical. A politician/public figure says something offensive, people offended speak up, figure claims it’s taken out of context and apologizes (in this case Barry actually says, “I’m sorry.), tries to do what he/she should’ve done in the first place and put things into context.

But the context is complicated and entrenched in broken systems run by broken people and then communicated to the masses by more broken people (myself included) who are missing each other because, in some cases, they aren’t even talking with and being heard by one another. Creating “simple” dichotomies makes it easier – us against them, respect versus disrespect, rights and entitlements, etc.

I know this because as a newspaper reporter in Milwaukee I reported this story. A Korean American owned beauty supply store in a predominantly Black neighborhood became the target of a protest. Black community leaders wanted to know why Asian store owners were rude, didn’t employ anyone from the community, didn’t contribute to the community. Store owners didn’t want to talk.

But I understood why they didn’t want to talk. Why they didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why they didn’t contribute.

My parents owned a dry cleaning business for years. My parents, who hold degrees in engineering and accounting, turned to small business ownership to help pay for college and weddings and to provide so much more. They didn’t hire anyone from the community. Why pay someone when my sister and I could work for free and my parents were willing to be there everyday (except for the two days off I remember they took for our weddings!).

A significant difference for our experience was that the dry cleaners was in the suburbs, but my parents experienced many cultural clashes in an effort to make a living and provide a service that was in demand.

Most customers were fine – pleasantries exchanged and business as usual, but there were plenty of customers who looked down on my parents as if they were uneducated foreigners. Few of them ever had to say anything because those of us who learn to be invisible, blend in, assimilate learn to read the looks, the tone, the small gestures because we learned to “speak” American even though we continue to be questioned about actually being “American”.

So I took that experience as the child of one of those Asian store owners first to my White editors and then to the Korean-American beauty supply store owners. The readers, the editors, the community leaders, the store owners and I all learned from one another.

We learned that we all considered each other as “the other”. We learned about how exchanging money – one-handed, two-handed, eye contact, a nod or a look – can be rude to one and normal to another. We learned that the owners were Americans, just not American-born. We learned that there was great pain and suffering in the community, and community leaders wanted participation, not handouts. We learned about cultural differences and expectations. We learned about prejudice, misunderstandings and misinformation.

I can only hope that Barry will take the time to learn that he didn’t just offend Asian who own dirty stores but offended Americans, some of us who happen to be Asian Americans. I hope we stop to learn about the corrupt, broken and racist systems and policies that limit Black entrepreneurship.

I hope we learn that life is more than Black and White and that we all need to develop cross-cultural competencies. All of us.

May is a Good Time to Talk about Vitamin L

Today is my one-year anniversary on vitamin L, and it’s finally time to talk about.

I struggle with anxiety and clinical depression, and I take vitamin L – or Lexapro to be exact – to treat it. It’s been one year since I decided enough was enough. I was tired of being tired. Tired of being sad. Tired of always feeling on edge about almost anything.

Last spring I finally sought out the help I needed all along, and took some concrete steps in overcoming depression and the cultural stigma mental health issues carry within the Asian American, American and Christian cultures. And that is where I find convergence, because May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and it is also Mental Health Awareness Month. I couldn’t have orchestrated it better myself.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up being taught directly and indirectly that suffering was part of life and dealing with suffering meant swallowing it, sometimes ignoring it whole.

Tracey Gee in More Than Serving Tea writes:

In the Asian worldview, suffering is simply an assumed part of the way the world is. Sickness, disease and famine are accepted as natural part of life. In contrast, the American worldview sees suffering as an abnormal state.

In many ways, I suspect what we saw in Japan and how the Japanese reacted to the earthquake and tsunami was the Asian worldview playing out in realtime. I recall hearing news reporters almost gushing over how the Japanese would stand in line waiting patiently for emergency supplies. Other reports mentioned how there were no reports of looting despite the crushing need for food and water. No one person’s need to overcome the suffering was greater than another’s. The nation collectively swallowed suffering, saved face, upheld harmony and moved forward.

Reporters, in trying to draw a contrast, would allude to the perceived and actual chaos and looting that followed disasters here in America. But what 30-second television spots didn’t go into is that our worldview here in America is different. “How could this happen in America?” was a phrase oft repeated as images of looting, devastation, scarcity and suffering flashed on our screens in the aftermath of Katrina.

So growing up, I was a bit confused about suffering. My church upbringing addressed suffering as being temporary because one day all our tears would be washed away. I believe that, but what was missing was addressing the present tears and the sadness that haunted me. There weren’t enough church retreats, revival nights, youth group meetings, prayer meetings and praise nights to string together to keep me from the depression and anxiety.

I prayed. Sometimes I would pray for the ability to endure the sadness and suffering. Other times I would pray that it would all just go away, but when prayers failed to act like a holy vending machine I realized I couldn’t “Christian” my way out of what was going on emotionally and mentally.

Too bad it took so long to learn that lesson, but it’s been learned. I’ll probably have to learn it again sometime soon.

Anyway, last year when I first when on Lexapro I thought about writing about it because the other reality is that Asian American young women have the highest rate of depression than any other racial/ethnic or gender groups. While I technically no longer fit the “young women” category I am the grown-up part of that demographic. Depressed Asian American young women don’t necessarily grow out of their depression any more than I could pray my way out of clinical depression.

But where can we talk about this? Despite commercials and advertisements for antidepressants attempting to depict treatment, it’s never really that easy. I hesitated for years to seek medical help because health insurance, drug coverage and pre-existing conditions are things that the grown-up me worried about. I read stuff on the internet about different drugs and their side-effects, and there were great on-line threads but I wondered if there would be a real-life community for me to talk about this journey. And ultimately, I figured if I wasn’t suicidal I could suck it up, and I did for a long time.

Standing in my kitchen last spring, crying and feeling like the world was heavy and overwhelming forced the issue. I didn’t want to enter into my 40s swallowing that kind of suffering. I didn’t want to be a statistic. I didn’t want untreated depression to be a legacy I passed on to my daughter (and sons).

I picked up the phone and made an appointment. I had the prescription filled right away, and I endured the transitional 2-6 weeks of nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness, restlessness, etc. for the drug to help my brain chemistry re-set. I slowly shared with friends about my vitamin L and I am finding that I am not alone. Asian American young women may have the highest rate of depression, but they don’t have to go untreated. We just never talked about it.

So where can we talk about depression, swallowing suffering, avoiding pain and seeking help? I suppose we can talk about it right here if you want and if you’re willing.

 

 

 

 

 

A Mother’s Rant About Racism & Reconciliation

Sometimes once is not enough. I had to watch the UCLA student’s video (former UCLA student?) several times because I don’t always want to believe what I see and hear. Did I really see this young woman speak on behalf of me, an American whose mother also taught her manners, and dissed me, an Asian who can speak English, Korean or Konglish (the mix of Korean and English so many of my peers have mastered) on her cellphone in a public place?

Ching chong? Hordes of Asians? American manners?

And no, I am not going to link to it. Like I said/wrote about the Tiger Mother conversation, if you don’t know what I am talking about, please expand your circle of acquaintances, friends and Twitter feeds.

But in the world of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, the UCLA racist rant can seem like old news, and in some sad, sad, discouraging, sometimes frustrating-to-the-core-I’m-so-pissed-off-and-tired-of-crap-like-this way it is so old. Alexandra, you aren’t the first. You certainly won’t be the last. It’s just unfortunate that you and others (and unfortunate for you and others) who have a limited understanding/definition/experience of what “American” is believe that you won’t get any push back from Americans just like you when you post crazy videos on YouTube.

Our words and actions matter and last longer than anyone told you or me or our mothers.

So while cooler and more thoughtful heads joined the chatter surrounding this latest racist rant pitting “us” against “them”, I had to think a little longer Ms. Wallace’s rant. She blames/attributes her understanding of American manners on her mother. Friends, when you are an adult, and here in America you are adult enough at 18 to vote, we should learn to stop blaming our mothers. And God help my kids if they ever do something this stupid and get caught by me. Never mind getting a bazillion hits on YouTube. God help me.

One of the gifts Asians cultures bring to American is a deep respect for our elders and a communal worldview. As an Asian American I needed about a month to get used to the idea of calling my bosses by their first names. Yelling out “Diane! Roger! Joanne!” across the newsroom seemed extremely disrespectful and disrespect was not what my mother – an American citizen – taught me. And if I was disrespectful, it would reflect poorly not only on myself but on my family and on my people – which in many cases becomes all of Asian America.

You see, respect isn’t an American value, but how it is shown, communicated, displayed looks different to different Americans. Alexandra’s rant in tone and choice of words was a wonderful example of White privilege – assuming her POV is the majority POV because she is American and the “hordes of Asians” saying, “Ohhh, ching chong, ling long, ting tong, ohhhh” couldn’t possibly be American because they are not her.

So when the hordes of Asians and Asian Americans and Americans responded with a resounding “STOP THIS KIND OF CRAP”, Alexandra and other Americans just like her were genuinely surprised.

Perhaps there is where we can take steps to reconciliation.

Alexandra was speaking her mind. Her individualistic, post-modern Millennial, White American mind. Maybe in her worldview Americans, and maybe even those of us Americans of Asian descent, were supposed to get the joke.

But many of us didn’t think it was funny and responded in a collective voice, granted some angrier than others. As one of my friends puts it, we as in the “royal we” or the communal collective what-you-say-reflects-and-has-an-impact-on-all-of-us voice, we Americans who see things differently than Alexandra responded.

We have a lot to learn from each other. A lot. There were many responses that were mean and ungracious and only added more fuel to the ugly fire of racism. There were many conversations that took place that lacked American manners and so much of this controversy lacked Christian grace. There were videos made in response that made me laugh and then made me wonder how much more difficult and out of reach reconciliation will be when technology is used only to define the differences without helping inform us of how those differences matter and bridge us together.

But I guess that is where technology and even mothers fail. We need Jesus to help us make the leap from recognizing God-given, God-blessed differences from our sinful nature that uses gifts of culture to destroy and bring down others. We need Jesus to help us move from simply demanding justice to seeking reconciliation.

It makes me pray for wisdom because my own three children who may one day publicly do or say something that they mistakenly believe I taught them to do have only known this type of fast-moving technology, communication and connection.

So my gentle correction to Alexandra would be that I, as one of your aunties (because in my America everyone close to me and my family becomes a brother, sister, auntie or uncle), go to one of the Asian American friends you mentioned at the beginning of your video and ask them why your words were so hurtful to so many of us Americans.

That’s why it took me so much time to respond to what seems like old news. I was hurt. I was pissed. I was tired. And, I wanted nothing to do with “those Americans”.

Alexandra, you can’t be one of “those Americans” to me if I am honest and serious about seeking both justice and reconciliation. I’m your auntie, and if you are still confused about what happened, you can e-mail me.

Here is InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Asian American Ministries official response to the UCLA student’s rant inviting us all to consider both justice and reconciliation.

And here is another great post covering White Privilege, Color-blindedness and the Model Minority.

Speaking From and In the Gap

I agreed to lead a seminar on parent-child relationships because for a moment I thought I knew enough about being a parent or a child to have 90-minutes of material. As the parent of a teenager and two tweens and as the child of two living parents I find myself more in the middle than ever before trying to speak to one “audience” and then another. I spend hours talking to students about how Jesus transforms our lives while I long to see that transformation happen faster and clearer in my own life as well as in the lives of my own children. And I’m certain my parents have moments when they are still waiting for some sign of change on my part, too. Forever the stubborn, strong-willed child even when I am now also parent.

Just last week I was teaching out of the book of Esther at the Asian American InterVarsity chapter at Northwestern University (hold your snickering, folks), and a student was asking me about my days as a Wildcat since we were in the building that was home to my area of study. He ended the conversation with a great line: “I was born the year you graduated.”

Thanks, kid.

So I’ve been sitting on this parent-child relationships seminar for about two weeks now and the one thing that keeps coming to my mind and heart is to give words of blessing and love because what keeps coming to me during my prep and prayer time is this overwhelming sense of displacement and missed messages. It’s hard enough as a parent who speaks literally the same language as a child. The biggest gap I often have to bridge with my daughter is a generational one. I don’t particularly like low-rise skinny jeans but I don’t have to wear them to understand them. In my day it was sweatshirts hanging off of one shoulder or really BIG HAIR. For my parents and for the parents of the students I often encounter, the gaps are language, generation, culture and values. I know God’s love always wins, but human love often misses with the best of intentions.

I’m not really sure where, if anywhere, I am going with all of this, but it’s been ringing in my heart for days now. In a culture that nurtures a sense of entitlement in a generation wrestling with delayed adulthood, these young adults aren’t as adult as another generation might have been and unable to find the help in the areas where they really are still young.

What do you wish you knew about your parents that would help inform you about where they are coming from? What do you wish your parents knew about you that you think would help them understand you? I spend a lot of emotional energy trying to figure out ways to connect with each of my kids, to tell them they are loved by me and their dad and by God in ways they can hear and understand it. But as the parent I am deeply moved when my kids figure out ways to connect with me and speak those same words of love into my life.

Children, you are deeply loved by flawed parents and by a perfect God. That’s what I hear when I’m quietly sitting in the middle of the gap.

 

 

Why I Would Never Claim to Be Superior, Especially As a Mother

For the record, I am not Chinese.

If you haven’t read the Wall Street Journal article about Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior please expand your circle of friends and acquaintances. The article’s author Amy Chua is a Yale Law School professor (seriously?!) and my cynical side thinks she might be gunning for a spot during Oprah’s final season.

I’ve read and re-read the opinion piece several times and it’s a messy, mixed bag of emotions and thought for me. I am a not quite 1.5/2nd gen Korean American. I immigrated to the U.S. when I was 8 months old and just last year became a U.S. citizen. I grew up wishing I was White=American and unsure of how to love and honor my parents and survive adolescence as a bi-cultural kid when so few understood where I was coming from and going home to.

Which is probably why Chua’s commentary is hitting a nerve with me and so many of my Asian American friends. Deep down inside some of what she writes about is true. And we know it. It is why so many of my Asian American friends understood with absolutely no explanation why I had given part of my advance check from More Than Serving Tea to my mother. It is why so many of my Asian American friends and I share a knowing laugh when we reminisce about our childhood memories. It is why my husband, daughter and I laughed at some of the recent “Asian” commentary on Glee. And it is also why so many of my Asian American struggle to fight against the stereotypes of the Model Minority because we are not one big monolithic math team. We are more than the sum of our musical and mathematical abilities but sometimes it’s a no-win game. We want to succeed because so much of the stereotyped American Dream experience is about success.

Which is why Chua’s piece hits a different nerve because there is something about the response from non-Asian Americans that bothers me. Chua’s piece is as much a statement about her specific, culturally-bound and sometimes broken parenting style as it is about a generalized American style of parenting. Defenders of the American/Western way seem to think that “their” style where everyone gets a ribbon for participation, perfect attendance, self-esteem or happiness is the better route to success and more happiness.

If I parent like a Tiger Mother (I prefer Dragon, wink, wink) I am abusive. If I parent like a stereotypical American parent my child loves her/himself but really too few will look at me and think “American”. As one who forever lives in the tension, we are all very broken people and parents. Whether it’s through the pursuit of academic excellence or self-esteem, extremes lead to idolatry. My children and their success or happiness is not the end goal, but I see that value played out regardless of race, ethnicity and class.

I was given/made to take piano lessons, but I started dreadfully late – fourth grade, I think. Which, by the way, is when the public school system here starts band and orchestra. I remember my mother saying at least once that she wanted to give me and my sister a chance to learn the piano because she never had the opportunity to do the same as a child. So I often reluctantly learned to read music, play the piano and then the flute. As an adult I revisited music and realized my mother was right. I did regret quitting. My piano and flute skills aren’t where they could have been and where I would like them to be, but I am grateful for the chance to decide that now even though it was forced on me then. So there. It’s too late to call DCFS on my parents.

Academics were stressed because when you are the child of immigrants you don’t have the luxury of understanding the system, networking, interview skills, legacies and missed opportunities. Getting top grades, arming your college application with the very best of the very best, proving that being a hyphenated American/immigrant with parents who don’t speak flawless English doesn’t mean you are stupid or abused. When your family has given up everything to come to America mediocrity is not the preferred end result.

I was on poms, edited my school newspaper, served on the state board of education student advisory board, sang and danced in the high school musical, managed to get better than good grades and, despite the concerns of “Western parenting” advocates I’ve read in the comments sections of various blogs, have friends. I tell my daughter that had we been in school together I would have been her nightmare.

My parents didn’t forbid extracurricular activities, but they didn’t always understand them. Heck, my daughter is on the poms squad now and I don’t always understand it. But my parents emphasized grades, and with each fluctuation in my GPA came a wave of self-doubt. Do my parents still love me? Am I smart enough? Will my parents ever be proud of me?

Which is where the pendulum swings back. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, depression is the second leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) women between 15 and 24, who consistently have the highest suicide rates among women in that age group. AAPI women over 65 have the highest rates of suicide among all races in that age group. Those are the type of top rankings we Americans don’t often talk about when evaluating the success of self-esteem programs at school. After Chua’s book it’s too easy to blame the Tiger Mothers who emphasized achievement but fell short on communicating love, support and respect but when are we also going to take a look at how public health services are failing a generation of Americans of Asian descent or how school programs that are meant to build up a student’s sense of achievement isn’t translating cross-culturally? My depression is as much nature as it is nurture. Chemical imbalances are real. And so cultural forces – American cultural forces that pushed me as much as Korean cultural forces. Solely blaming Asians parents for those statistics is irresponsible and short-sighted.

And to those of you who have thought, “Just wait until Chua’s daughters are older. Let’s see how it all pans out” in a judgmental sort of way do what I did and ask for forgiveness and extend some grace. God knows parenting is hard enough without having someone wait for us to fail.

In the end the article and flurry of comments and commentary makes me angsty because our definitions of success, superiority, achievement and happiness are so completely messed up and complex. I would be lying if I said that I don’t want my children to succeed, to live full and rich lives, to enjoy the very best of what God has to offer in life in all of the physical, emotional and spiritual ways but I know that it won’t always come in the ways I want to. I am angsty because I can’t help but think of the story of the prodigal son. I’ve heard so many sermons about the son who squanders everything to pursue a version of happiness but goes back to his father’s home because in the end home is where he thinks of. I wonder how the other son missed or misunderstood his father’s love and lavish provision as only belonging to the “less successful” son. The party and celebration and love and sense of belonging was always there for both of them but they both misunderstood success and love.

Instead of criticizing the style of parenting maybe we should take a closer look and critique the end goals we are hoping our children will achieve because the beginning and end for me as a parent doesn’t start, shouldn’t start with academics or achievements and end with worldly success and gain.

So how do we learn? I hope I learn from others. What have you learned from your parents and what are learning as a parent?

 

Learning About Leadership and Social Networking=New to Twitter @mskathykhang

This is my guest post for Angry Asian Man, a dear friend and someone I respect deeply. I’ve appreciated his advocacy for Asian Americans, his humor and his ability to manage pop culture fame and humility. You can follow his blog or @angryasianman, where I have finally joined the ranks of Twitter @mskathykhang

I’m on vacation! Taking a much-needed break. But don’t worry. While I’m away, I’ve enlisted some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here’s Kathy Khang and her half-read book review of Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead by Charlene Li.

I grew up believing that taking advantage of the very best education money and hours of studying could get you was the key to the Asian American dream. There’s no doubt a strong education remains key but an Ivy League degree isn’t the only key. The world of social technology – the development and use of – is changing the way leadership and social power works.

So I was thrilled to pick up a copy of Charlene Li’s fairly new book, Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead. In the business world, the gurus are by and large men of a paler shade. It’s been said of novelists that they subconsciously assume the race or ethnicity of their readers and characters. If you read enough leadership books, you may say the same about those authors as well. Just add gender to the mix.

Readers of AAM know full well the power of social media. Stupid slogans on t-shirts (A & F) may never have gained national attention had it not been for the power of social media. As a reader of AAM, I’m no dummy. When I saw vacation Bible school materials and a Christian leadership book using stereotypical images of Asian Americans it was an easy call to open leadership. My own personal networks are limited, but spreading the word through AAM and later Facebook and Twitter made sure people understood rickshaws and ninjas should not be used in Jesus’ name as a cute selling point.

Full disclosure. I’m not done reading Li’s book, but it has received strong reader reviews as well as positive write-ups in CIO, Management Today and Harvard Business Review. And a little thing I loved right off the bat was she dedicates the book to her parents and in the introduction compares balancing openness and control to being the parent of young children. Great leaders know where they come from and bring authenticity and integration. Can’t wait to finish reading Li’s book.

Kathy Khang blogs at More Than Serving Tea and loves her job as a regional multiethnic director for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.

Mom’s-eye View of High School: Hey! You’re Asian!

Elias is eight and still trying to figure out what it means that his tae kwon do black belt certificate reads citizenship as “American” even though he knows he is Korean. Korean American. Hyphen optional.

So when a random high school girl came up to him and his fellow Cub Scouts at the home game and asked to take a picture (imagine hearing high-pitched voices: “Look at the little boys in their uniforms! Ohhh! They are sooo cute!!! Oh my god! I wanna picture!) he shied away and then joined in on their rock star moment….

“Hey! You’re Asian! Stand next to me!” said the boldest of the bunch, an all-American/Asian American teenager. She gently, with the bubbly enthusiasm only contained in teenagers, nudged Elias over to her side.

I had been at the football field for almost two hours already having watched Bethany dance with her poms squad, cheered on a friend’s son playing defense, chatted with another pom mom, watched the marching band do their thing and Elias and the Cub Scouts raise the flag.

And honestly hearing that girl scream, “Hey! You’re Asian!” was the least surreal moment of the evening for me. Her observation put me at ease because it simply confirmed and affirmed what I was feeling and seeing and thinking that night.

There really aren’t that many of “us” out there, and even for that young girl she noticed. It mattered. She found a connection, no matter how superficial it may seem to you or others. It was the closest thing to “jeong” – the Korean concept of deep sympathy and connection shared with others – I had experienced all night.

And with a flash and a photo op she was gone.

If You’re Looking For a Great Speaker Consider Inviting…

Me 😉

OK. That was awkward.

Why? Because that’s bragging, and the only bragging I grew up with was hearing my parents brag about other kids and hearing other parents brag about someone else’s kids. There is no “us” or “we” or “honoring the family” in self-promotion. Even when I’ve thought I toned it down by talking about God’s call on my life and my ministry when years and years ago I was asked to share about my job with InterVarsity I was told by a church leader that he was surprised and disappointed in me for only caring about myself.

The message has been to wait for someone else to promote me if that person, who is more credible, respectable, connected, etc. chooses to do so. Is it fair? That used to be the rhetorical question.

For me it’s not about fairness anymore because I get too emotionally hooked right there. I want to move the conversation to understanding leadership. Leaders, and I count myself in that broad category, need to have a level of self-awareness – our strengths, our weaknesses, our blind spots, our junk, our humanity, our passions. You get the picture. That also means understanding our influence. I am still learning, but in the meantime I have been blessed by advocates who understood and did not shy away from relational, influential leadership as a way to bring diverse, new voices into the fold, mine included, even when those voices aren’t proven on the big stage.

So I was recently asked by web strategist DJ Chuang if I’d be willing to start a list of Christian Asian American female leaders who would be great resources for other leaders, churches, conferences and organizations who are sincerely and actively looking for what I would call “new to them” voices and leaders for conferences, strategy meetings, etc. Because I can’t be the only one who is tired of hearing “we didn’t know who else to invite/ask/promote”.

Just for starters…

  • Jeanette Yep
  • Donna Dong
  • Young Lee Hertig
  • Melanie Mar Chow
  • Nancy Sugikawa
  • Nikki Toyama-Szeto
  • Kathy Khang
  • Hyepin Im
  • Laura Cheifetz
  • Helen Lee
  • Christine Lee
  • Asifa Dean
  • Christie Heller De Leon
  • Tracey Gee
  • Ella DeCastro Baron

This is not an exhaustive list. I need your help. It’s pretty clear to me where some of my blind spots and limited networks are. Who would you add? If you’re not sure, who do you know who might know? Step up. Speak up. Advocate and lead, my friends. This certainly needs to be a longer list…and I’ll add links in between “Mommmy?” requests from my homefront.