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May 2014

Invisible Asians: Where are you from?

Asian Pacific Islanders (API) are the fastest growing population in the US.  We have achieved many things in this country. And from the superficial data of education, income, and overall poverty, APIs are the "most successful" ethnic group including whites in the country. 1 of 19 Americans, 1 in 7 Californians, and 1 in 6 LA County residents are API. The largest alumni population for hundreds of the top schools will be API in the next decade. It is conceivable that API college grads will exceed both African American and Latino populations by 2025. You combine the Model Minority Myth with the low profile of APIs and you get the subordination of one of the greatest assets of this country. You also bury the real needs of the poor and vulnerable APIs because we are not capable of dis-aggregating the data of the multiple ethnic groups which make up APIs in America.

Consider these facts:

  • The parents of Cambodian Americans suffer greater levels of PTSD than returning vets from Iraq, according to Rand.
  • Poverty among API populations has increased at almost twice the rate as African Americans since the recession according to Pew. Now more than 2 million APIs live below the poverty line in the US.
  • Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander groups are more likely to live beneath the poverty line than any population in the nation. 

APIs like any pan-ethnic group is diverse and complex, defying generalizations and stereotyping. Averages mask the depth and breadth of the 42 sub-ethnic and islander groups. So the stereotypes prevail. Asians-racism-sandbox-748086

APIs are okay. Let's not talk or worry about them. They don't make any noise, they don't have large political caucuses, or clout in the media, so you can ignore them with impunity. So very few polls on anything show the voices and opinions of APIs. (As if we don't exist) A national discussion of Boys and Men of Color excludes APIs ( I guess we don't have enough color? And how do at-risk Cambodian, Pilipino, Laotion, or Samoan young men react to this?) I could go on and on.

A very recent Wharton study of 6500 top university professors revealed the following:

  • Faculty were most likely to respond to e-mails from white males. But more surprising was the high level of racial bias against Asians and Indians -- professors were likeliest to ignore e-mails from these students.
  • The pernicious nature of the "model minority" stereotype of Asians, and the fact that Asians are still viewed as the most foreign "other" in our American culture -- perhaps the biggest outsiders in the politics of "not like us."

It makes no sense.This country does not value APIs and APIs have not done themselves any favors by flying under the radar and not making their voices heard. APIs are invisible and most Americans look by us and through us. 

Thanks John for the interesting dive into API data. What does this have to do with SWiVELTime?

The way I look and the way people perceive me has impacted my networking and mentoring throughout my whole life.

I am a fully assimilated API. Oh I have been criticized for "selling out" and for being less Asian than I should be. My parents wanted me to be Americans first--to fit in after their experiences in the internment camps.  That's why my parents named me John instead of Toraichi. Why my parents sacrificed to move us into a white school district to get a better education and to facilitate my Americanization. So I am guilty by assimilation. 

I have also tried to single handedly combat the Model Minority Myth by getting low grades in math and science in high school! It made my teachers crazy! :)

So I have tried to fit in and to engage others to fit in. Even though I have been the first and only Asian so many times I have lost count. I am grateful to my parents and for the opportunities I have been given. (even though I was almost always considered "under-qualified") I have been lucky because some people believed in me and I have made the most of it. 

And yet, I have encountered incredible ignorance, covert discrimination, and overt racism. 

 Just want to point out what everyone who looks like me faces.

Every day someone ignores me or says something about "Asians". And then they say "Not you John. You know what I mean."

These are statements made to to me this year:

"Don't we have too many Asians here?"

"You are the best Asian speaker I have ever heard!"

Were you born here?

Not going to even try to pronounce your name. I am really bad with Asian names.

Are you John Kobara? Oh I thought you were Hispanic? What kind of name is Kobara?

I have presented to thousands of API leaders. And I can tell you there is a widespread corporate, non-profit, government, and legislative bias to not advance  APIs. Even for APIs who have exceeded the metrics, requirements and expectations. Like the well known anti-Asian bias that the Ivy League schools have erected to limit API admissions. Jeremy Lin had a much tougher time getting into Harvard than starting in the NBA!

Anti-Asian bias exists in every organization,it is a silent and pernicious prejudicial haze that influences and limits promotions and career paths. Bottom-line is executives do not see APIs as leaders. They see us as "competent and efficient." About as attractive as a blind date with a great personality. So we don't benefit from diversity recruitment, management opportunities--that's why APIs are the most under-represented population in the corporate board rooms.

We are invisible to many. But we are here. And we have to let our presence be known.

We  are neither victims or the entitled. We are not acknowledged, we are ignored and therefore not understood. The consequences are brutal. As a nation we neglect one of the most diverse, high potential, highest need, populations in this country. Why?

Is it the fault of APIs because we are quiet, reserved, and inscrutable?

APIs are part of the great American story. We are from here. But do you see us? 

Thanks for reading. John