asian networking

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

 


The Strongest Weak Tie: Cousins

Just got back from a reunion of our extended family. I do mean extended! It was extraordinary to dive into the gene pool forawhile and explore my roots and my wings. Energized by my younger cousins who represent the Yonseis--4th generation Japanese-Americans a rainbow coalition of beautiful multi-racial and multi-ethnic backgrounds. This weekend I met a national surfing champion, a violinist who played at Carnegie Hall, an actress--and these were among my cousins under 19! Amazing who you are related to and don't know.

We all have cousins. From real cousins to people you are somehow related to (e.g. people married to your cousins, all the way to strangers you refer to as "cousins". In fact we are all cousins in one way or another. Read that Prince William and Kate are 12th cousins (once removed) and Brad Pitt and President Obama are 9th cousins. The further we go back our family lines converge and we are all related. But I digress. 

When we think of our networks, we usually think about the inner circle of our close friends, relatives and confidantes. Mark Granovetter referred to these as our  Strong Ties. In general, we take care of our strong ties. The challenge with strong ties is they usually are not that diverse. We tend to hang around and seek the time and attention of people like us, religiously, politically, and financially.  Therefore a network composed just of your strong ties is limiting. You need people in your network that will transport you out of the box of your limitations to introduce you to new networks. You need a diverse network of opinions, viewpoints and connections. Granvetter called these your Weak Ties

Weak ties multiple groups
Sample Network

Granovetter defined ties: a combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie.

He concluded that some of the the most important ties are the ones which "bridge" you to new connections, new networks, and new opportunities. His research showed that "no strong tie is a bridge." That weak ties are much better bridges.

One of my mantras is: It is amazing who you know who you don't know.

Great and beneficial networking focuses on your existing network before new connections. The key is reconnecting and deepening your relationship with people you know, especially weak ties--like your cousins--to expand your network.

You want your network to grow, but organically and warmly. Your existing network is a catalogue of warm calls, much different than the icy world of strangers that you don't know. 

Second mantra: Being introduced is the most powerful form of networking.

The most potent network development comes from your existing contact list. Meeting new people through others. 

Get over the "embarrassment" of the time lapse between contacts. Stop letting your benevolent disregard for them stop you from reaching out and re-kindling a good conversation. This is why some gravitate to the casino of meeting new people, rather than than apologizing to an old friend and starting anew. Can you hear the crazy that screams out of this convoluted logic?

Yeah, but we are all guilty of this. It took a reunion for me to reconnect with my cousins.

Focus on making your weak ties stronger and then seek the diversity of other people's networks. 

It is one thing to say you are open to new things and new opportunities. That you believe in serendipity. Everyone does. But it is a giant leap to actively cultivate weak ties, like your cousins, to truly encounter the serendipitous. 

Sometimes you meet  people that appear in your life. I know you are lucky but not that lucky---you are not the magnetic center of the universe. You must make your magnets, your luck, and the effort to make new connections.

Call or e-mail a cousin today. Listen to them. Tell your story. Help each other. The world will become smaller, warmer and bit more interesting. It has for me.

Thanks for reading.  Your cousin John  ;)

 


The Asian Crossover and Our Common Destiny

In May 0f 1992, Congress declared May as Asian Pacific American (APA) Heritage Month. It was an extension of their resolution to establish APA Heritage Week 14 years before. It is a special time to raise awareness about the APA communities' history and culture. It is also a time to re-ignite pride within the communities by celebrating the many achievements and galvanizing the APA community around issues, causes and challenges within our communities. While there are many good things about APA Heritage Month, I honestly have mixed feelings about a month set aside to focus on a specific ethnic group. For me every month is APA month! When you are an APA you confront the challenges of mis-information, ignorance and just sheer discrimination all of the time.

I am an Asian Crossover. No I am not talking about a new car that is part SUV and part sports coupe. Nor I am alluding to Jeremy Lin's sweet ankle breaking dribble move. I have been an APA who has worked in "mainstream" places and organizations for my whole career. I have been many times in my professional and personal career, the "first APA to lead/head" and organization, the "first APA" on a board or the "highest ranking APA" in very large organizations and industries. No brag here just fact---plus I am pretty old :) It actually is more a source of embarrassment to me that we have to use these labels even in 2012! Sadly we do, because we still have a long ways to go. My point is that I decided early on that I had an obligation, nee, a duty to help everyone, especially my "round eye" colleagues to be more sensitized to APA issues. I have also helped those organizations and industries engage more APA talent and customers. In general, you become the local Google search engine for APA questions and referrals. It is really tough representing millions of APAs and billions of Asians! :) Banana

But being an Asian Crossover has its price and costs. Some in the APA community consider you a "sell-out" or even a banana----yellow on the outside and white on the inside. (Asians are really good at copying others---clearly inspired by the Oreo designation in the African American community) I have been called a sell-out several times. But I knew who I was and who I was trying to become.

Being an Asian Crossover is a role that I do not shy away from. I decided I would bite my tongue and help as many others understand me and other APA communities no matter what was said or happened. I chose to become a bridge of understanding, with a specific focus on non-Asians. I always wanted to share what I have learned with the APA community--push APA talent to rise. But I learned there also needs to be a pulling force from the top of organizations, which is overwhelmingly non-Asian. Being a crossover means you have to do the pushing and the pulling.

This mindset enabled me enter new worlds with a purpose. To be very comfortable being the only person of color and usually the only Asian in the room. 25 years ago I was asked by KPCC, the NPR affiliate here in LA, to do an "Asian" show. KPCC was very interested in reaching the burgeoning Asian population in southern California, especially in the San Gabriel Valley. I told them that the only way they would reach these new Asians was by doing Asian language programming, starting with Mandarin. A couple years before I played a small part in launching the Jade Channel, a new cable tv channel with an array of Mandarin programming. I had a series of awkward conversations with the KPCC execs, about the challenges these new immigrants were having to assimilate and the high levels of discrimination they were already facing. Finally I told them I would do an "Asian" show focused on raising the awareness of non-Asians. I told them I would call it Asian Understanding. They were so pleased because they got their "Asian show". So for 10 years and 455 live shows I designed Asian Understanding as a crossover talk show, building bridges to the new and venerable APA communities through the arts, news, and personalities.

How do you take the bananas you are given and make a great banana milkshake? :)

Last Friday I was honored to be the keynote speaker at Southern California Edison's APA Heritage luncheon. All SCE's execs were in attendance, as well as SCE's APA partners, a smattering of SCE employees. It was a very formal and elegant luncheon filled with music, inspirational awards, and of course wonderful food. My speech themes followed my path as an Asian Crossover. To build bridges of understanding. To connect APAs with other communities. To strengthen our connection to our common destiny.

Here is an excerpt from my speech: Download SCE APA Heritage Final 5.4.12:

The greatest limitation to our advancement is our own imagination, our own concept of ourselves. We impose many constraints on ourselves. Yes there is discrimination, prejudice, racism and stereotyping. Sad to say these are omni present forces that can hold us back. But we must rise above these enemies of our growth and ambitions by becoming stronger. We have to grow to be more visible, more assertive, and better leaders. We cannot wait to be recognized, to be invited, we must seize our opportunities.

This is our time. Right now. To remember our ancestors to appreciate our opportunities. But what will we do to honor them?

It's not about me it is about we—our destinies are tied to one another

We have to live a life of passion and compassion.

We have lead by example and live our legacy.

We are many but are we much? We have much for which to be grateful. But what will we do to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. What will each of us do to make sure our kids understand the roots of their past and give them the wings to their future?

Each of us can crossover to other communities to build bridges between and amongst our communities of interest. And to discover new communities, new people, and new things along the way. This is the lifestyle of networking and mentoring. To connect to your own identities and to connect with others.

So I mark this 20th anniversary of APA Heritage Month, inspired by what has come before us and challenged by the road ahead. Any chance to remind myself of who I am and what I stand for is a great month. But next month and the month after are just as important times to use our uniqueness to connect our commonalities to strengthen our communities.

Thanks for reading. John


Linside Us All

The Jeremy Lin story is literally omnipresent. If you have to be on another planet or dead to be missing this compelling saga about the Asian-American basketball phenom who graduated from Harvard, was overlooked by 12 teams and who has recently emerged as the star point guard for the NY Knicks. His Cinderella story of benchwarmer and couch surfer to superstar is an American story about hard work and determination--it is a story about all of us. The confluence of potential, passion, mentoring and opportunity shows us what is Linside us all. Jeremy lin

First of all, our collective bias about what a successful person looks like in a particular field can not be underestimated. All of us harbor stereotypes and prejudice that limit who we hire and admire. Even in the NBA, which has undergone a tremendous multi-cultural makeover largely due to the influx of international players. And remember when Tiger broke thru the elite ranks of the PGA...... The point is we still count "firsts" and marvel at people who shatter our assumptions.

Seems like we have forgotten that the first NON-WHITE player in the NBA was Asian-American, Wat Misaka. Ironically he was recruited in 1947 by the NY Kicks, a full three years before any African-Americans occupied an NBA roster. We have to remember the pioneer shoulders on which we all stand.Misaka

The news is rife with college and NBA scouts and coaches shaking their heads and apologizing for missing Lin in their recruitment. However, according to his HS coach Peter Diepenbrock, Jeremy is a totally different player today, more muscular, better shooter and quicker. Duke's Coach Krzyzewski saw Jeremy play and says he is a late bloomer, whose talent has developed in the last few years.

Coach Diepenbrock also now says that Jeremy's race and looks did hurt his recruitment. Coaches did not give him their full attention because he is Asian. Often we are blind to talent, potential, and opportunity because it does not exist in a form we expect. And we miss it.

Reminds me of the legendary story about Willie Mays, who was the top rated prospect by the Red Sox scouts passed over by the Red Sox General Manger Joe Cronin. Cronin allegedly said, "...not a Red Sox type." And the Red Sox were the last team to integrate.

Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) are frequently overlooked for promotions, Board seats, and executive suites. For more than 15 years there have been more Asian American graduates of the top American colleges than Latino and African American graduates combined. APAs have also received more graduate degrees. And yet APAs are woefully under represented in the corporate Board rooms (402 0f the Fortune 500 do not have an Asian board member), the C suites, and the executive management ranks. APAs are overlooked everyday. Because of how they look and the cultural ignorance of those making the decisions.  Even though 60% of the planet is Asian, APAs are still "exotic" and "inscrutable" to most Americans. If you are not on the coasts and/or graduated from college, you probably have had little contact with APAs. You rely on your instincts and what your parents told you. In other words, APAs are still foreigners.

But given the numbers of APAs in the pipeline these results must and will change.

There is a bamboo ceiling built by those who stereotype all APAs and thereby limit their growth , development and promotion AND the APAs who never pursue their true potential to lead and develop their own talent.

Last week, I spoke to a group and a man came up to me and gave me a "compliment." "Never heard an Asian speak as well as you. Excellent presentation. Thanks." I know what he meant. The surprise that an Asian spoke English well just underlines my point. It is something I have encountered my whole life.

ESPN news bloggers are fired and reprimanded for using ethnic slurs about Lin in the last few days. There have been numerous racist and discriminatory slurs used by the media in reference to Linsanity. One step forward two steps back. Would this be tolerated by the Black or Latino communities?

Despite all of our awkwardness about this new Asian name and face in the news, Lin is inspiring people around the world. Young and old are celebrating his performances, his humility, his hard work, and his Christian faith. Asian kids are captivated by a heroic and celebrated face that looks like theirs. Yes, some of them will dream of NBA careers, but most will dream bigger dreams.

The power of a role model changes lives. One person can trigger mass mentoring.

Jeremy Lin never gave up his dream. He continued to develop his talent, improve his skills and prepare for his opportunity. He had to fight off all of the doubters. The potential within us is most often stunted when we lose the battle with our own doubt. We all know people with incredible natural gifts, who take them for granted and others who give up on their passions. The other side of talent and potential is a curse if it is never realized.

But Lin did not do this alone. His parents encouraged his basketball and non-traditional paths. His Coach Mike D'Antoni believes in him and gave him the shot. You need a network of support and mentoring to get your chance. Who your boss/mentor/sponsor/coach is always matters.

We need people's dreams. To unshackle the restraints imposed on ourselves and on others that are not our type.

We are surrounded by Jeremy Lins everyday. They are kids, colleagues, neighbors, and fellow citizens. How do we see the potential in everyone regardless of our biases on how they look?

Thanks for reading. John


Your slice of life depends on your PIE

The PIE system to advance your career is something I have taken for granted. I have seen the truth of the PIE reveal itself to me through all of my experiences and through many other people. And in the last few weeks I have found myself talking about this PIE concept with colleagues, friends, and mentees. For most people, it can unlock the doors of opportunity and change assumptions and habits to get you on a better trajectory. Harvey Coleman first discussed the PIE in his 1996 book Empowering Yourself.

Performance: Your achievements and competencies at workApple pie

Image: Your "brand", how you are perceived--rising star? reliable but invisible? good performer with no ambition?

Exposure: Your visibility through collaboration, your network, your relationships with higher ups, your mentor/sponsorships, and your engagement outside your job and department.

I meet so many people that are frustrated with their careers, their jobs, and to a real and substantial degree, with their lives. Every story is complex and there is no one-size fits all approach. But as I have discussed in these pages ad nauseum, the pursuit of passion and the integration of passion into your lives is THE key ingredient for a fulfilling existence. That your compass is always pointing where your heart is beating fastest. So, I will assume you get this as the entree before your PIE.

Here are several types of employed people I meet who struggle with their careers and where the PIE can help:

  • Younger, ambitious types who want to know the quickest path to the top
  • People "stuck" in a role or a job and want to break out and make a change
  • Mid managers in big orgs who want to traverse to a different division
  • People of color and women who experience glass ceilings and walls.

Been in many sessions with young people (first job types), executives, managers and women of color to discuss these slices of the PIE. They are asked to estimate the percentage--the weight each component carries to propel people up the food chain. No one gets it right. In fact the estimates are almost always exactly the opposite of the reality.PIE To the right is what Mr Coleman and I have found to be true.

P      Performance     ? %

I      Image                ? %

E    Exposure            ? %

Performance: This is fundamental assumption. If you aren't performing at the highest level by exceeding expectations and goals, then you can't think about mobility. Mr. Coleman called this "your ticket into the stadium" of competition. People who are stuck in their careers always get this one wrong.

Image: Personal brand management is critical. How people perceive your work, your presence and your contributions makes a difference. Most people scoff at this. This is the trap door that many people fall through which derails their ambitions. The way you dress, what you are paying attention to, your, written and verbal abilities, what you read, your leadership skills--do you look and act like a future leader/executive? People say they want to be VP, then act, dress and comport themselves is ways that are anti-VP. These people wonder why they are passed over for promotions, really?!! Not talking about the "game" of appearance. I am talking about your persona, intellect, actions--whether the person looks and smells like someone who is interested in the greater good of the organization, who gains influence through their ideas and thoughts and challenges the system with innovation and efficiency.

Exposure: After the first two steps are secured then exposure, your visibility, as a leader, as a person of action, as a connector is the difference maker. This is where adopting the lifestyle of mentoring and networking pays off! In your cubicle, your team and even in your department--there is a limited amount of impact you can have to advance goals, strategies, and RESULTS! Future managers, leaders, and executives have to bring together resources, ideas, and solutions outside of their domains. Exposure shows off your ability to succeed with others. It is easy to meet your personal goals by yourself. But engaging others shows you can manage and perhaps lead. Do you have a network of advisors, mentors, and sponsors within the organization and outside of work to guide you and provide truthful feedback? Exposure is not publicity or public relations--that is superficial stuff. It is not brown nosing or sucking up. It is the hard word of earning and gaining the confidence of others through relationships and results. It is not the ability to meet and greet a lot of people. It is not someone who becomes friends with the boss. It is the day in and day out proof that you are growing your influence and competence outside of the limits and confines of your job.

A few suggestions to advance your PIE:

  1. Self assessment--Rank yourself on these attributes. Be honest and write down strengths, gaps and opportunities.
  2. External assessment--Seek mentors or other confidantes (could be your boss) on your promotability. What does she/he see as your SWOT.
  3. Find a role model(not necessarily a mentor)--Someone who you see as doing it right. Someone who is achieving success or has reached your goal and to whom you can relate. Research this person(s), reach out to them and meet with them. Think outside of your environment and employer.
  4. Make changes--Based on the above, start a persistent process to do a make-over. Strengthen each slice of your PIE.

We all want a bigger slice of the pie of life to give us purpose and meaning. Many of us want more responsibility, growth opportunities, promotions, pay increases, and higher level jobs. Some of this is blind ambition, hopefully it is driven something more personal than "more is better." That is a recipe for unending dissatisfaction if there is no passion. So PIE is a good tool to confront your strategy to advance your career and your life and to get a much more fulfilling slice of it.

Thanks for reading.  John


Paper Tigers, Bamboo Ceilings, and the American Dream

The latest article about Asian Americans to cause a stir, Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers after the test taking ends. This 9000+ word opus by Wesley Yang describes his experience and the experience of other Asian Americans to find "success" in America. On the heels of the Tiger Mom article and debate, this is the latest example of the increased media attention Asian Pacific Americans (APAs) are getting. With less than 4% of the US population, APAs would be irrelevant if they were not "succeeding" on some levels.

A few facts pointed out in Yang's article: Asians graduate from college at a rate higher than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. They earn a higher median family income than any other ethnic group in America, including whites. This is a stage in a triumphal narrative, and it is a narrative that is much shorter than many remember. Two thirds of the roughly 14 million Asian-Americans are foreign-born. Tiger

Yang attempts to unravel and reveal the truth about the struggle many APAs face in their quest for "success". Frankly, while the article is provocative in asserting the inadequacy of the total education of many APAs, which is the plight of many immigrant populations. APAs are 67% immigrants. How do immigrants become Americans? What is the right formula to adapt to American ideals and culture? How do people "assimilate", acclimate, and advance in American culture? These are the questions that ALL immigrants face.

Asians in America, driven by their homeland cultures and their DNA have emphasized educational attainment as the recipe for success. Isn't it slightly ironic that we mock a group for doing this? Why is academic success questioned in a country that has fallen behind the rest of the world and still Waiting for Superman?

And this success has led to discrimination. Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade has calculated that an Asian applicant must, in practice, score 140 points higher on the SAT than a comparable white applicant to have the same chance of admission to elite schools. Is this fair?

Yang writes: I’ve always been of two minds about this sequence of stereotypes. On the one hand, it offends me greatly that anyone would think to apply them to me, or to anyone else, simply on the basis of facial characteristics. On the other hand, it also seems to me that there are a lot of Asian people to whom they apply.

Like all worlds, the truth lies somewhere in between. Both sides have serious blind spots. We can not stereotype all APAs as academic overachievers lacking social or leadership skills. APAs are so diverse they defy simplified "truths". Parenting, economic challenges, generational differences, and cultural values, varies greatly within the APA community. By the same token, parents who do not recognize the holistic development of their children and their unique skills by measuring success solely by an academic measure short changes their kids.

Through the generational maturation and development of Asian Americans (APAs), there is a realization that additional skills are necessary to succeed in life especially in America. As a sansei, third generation Japanese-American/APA, I have gained greater insight to adapt through my parents, osmosis, mentoring, and just paying attention. My Dad pushed me to become a "public person" when I was a teenager--to become a better public speaker and to network. I learned quickly that if I only associated with people that looked like me, my path would be limited. That feeling different and uncomfortable, even discriminated against, was part of the deal if I wanted to move up. I learned that education was crucial, but I had to have much more than degrees from schools people recognized. I had to have the ability to navigate, persuade, assert myself, and develop a broader set of relationships.

It has been estimated that full assimilation takes 4-5 generations.

In 1992, JD Hokoyama the head and founder of LEAP, asked me to talk about my career to a room filled with APA engineers who were colliding with the bamboo ceiling. The bamboo ceiling is the APA version of the glass ceiling erected by corporate culture to limit the diversity of its highest echelons of leadership--management, the C suites and the board rooms. These APA engineers did face out right prejudice and were struggling with breaking out of their imposed and somewhat deserved stereotypes. At that time APAs were a tiny but growing minority in colleges and in major corps. And engineers suffered from their super technical skills and their general lack in the soft skills. Long story short, JD asked me to do the same thing again and again. Through LEAP and other opportunities I have addressed thousands of APAs and I have seen the potential of APAs and it is awesome! Out of these experiences I developed my networking and mentoring workshop, this blog and a way of life. Like Yang, I have observed the growing friction between the bamboo ceiling and the obsession of academic achievement. While some progress has been made, new immigrants and more success have increased the APA community's challenges to break through.

Yang continues, The failure of Asian-Americans to become leaders in the white-collar workplace does not qualify as one of the burning social issues of our time. But it is a part of the bitter undercurrent of Asian-American life that so many Asian graduates of elite universities find that meritocracy as they have understood it comes to an abrupt end after graduation.

APAs are seriously under-represented in all forms and sectors of executive leadership.

To become a leader requires taking personal initiative and thinking about how an organization can work differently. It also requires networking, self-promotion, and self-assertion. It’s racist to think that any given Asian individual is unlikely to be creative or risk-taking.

So I agree with the much of what Yang writes. Success is built upon personal and professional risk taking, but not just by the APA individuals, but by the employers--the corporations.

Here's the reality. The larger society in America still does not know what to do with APAs. The mixture of the model minority myth, the diversity of the multiplicity of Asian descents and cultures, and the continuing lack of APAs in visible parts of our daily lives keeps APAs out of the consciousness of America. -With more APAs graduating from college than African Americans in this country. -With greater consumer and political power APAs should be viewed as a resource and a vital part of theis country's diversity. -With so many fully qualified APAs waiting in the wings. And with APAs unheralded contributions to so many critical elements of this nation's success. The future of this country will depend more on APAs than in the past if we can just open our minds.

This country needs successes and to nurture successes. It is frustrating to me to see that some in this country do not see the greater untapped potential of APAs. It is a burning issue when potential is wasted. Some will mock the Tiger Moms and the Paper Tigers. I see enormous potential and opportunity to help a growing and under estimated part of our country continue to rise. To take the academic prowess, creativity, work ethic, and loyalty make it a more impactful and visible part of our country's leadership and her future.

Thanks for reading. John


Stop Listening to Your "Asian" Parents!

Hard for anyone to miss this intense national discussion generated by Amy Chua's WSJ article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior and her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Yale prof Chua asserts her "Chinese" parenting and philosophy that includes rigid rules about discipline, academic success, and limiting social distractions. This has triggered crazy comparisons and accusations. The good news is people are talking about parenting.

We all know that engaged parenting may be the single most important factor in determining the development of children. Behind the greatest American stories both famous and obscure is usually a parent who sacrificed, who provided, who pushed, and dreamed. Respecting parenting styles can be very difficult when what is being done or not done conflicts with our values and upbringing. Asian parents

Asian immigrant families, like all immigrant families who came to this country to find a better life, were hungry to succeed. Hungry to build a better life for the next generation. These families pushed their kids using their own values and cultures to shape their children's futures. Invariably these parenting methods caused friction with the new world of American principles and the process of assimilation. As Americans, we are so ethnocentric, while we copy business ideas from all over the world, we believe our family values are second to none. The truth is most of the developed world has passed our kids in academic performance, including most Asian countries, (also Estonia by the way) in almost every category, except self-confidence! Do we think parenting is a factor in this difference?

We all have "Asian" parent stories. Stories of discipline, deprivation, and unreasonable standards. Stories of our mother and father's love and vicarious desire for our success that was translated into parenting and high expectations. So in a way, we all have had Asian parents.

My son Bobby is pretty funny and when we put pressure on him to study and make more academic progress, he sarcastically declares: "So glad I have ASIAN parents!" The stereotype of Asian students and their parents being so focused on education and academic achievement has strands of truth and fiction. Asian students have been characterized as "curve busters" hurting the chances of non-Asians to succeed. I remember when I was in high school and teachers expected me to excel in math and science just as the other Asian students who proceeded me. I never did and left a slew of disappointed teachers. I personally broke the stereotype in my high school!

I am invited to meet with and conduct workshops for Asian students and Asian employees all over the country. I often tell a story or two about how my parents formed my values and work ethic but then gave me choices.--An Asian American experience where Asian and American values were intertwined. Self reliance with family pride. Focus on academic and competency growth as well as social skills. Succeed AND fit in. Every succeeding generation loses more of the immigrant mentality and assumes more of the American mindset. Not good or bad just the reality of being integrated into another society. But how is hunger sustained? Still not doctor

Despite what these Asian students and professionals have achieved, their parents' expectations still rule their lives. Graduate school and the pursuit of a "better" more "prestigious", and higher paying profession are still unfulfilled goals their parents have for them. I recently saw Tony Hsieh and Jenn Lim from Zappos on their Delivering Happiness tour. Two very successful Chinese American entrepreneurs. Tony summarized his parents expectations into 3 categories: 1) Academic: Get straight As and go to an Ivy league school 2) Career: Become a doctor, medical or PhD. 3) Music: Play at least three instruments to impress parents friends. Both of them did all of these things, "We have been very successful despite our Asian upbringing," they told the audience.

I tell these groups I address, "First of all congratulations on what you have achieved and what opportunities lie ahead. But stop listening to your parents! Now is the time for you to pursue your ambitions and not theirs. Now is the time for you to control your destiny. In many ways, you have already impressed and disappointed your parents! Get over it and now become who you were meant to be!"

Countless 20, 30 and even 40 year old Asians have confided in me about their futures. The reveal how their parents' expectations follow and even haunt them. Despite the greater sense of themselves they now know their parents vision is in conflict with their own. We all want to please our parents, but like Tony and Jenn we need to make our own paths and destinies.

Being a good parent is such a tough job. Every parent wants their kids to have more and better. But whether Asian or non-Asian, every parent has to establish expectations. But eventually they must let go of the nurture and let the nature take over. Parents have to restrain themselves from trying to impose their dreams on the next generation.

So thank your parents for all they have done for you. Then stop listening to them and start listening to your own heart.

Thanks for reading. John

 


The Japanese American Networked Museum

True visionaries see things and do things no one else does. They imagine and act on possibilities. They often pursue these ideas in the face of opposition and obstacles. Yet they prevail.

I attended the 25th anniversary of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) last night. It was a celebration of its founders and the rightful acknowledgment of their accomplishments. One of the most successful stories of any museum founded in the last century. It's story is remarkable and directly parallels the success of Americans of Japanese ancestry in this country.Janm

Many people, including myself, thought the museum idea was too narrow, too ethnocentric, too limited to be "national" and the focus of such fundraising and effort. But that is why I am not a visionary. In less time than most people complete their college education and training, JANM has grown up and become a force to be reckoned with. A towering example of the power of faith and vision. A multi-dimensional research, arts, and educational institution that defies the limits of its name. JANM's mission says it all.

To promote understanding and appreciation of America's ethnic and cultural diversity by sharing the Japanese American experience.

Consider the following achievements since its public opening in 1992:

  • 1,000,000 visitors, 60% non-Japanese
  • 400,000 school children on school field trips
  • Support groups in 17 states 
  • 3600 teachers trained--reaching 4,000,000 students
  • The only Asian oriented museum affiliated with the Smithsonian

The Japanese American population has always been small and today is shrinking. Yet the ripple effects of its history yield enormous value to a much broader community. The major American historical events involving Japanese Americans center on WWII.

  • The incarceration of 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry for more than 3 years under the ominous cloud of "enemy aliens" from 1942-45 in 10 War Relocation Centers or "interment camps". There was never a single finding of anti-American crimes or threats.
  • The 442nd fighting unit became the most decorated in American history. Placed in the forefront of battles in the Pacific and in Europe, the 442nd endured more casualties (314%!) and awards (18,000+!)than any US unit in military history. There is ample evidence that without this unit many battles and indeed the war may have been lost.

Despite being wronged and honored, after the war, Japanese Americans returned to racism and discrimination for many decades, including my parents. 45 years later, President Reagan signed legislation that apologized for the internment and authorized symbolic reparations. The act admitted that the internment was based on "prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of leadership."

Still amazing how many Americans do not know this relatively recent history. Less than 25% of US states require it be part of their curriculum. If Texas can now expunge Thomas Jefferson from its textbooks, then the fight to tell the truth in our history books is far from over.

Yet the story of placing ethnic soldiers on the front lines and the threat to Americans who look like the enemies of the United States continues to be played over and over again. Arab and Muslims are the newest targets of prejudice, racism, and civil rights violations.

The story of the Japanese American experience and success is one that goes on teaching and inspiring. On the threshold of Comprehensive Immigration Reform, we have to remind ourselves that we all came through Ellis Island, or off a boat or over a fence. That the story of America is one of diversity.

Tapestry Norm Mineta, former distinguished congressman and cabinet member under President Clinton and Bush, told a small group of us that the "future of JANM is to weave together a tapestry of colorful cloths, each strong and colorful on their own, but much stronger together."

Each of us must find our sense of community by looking within and then connecting with others. The greatest and most potent networks are those that begin with a personal connection or cause. Then the power of those networks is manifested through the ability to connect to other networks and exponentially increase the impact. Isolation is the biggest weakness of any network. Thinking bigger than ourselves is always the goal.

JANM has come so far so fast. It has become a hub of networks. It has exceeded the wildest expectations of its founders. It has even defined its mission by putting its self-interests after the greater good. JANM has transcended the Japanese American community to become an invaluable resource for all of us.

Thank goodness for visionaries. For people who dream without regard to the obstacles. For the leaders who connect others to their visions and dreams. For taking us to higher grounds so we can appreciate their vision and to see the next mountains we must climb.

Regretably, racism, prejudice, and ignorance abound.

Typical of the Japanese American community, their work and achievements are less about fanfare and more about commitment. We all owe the founders of JANM a debt of gratitude.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking to our Future through our Past

Re-acquainting ourselves with ourselves can be the most powerful experience. Clearly the elements of your uniqueness, your passions, and but it may be your story and your genealogy that paves the most revealing paths to expand and diversify your network. We are all multi-faceted, multi-talented multi-racial----we are all immigrants, we are all diverse---probably more than most of us understand or know. Just the discovery process of asking your parents, grand parents or any relatives will give you insights into who you are--and I promise will set you on a new networking journey.

Went to the opening of Kip Fulbeck's new exhibit called Mixed Race. Check out the book. Multi-racial Americans are the fastest growing demographic/ethnic group--that will be again confirmed by the 2010 Census.

My mother's family traced her family back 1100 years! And in Japanese families, these family trees always lead to a famous Samurai! And of course so does ours. That inspired my own roots search. I went to Japan with my best friend Willie Banks, who happens to be African American and is more Japanese than me. I wanted to find Kunta Kobara.:) Believe it or not Willie was my interpreter, like a sitcom, quite the site! Just imagine Japanese people talking to me, my mouth is not moving, and a perfectly accented response is coming from Willie's lips towering above me. We traversed my grandparents homeland and met some of of my Samurai relatives. I confronted my past and my friendship with Willie deepened. My view of myself was altered.Samurai

In Hawaii, most everyone is "hapa" meaning part Asian and other races. On the islands, there is a pride in the number of ethnicities one claims. Some used to say they are chop suey like the made up Americanized Chinese dish that combines many ingredients.

One of my parenting goals is instilling pride in our children about their heritage. My kids are hapa. Half Japanese, a quarter Korean and a quarter Irish, Welsh and German. Kind of a sukiyaki, kim chee, irish rarebit stew with a splash of sauerkraut.

We want them to appreciate their lineage, but if you have kids, their identities are their own.  They care less about race and ethnicity than us adults. They are smarter! No matter what you do, birth order matters. Our oldest daughter Jenna enjoyed a comprehensive education about her histories. And my youngest Bobby, also got a good dosage to help him form his self-concept. This story tells the tale of our middle child, Malia. For and knife

I took my three heirs to a local Mexican restaurant. We are munching away quietly and Malia, about 8 or 9 years old, says, "Dad this food is really good, what is it?" "Malia, it's Mexican food! We have it many times", I retort. ","Oh yeah," she says, "because we are Mexican." My brain freezes and instantly turns to panic. I have done such a bad job as a parent! I quickly recover and assert, "No no no, we're not Mexican. Nothing wrong being Mexican but we're not." I pull my plate to the center of the table in front of Malia and Jenna knows what I am going to do. Jenna takes over as the big sister. She takes her knife and lays it down the middle of the plate and says, "Malia this is you", pointing at the plate. Malia looks on with curiosity. Jenna points to left half of the plate, "this half is Japanese, you are half Japanese", picking up her fork. She lays the fork across the knife to form a cross on the the plate. Malia points to the other side, "What's over here?" "This is you too", pointing at the top right quadrant, "You are also a quarter Korean." Jenna's forefinger glides down to the bottom right corner and finishes, "Oh this is you too, you are also a quarter Irish, Welsh and German." Malia was carefully following Jenna's place setting lecture and a look of understanding washed over her face and she exclaimed, "So we are not Mexican!"

Parents can only do so much and frankly are only one source of information! The process of discovering who we are forces us to network beyond our parents. To network with our families. Network with people we truly care about or relatives we don't know. Those discoveries will trigger conversations, questions and inevitably interests that will expand our universe dramatically.

And those discoveries lead to new interests and other networks you previously were unaware of.

Right now your concept of yourself is limited. It always is and always will be. Because the process of understanding who we are is never ending. I meet people who settle on their identities, on their possibilities, on their destinies and it makes me crazy. They don't even see the incredible potential others do. Part of that process is the comprehension of where our chromosomes have been. Not to understand our differences but to fully appreciate our commonalities. Do you really know who you are? Make this discovery part of your life's quest to understand your history and your network will expand in ways that will open your eyes to the future.

Thanks for reading. John


Networking for Asians? Lessons from East and West

This is a topic that I am asked to address more often than any other. Let me go off on a brief Dennis Miller like rant before I share some thoughts.

Being Asian Pacific American (APA) has many challenges. Statistically we are still considered the "other" race. Despite the fact that there more APAs in LA County and now in California than African Americans, the research, the polls, the evidence of public information rarely includes APAs. Add the persistent and pernicious model minority myth (mmm), that promotes all APAs as college bound/college educated, financially well off and without problems, giving the general public a warped and/or uninformed view of our community. The diversity of the pan-Asian community in the US defies any generalization. This mmm undermines the response to the growing needs and suffering that new immigrant and low-income APAs face. Apa

Why is this relevant here and to me? Because it has impacted my ability to mentor and network. It has altered how I have been received and what influence I have been able to exercise. Mind you, I am not complaining. I have no reason to. However, I know that experiences that happen to me everyday remind me how other APAs are impacted in their quest to advance their lives and careers. Believe it or not, I still get the, "where are you from?" or "you speak without an accent" comments. Or worse, the look of indifference, until they find out my title.

Many compliments I have received about my leadership, speaking ability, and career accomplishments have been relative to other APAs. "John is one of the most articulate Asians I have met." "John is one of the leading Asians in his field." Hard to be recognized for one's achievements outside of our appearance. Really is. Whether Latino or female, we can see success in narrow demographic worlds. And there will be those that say, that ever since we started using hyphenated American terms, instead of just Americans, we established this separateness. A little truth to this, but the root causes of hurtful discrimination and prejudice would be present regardless.

For the last few years, APAs constitute the largest non-white population of college graduates from 4 year institutions. More APAs than African Americans and Latinos, a little discussed fact (that may contribute to the mmm), but a game changing reality. What does this mean? You will continue to see disproportionately more APAs in the workplace, in leadership positions,  eventually in the corner offices, on corporate boards, in public offices and maybe even on TV. APAs will be a force to reckon with. Everyone will need to mentor, network with, and serve more APAs over time. Networking with APAs is becoming a skill de riguer.

Tensions have been emerging over the last decade at Fortune 500 employers who put a premium on college grads from good schools and therefore have been hiring more APAs. Friction between the APA employees and their managers is caused by not promoting the "most qualified" because of stereotyping and ethnocentrism. Managers are conflicted and APAs are frustrated. Managers do not understand the cultural nuances and APA employees have not fully adapted to their work environments.The most enlightened companies have openly addressed these trends. IBM, Pepsi, Price Waterhouse, Kraft.... have invested in processes to train both sides of the equation. Better prepare APAs and simultaneously educate the managers. They know their companies win in the end.

I have been asked by some of these companies and others, through LEAP, to address this topic, usually focused on "Networking for Asians". The premise is Asians need to network more like Americans. Clearly a faulty objective. I have found all employees and managers need help mentoring and networking without regard to their ethnicity and backgrounds.

A number of times I have done this workshop, Networking for Asians, I have had a majority of non-Asians attend! They thought the workshop was focused on how to network WITH Asians. There is a pent up demand by non-Asians to make their professional relationships with APAs more productive and effective.Got rice

I was recently presented with a copy of this book by Yang Liu, a young Chinese girl who lives in Germany. She developed this powerpoint show a few years ago on the differences between the perspectives of east and west. Liu observed first hand these differences in her bi-cultural immersion in Berlin? These slides definitely relate to networking and relationships that you may find amusing and educational:

The tools of mentoring and networking are universal and cross-cultural. Sure there are some cultural differences and there needs to be much greater sensitivity on both sides. This is life. This is adopting the mentoring and networking lifestyle. Always seeking commonalities. Being open to meeting and helping others. Even if they are different, even if they are APAs. Chances are they will be.

Thanks for reading. John