enryo

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 beginning of networking---Dedicated to my Dad and your Dad

Happy Father's Day! If you are fortunate to still have your dad, I hope you called him. If you have lost your father, think about him and appreciate that he gave you the opportunity to be where you are. 

I dedicate this blog to one of my best friends, Willie Banks. He lost his Dad a few days ago.
 ~In memory of William "Bill" Banks II~


Being a Dad is one of the greatest challenges, joys and adventures ever. It gives you an appreciation for the cycle of life. It gives you a chance to appreciate what your parents tried to do and how they shaped your view of the world. As Robin Williams observed when his son was acting up by using a string of obscenities, he saw his father with his arms stretched high and an evil smile across his face, screaming Yes! Yes! Yes! Fathers take pride in their off-springs successes and also a bit of pleasure in their children's confrontations with reality--especially when parents provided sage and unheeded advice. 

Here's how Roderick Yoshimi Kobara (that's my Dad) ignited J0434748 my interest in networking and a clearer path for me to succeed. Raising me was not always easy. I was very inclined to be anti-everything. Part of it was the times--the late 60's, part of it was my incessant desire to be different and independent. Part of it was the teenage funk generated by the endless war between the hormones and the pituitaries. One of the many victims of this battle is the cross cultural decline of respect for parental units, their irrelevance, their responsibility for all wrongs in the world and their embarrassing lack of coolness. 

During this awkward time, my Dad was frustrated with his oldest son--that's me. He found little benefit in my impersonations of Richard Pryor or when I told people I met that I was Viet Cong. He found these unfunny comedic pursuits and my less than stellar performance in the classroom reason to be concerned. Being a classic Asian Dad, a man of few words, he would say pointed things from time to time leaving the interpretation to the imagination of his children. One of these poignant moments changed my life. 

Dad always told us, the four kids, always to represent the family, to not embarrass the family name, and to be polite but quiet. There is a Japanese concept/value called enryo. Enryojpeg It is a giant cultural concept that means self-discipline, self-sacrifice, no-ego, and modesty. But when uttered by a parent it meant, do not touch, ask for, eat anything when visiting someone else's home. Restrain all needs. Defer to others. My parents would say "Enryo!" You can see how this would clash with the good ole American values of rugged individualism, me-first, assert yourself, take control, and lead! 

When people came over, especially my parents friends, my Dad requested we greet, shake hands, and then quietly retreat to our rooms. This was a confusing request in the enryo world in which we were raised. So we rarely obeyed this command. This was embarrassing to my Dad. After the umpteenth time we did not comply, Dad called my brother and me into the kitchen. As the oldest, I got the brunt of it. As teens we were stupidly inattentive even when our lives were at stake. My father railed against our incorrigible behavior. My brother Mitch and I looked at our shoes and this enraged Dad more. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and pulled me onto my tiptoes. He stared me down, as Mitch moved to the furthest and safer corner of the kitchen. Dad said, "Do you know why I want you to do this?--say hello to our friends, shake their hands?" It's because I was never a public person. My career has been hurt by my inability to make speeches and meet people. You have to be public people to be successful in America." We had no idea what he meant. We just knew we disappointed him. It was not until much later I realized that being a public person was being comfortable and confident networking and making presentations. For my Dad, through his experiences of post WWII assimilation, humiliation and prejudice, he never felt fully accepted or welcomed in the business world. He partly blamed himself for his inability to acquire these skills. Nevertheless, my Dad was very successful in his work, and as a father, but he wanted a better life for his kids. And this was one of the many ways he guided us. 

Our Dads have taught us many things. 

For my buddy Willie Banks, I am grateful to your father for teaching you to be such a beautiful, generous and extraordinary friend and father. may he rest in peace.

Dad and me
For my Dad, thanks for teaching me how to be a public person. I have used that inspiration to be a better father and to go from enryo to an enlightened and fulfilling path. And I actively share and teach these concepts to anyone who will listen. 

Thanks for reading. John