multi-racial

Ground Truth and Economic Diversity

Reality is the leading cause of stress amongst those in touch with it.  ― Jane Wagner

I have learned the hard way that the further you get from, what a colleague of mine calls "ground truth", the less capable you are to make decisions that are relevant and meaningful. This is pretty intuitive. Yet all of us consciously and unconsciously remove ourselves from the "ground" of our businesses, our neighborhoods and our communities. The consequences present us as individuals and our society with serious challenges. 

And among all of the disconnects from ground truth, money and success can separate us from reality more than anything else. The more money we make and can remove us from the worlds of needs and realities of the people and families "below" us. We tend to reside in a band of commonality that surrounds us with people more like us than not. Again, not driven by conscious choices, but by the centrifugal forces of life. Our economic profile will largely determine where we go to school, where we live, who we meet, who are friends become, and shape the worldview of our kids.  Velvet rope

Michael Sandel  in his book, What Money Can't Buy, discusses how these centrifugal forces are powered. Sandel says, "Democracy does not require perfect equality, but it does require that citizens share a common lifeWhat matters is that people of different backgrounds and social positions encounter one another, and bump up against one another, in the course of ordinary life." But what he calls the "skyboxification" of our lives is minimizing if not eliminating the chances people of very different economic means interact. If you can afford it, you don't stand in lines any more or have a special line based on your customer status or premium payment. Fast passes at Disneyland. exclusive floors at hotels, American Express ticket perks...... This is becoming the exception rather than the rule.

I wrote a piece for LA Magazine online a few years ago about the Brentwood Triangle. About the bubbles we live in the protect us from seeing and experiencing the needs in our communities. 

Our ability to govern, to solve problems, meet customer needs, and run successful organizations is increasingly dependent in understanding the totality of our society--from top to bottom. Nearly impossible to do anything relevant from an ivory tower or a Brentwood Triangle.

How Diverse Is Your Network?

Well established that people with more open minds and with networks with more diverse perspectives live longer--up to 9 years! Maybe the most important attribute to diversity is economic. Clearly people with very different net worths and income have different realities. The collision of these realities is where truth emerges.

Ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation and religion can provide different perspectives. However, I believe economic diversity is the most potent and the most insightful of perspectives. Why do universities spend so much money on financial aid? Because they believe that diversity and especially economic diversity is essential for a complete education. Education happens in the hallways and corridors of life. Who you meet, disagree with, compare life experiences with, matters at school and for the rest of our lives.

But we intentionally and unintentionally limit or eliminate diversity. The "best" neighborhoods, schools are rarely  chosen for their economic diversity. Hanging out with, living near people "below" our standard of living is perceived by many as unimportant and to others dangerous. Generally, it is not a priority. 

Therefore you have to make efforts and take conscious steps to stay in touch. You have to build and nurture a diverse network. It rarely just happens. In fact the opposite is more true. We keep and maintain networks even when they are ineffective and unfulfilling. Habits are hard to break. 

Evaluating and constructing your network is neither an "affirmative action" process or akin to the selection of Noah's ark passengers. You gravitate to people through your worlds of contacts and don't reject people who "don't make as much as you." People's economic status in life should not exclude them from your network---People you meet through your kids, at church, at work, on the golf course, and through others. 

I can hear some you getting defensive. I don't doubt your compassion or your intention to be open to meet and embrace others. But take a hard look at your network, your neighbors, your kids' closest friends, and your own close friends. How diverse is it? Economically? How insulated are you from reality? Is it good, good enough? 

I remember when my aunt told me about when she pulled her kids out of an exclusive private school with great academics and little ethnic and economic diversity. Like all middle class parents they made sacrifices to provide the best for their mixed race children. In the sixth grade, my cousins were asked repeatedly about their "stock portfolios." No one in their family had equity investments! But at this school it was part of the casual playground conversation. Then my cousins came home singing, "Ching Chong Chinaman!" They never heard what they thought was a catchy song before and did not know it was directed at them. They left that school and my uncle and aunt got more involved in the selection of the next school choice.

Your network reflects you, where you are and where you are going. Stay grounded to the truth.

Thanks for reading. John


The Small World of Trash Talking

Thanks for sharing your small world stories. All of us are witnessing how we are interconnected to one another. Basically, if we make the effort then we will discover  connections that we share with people we just met or people we get to know better.

If you play basketball or any competitive sport, then you are familiar with "trash talking." It is the banter that happens during the competition to unnerve your opponent. It runs the gamut from irritating to plain rude to profane. The classic is uttered right when you are going to shoot the ball, your defender yells and taunts you, "WHAT YOU GOT?! "YOU GOT NOTHING!" I have played basketball off and on for 40 years. I have stories of great shots, broken noses, and memorable verbal exchanges--some of them just too obscene to print here!Kobe_kg_trash_talk-150x150

One early morning I was going to my regular pick up game at UCLA's venerable Men's Gym upstairs courts upstairs. Bunch of has beens, athletic department weekend warriors, a few coaches, and an occasional former player would join us. Ususally we would start with the first 8-10 guys who showed up, pick teams and start playing. It was a civil game that could get physical with plenty of verbal exchanges. One morning seven of us we were warming up shooting and stretching waiting for the next player to start our game. There was this young Latino kid shooting across the way, struggling to dribble and shoot. He was using a rubber ball that had Union 76 emblazoned on it. He was not a serious player nor familiar to us so we ignored him. A few minutes passed and we were still looking for the eighth fman so we could go full court instead of 3 on 3 half court. One of my court colleagues, a feisty and chatty African American Muslim named Mandala, pokes me on the shoulder and sticks his face into mine and mockingly says, "Hey why don't you ask your Cuz'n to play!" as he points to the rubber ball boy across the gym. "Then we will have 8! Yeah ask your Cuz'n!" Several others laughed and looked at me for a response. "That's not my cousin, I don't know him", I meekly replied. A bunch of them pointed at the young Latino brother in the other corner who had missed several layups in a row. So I called over to him and asked if he wanted to join us. He nodded and clumsily bounced his promotional excuse for a basketball toward us but we had enough for a game. Basketball%2076%20ball%20large  

I introduced myself to the newcomer, his name was David, but he pronounced it Daveed with what appeared to be a Mexican accent. We started playing and Mandala on more than one occasion said,"How's your Cuz'n?!!" David started to get his game together and was a bit better than any of us expected. 10 minutes into the game David tripped and twisted his ankle and had to sit out. I asked if he was okay but he said he was done for the day and would watch. A few were waiting for the next game by now and we continued on. David watched on the sidelines until the very end. I walked by David to pick up my towel and sweatshirt. David stood up and limped over to me and said, "You don't remember me, do you?" I hate that question because it puts me in a defensive position. "Do I know you?" David nodded and said we met at our family reunion 8 years earlier! Then my mind was awash with memories of the 80 family members and their children who had gathered for the first time in Santa Cruz. I did remember a David Baldonado and his little brother and sisters. One of my cousins through marriage married a Latino man and I noticed these beautiful mixed Japanese Mexican youths--one of whom was apprarently David when he was 13.

I shook David's hand, we embraced and we promised to get together.

I went into the lockerroom and my head was swirling with this odd moment of reconnecting with a distant relative like this.

Then I spotted Mandala and I said, "Hey, he is my cousin!" Mandala yelled back, "I told you! I WAS TRYING TO TELL YOU HE WAS YOUR CUZ"N!" We laughed. Mandala knew all along David was my real cousin.

You just never know when you might run into a cousin. Or when trash talk really is a serious conversation. :) The world is tiny and getting smaller. No matter if you believe we started in the Garden of Eden or evolved from a place in Africa. We are all related. We are all "cousins". (geneticists believe we are least 50th cousins) Even my trash talking friend Mandala and I are cousins. :) If you add that we are 3-6 degrees apart, the world is not only small it is US. What would the world be like if we all started as "cousins" and learned about our commonalities and our connections? That is the power of WE.

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


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