Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The 21st Century Asian Americans

By Amy Wong Mok, Vice President, The 80-20 Initiative

About one month ago, I was interviewed by a young college student for his journalism class project. His focus was on the “The 21st-Century Asian Americans.”

I shared with him the following observations which I believe to be important for us as a community to deal with present issues and to face challenges in the future. Let us remember that we Asian Americans have made many contributions to the U.S. from as far back as the 16th century when Filipino immigrants first landed on Oct. 18, 1587, in Morro Bay, California. (** See Footnote.)

Subsequent waves of immigration from every country in Asia have all labored hard to build this great nation of ours, and almost always under harsh conditions and against incredible odds.

The single important lesson that we can draw from this history is that we have been lagging far behind in developing and grooming the civic and political leadership that will give us a voice in the body politics. Unless we succeed in doing so, Asian Americans will stay in the margins of American society, despite our relative success in the economic arena.

If history is a guide, success in the economic arena alone has never proved to be a safeguard against discriminations and greater calamities in times of stress. Only our own complacency can ignore this lesson. Let us do a mental exercise of drawing up a roadmap for the next 100 years. To develop and groom effective civic and political leadership among our community should be our top priority. Let us start with our young. Most of our children participate in mainstream activities but is their vision expansive enough?

I recently had a conversation with an Asian American high-school senior who attends an affluent high school. He wanted to volunteer at our community events to earn the community service hours. To help decide what he can best do for the community, I asked him about his future plan; he told me that he has decided to study business instead of attending medical school even though his father is a medical doctor because he wants to make money. There is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but I want to dig deeper. To understand his vision in life, I asked him what he would do with his money. He replied, “Of course, I would have to reinvest to make more money instead of putting them in the bank”. I pressed again, “What if you have $500M and money enough to last for 3 or 4 lifetimes, what would you do with your money?” He replied, “I would buy a house and a car for my parents.” I asked again, “What else will you do?” He replied, “Ah, you want me to help others. I will build a first class basket ball gymnasium for other children because I love to play basket ball.”

While it took him a little bit more time to see beyond his immediate self-interest to the wider community interests, I wonder if the conversation around the dinner table at his home ever goes beyond improving one’s own immediate situation to consider the larger social issues that will eventually shape the environment he will live in. I would like to believe that this young man’s response is an isolated case and is not the norm.

Paradox in Human Psychology

To help our children to think beyond their own self-interest and take part in solving the social ills is to help them take ownership of their community. It gives them confidence to expand their vision to include the interests of others. This is the beginning of building leadership skills and it requires examples from adults in their lives. Nobody would want to follow a person who cares only about his own immediate self-interests.

There is a paradox in human psychology that is sometimes overlooked in the pursuit of rampant individualism: We thrive best in a supportive and thriving community, but a supportive and thriving community is best built by people who are truly empathetic of the welfare of others in the community. If we want to thrive as individuals, we can thrive best by wanting to thrive not only as individuals but also as a community (or as my computer-scientist husband likes to put it: self-interest is recursively defined).

Thriving as a community is about empathy. While empathy is ultimately not taught, it can be inspired first by parents, teachers and friends. This is the wisdom about human nature from my Eastern heritage that I think will serve all of us well. The essential characteristics in leadership are abilities, commitment and generosity.

We have many able members in our community but only a small number of true leaders who have the staying power when the going is tough. The leaders must have the courage to dig their heels and are willing to do the hard work and expect no recognition for getting the job done. The development of such characteristic traits requires both discipline and determination to own up to their responsibilities for the common good. To find pleasure and pride to serve others requires generosity that flows from empathy, and that is what makes a good leader.

Leadership requires trust from those being led. The most important strength in leadership is integrity and true leadership has to be challenged and tested. It requires a strong leader to be able to choose community interest at the expense of one’s own welfare when the need arises. A leader must be able to separate the difference between doing things right and doing the right things. Sometimes, a leader has to be willing to stand alone, sitting on his/her integrity and feel comfortable about making the hard choices. It is simply a demonstration of grace under fire.

I have faith in our future generations. I have no doubt that they are capable of becoming great leaders. As parents and elders, we have to help them identify with great leaders from different communities and to help them develop a great vision for their future. We must help them sharpen their skills, give them opportunity to experience the joy of serving others, tapping into their generous spirit and let them have the confidence to take on the challenge to make this country more just and fair.

Two Challenges

It is the mission of 80-20 to work for equality and justice for all Asian Americans. We will achieve our mission by strengthening our collective voice, by creating a block vote to actively participate in the political process.

We are working on the following two challenges as our immediate focus:

1. Increase the number of Asian American federal judicial appointments. To represent fairly the Asian American population in adequate proportion, we should have 39 Asian American federal court judges. We now have only 6, a big gap to narrow down.

2. Increase the number of Asian American executives in public and private establishments in compliance with Executive Order 11246 that was signed by President Johnson in 1965 to ensure the number of minority and women in executive positions in colleges/universities, government agencies and private businesses. Asian Americans have been left out in the enforcement of EO11246, in violation of federal law.

Once again, I urge you to take your children to vote, to attend your precinct meeting and let them witness your participation to the discussion about different social issues. Most importantly, let them experience the political process and help them to identify with great leaders, starting with their parents who show them integrity, empathy and commitment to work hard for the common interest.

Introduce your children to the 80-20 Initiative.

1. Upgrade the status of your membership to the level that is comfortable to you.

2. Recruit and/or pay for the dues of at least one new member. (Basic membership is only $35 a year)

3. Participate in the local and national political process.

Please act now by connecting to www.80-20initiative.net

Any US citizen or permanent resident can join 80-20 TODAY.

Using a credit card,
please visithttp://www.80-20initiative.net/membership.html (easy to use) or
http://www.80-20initiative.net/paypal.html

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Jing-Li Yu, Treasurer
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Life membership is $1,000; Family Membership (2 voters) is $50; Basic Membership is $35; Student membership is $15. Thank you.

** Footnote: "It has come to my attention that there is
a dispute about the historicity of the earliest landing date of Filipino immigrants to North America. What is without dispute is that Asian immigrants from many countries have had a long history of monumental contributions to the United States. We deservedly take pride in their achievements and hold our heads high in front of all the other nationalities as contributors to the building of this great nation."
 

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