As an immigrant with English as a second language (yes . . . I was one of those ESL kids), I was taught and trained to keep my head down, do my work well, be polite, curb my emotions, don’t voice my opinion unless asked, don’t be a hero, avoid landmine topics, and maybe at some point in the future, if I’m lucky, I can have a decent career. I’ve been taught to “be good boy.” I’ve largely followed that blueprint my entire life . . . well, with the exception of not voicing my opinion, which has served me well when I’ve done it in a respectable, tasteful….model minority type of way.
I’m not a believer in signs but the recent confluence of events starting from George Floyd’s senseless killing, to the origins of COVID-19 (aka Kung Flu), and now to racially motivated murders in Atlanta, have brought up emotions I’ve bottled for decades. I’m ashamed to say that despite these events, I initially planned to continue to be the model minority and swallow these emotions. Ironically, the tipping point for me is a book that I recently read, which is the first book I’ve read leisurely in the last twenty years (apart from decks, emails, memos and a family, there is no time for pleasure reading). The only reason I picked up the book is because my 5th grader is reading it in school and it caught my eye as it was written by an Asian female author—Front Desk by Kelly Yang. It’s meant to introduce the concept of prejudice and racial inequalities—in this case through the protagonist of a 10-year-old Chinese immigrant girl—to elementary school kids but I found myself lost in the book and it triggered a realization of my emotional immaturity on this topic. This was my tipping point. A children’s book. It gave me the courage to pen this. It’s the final sign. It gave me the feeling that I will have missed an opportunity, perhaps my calling, to do something proactive for the benefit of people like me, if I continued to be the model minority that I’m so darn good at being. The platforms and the relationships I’ve built and the position I’ve fought hard to achieve by playing by the rules—these will be wasted if I continue to be silent. Every part of me screams not to do this but I will have disappointed . . . no, failed, my family and especially my two Asian American boys, if I don’t speak up. I’m not a brave person by any definition. I’m not as articulate as my native-English speaking colleagues. However, I have life experiences and bottled thoughts that are very similar to enough of my colleagues, friends and neighbors that I feel compelled to share this piece.
With the recent events in Atlanta, the newest and latest hashtag has developed—#stopasianhate. Programs that help advance this topic have been bubbling up in recent days, and I see such “programs” or activities being rolled out at our company. It’s an awesome first step. But it’s only the first step of a long journey. If it were to stop at this, it would completely miss the point for me personally. While this Atlanta event triggered the hashtag, I’m hopeful and optimistic (not two terms I’ve been taught to rely on in life) that it’s a start of a movement. A movement much larger than a few programs or hashtags aimed to directly address the senseless violence. We need to get at the root cause, to treat the disease in addition to the symptoms. It’s too important to stay silent as I’ve been trained to do. The model minority mentality has sadly led to a term that we are all very familiar with and can relate to: the invisible minority. It’s time for the invisible minority to be visible. Let’s talk.
Let’s talk about what else we can do to help our Asian community feel visible and unlock our ability to provide valuable opinions.
Let’s talk about what else we can do to help our Asian employees feel valued. Some of our Asian employees feel career capped and are dissatisfied with how Asian employees are perceived and valued. While this may be a surprise predicated on this population not voicing displeasures frequently, it doesn’t mean there is not an underlying problem. It just means we’ve been trained well by our parents to just simply accept it.
Let’s talk about how to take an external leadership role in the business community on this issue, as part of the social justice positions we’ve taken.
Let’s talk about how to elevate beyond a hashtag and help inspire and lead a movement.
Let’s talk about how we can make our immigrant parents proud that they made the right decision in leaving everyone and everything they’ve ever known behind and moving to America to give us a brighter future.
Let’s talk about how we can become the role models for our children so we can create a brighter future together.