Category Archives: The Model Minority

Asian-Americans are usual viewed through the lens of the “model minority myth.” High-paying jobs, academic excellence, stable families, respectful. But what is the perfect Asian? This section explores the educational and career side of Asian-Americans.

Are you treated like a child at work? 6 ways to respond.

Hi everyone! It’s my third week as a new Executive Director and I’m starting to feel settled into the role. All of the nightmares I had about team meetings have gone way. The staff are also starting to show me the respect I deserve. I’ve asked them to address me with the title bác, which is a Vietnamese word used when speaking to elders. “Hello Bác James. Let me help you up the stairs.” “Bác James, tell us what it was like to use a flip phone.”  “Bác James, my tummy is hurting again.” Go see a doctor then! You have health insurance benefits! “Bác, why didn’t you become a pharmacist?” Ugh, youth these days…so disrespectful.

I’ve previously written about how race and ethnicity can impact people’s perception of leadership. Similarly, age and the perceptions of experience can also be challenging–especially for Asian Americans where cultural norms around these issues are very powerful. Many of the challenges I have experienced in my career are because people viewed me as too young (other challenges include not knowing how to Tweet and Snapchat). It’s like I am a Vietnamese, non-profit, social justice version of Justin Beiber.

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about similar challenges she was having. We wondered how young leaders can make a meaningful impact in our careers when our age and perceived lack of experience become barriers to success. It becomes very tiring because it makes us second-guess everything we do. For example, it took me a very long time to see myself as an Executive Director. Fortunately, I had the support from mentors, friends and colleagues who pushed me in that direction. While I am grateful for this opportunity, I recognize there are so many other young professionals who are ready to step up too.

Here are some comments that I’ve received and how I have responded to each of them. For anyone looking for an extra bit of help, you can also read my article “7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect.”

“You look so young. Are you a volunteer?”

Just because some of the students we serve are taller than me, doesn’t make me a volunteer. What’s up with always associating youthfulness with volunteerism? They don’t necessarily go hand in hand. When I was in the Peace Corps, I had the honor of serving with volunteers who were already retired; one was a dean of a graduate school; and some volunteers were in their 40s and 50s. Assuming that just because all young people are volunteers is rude, and doesn’t acknowledge the skills and perspectives we bring into the work. It is also a disservice to actual volunteers–the ones who give up their time and energy to support their community.

How you can respond: “I’ll make you a deal. If you donate to my organization, I’ll tell you what type of moisturizer I use. Spoiler alert: It has coconut extract! But no, I’m not a volunteer, though I really appreciate all of the passion and support they bring to our work. My role as a staff member is to make sure that we’re enabling our volunteers, students and community members to succeed.”

“Is this your job? Do you get paid?”

What is this? Do people assume millennials just sit around drinking craft beer and organic coffee all day? We only do that after 5:30pm or when we’re singing karaoke. Of course I have a job! How else do you expect me to survive? It sure as hell ain’t from blogging. All of those stereotypes that millennials can’t find employment and have to live at home with their parents are crap. AHHHHHH!!!! BLARGHH!!!!!! UGH!!!!!!

How you can respond: Listen Mom, you’re crushing my individuality! Yes, this is my job. And I already told you, I’m never going to be the doctor you wanted me to be. I’m not like every other Asian kid. I want to help our community.

Side note: If you actually did become a doctor, then simply replace “doctor” with “lawyer” and “help our community” with “make money and live debt free.”

“I’m not sure if you have the experience quite yet.”

This comment annoys me the most. It’s condescending, like people think they’re doing young professionals a favor by “protecting” them from failure. We can only get the experience if we are given the opportunities to learn, grow, make mistakes, and succeed. Society said that everyone needs a higher education to be successful. Many of us did exactly that. How much more experience do you want?

How you can respond: Although your gut reaction might be to face palm whoever made the comment, it is critical that you resist this impulse. As Asians, there’s a cultural norm not to question authority or challenge the status quo. Humbleness and humility are important, but don’t be a push over. Advocate for yourself! Try this:

I realize there’s still a lot I can learn in this field/position/role/etc. I would really appreciate any feedback or suggestions you have. I want to respectfully push back though. I’m willing to work hard and give this role my all, but that will also require your support to enable that success. I’d love to work with you to figure out ways I can get the coaching and training you think I’ll need. Thanks a bunch, you’re totes awesome.

“Look kid, I love the enthusiasm, but you’re out of your league. I’m 62, which makes me twice as smart and good looking.”

So…no one has actually ever said this to me before. I don’t give them a chance to. I walk around with my head up; ready to stiff arm anyone as if I were Marshawn Lynch. We millennials are bad asses! Organic buying, gluten-free, ride-sharing, socially conscious, bad asses.

How you can respond: I’m sorry you feel that way but I beg to differ. I grew up in the generation that invented Facebook and transformed social media. Our vote helped put the first African-American President in the White House. We embrace marriage equality and women’s rights. And yes, despite what you might think, we do care very much about money and the economy. Even though we didn’t have anything to do with The Great Recession, you’re welcome for the bailout. So if you’re done with your anti-millennial tirade…do you have a usb charger I can borrow? My phone died and I super need to check my Farmville score.

Wow! You’re such an exception.

Though this may seem like flattery, don’t fall for the trap. Singling you out as an exception (even though we’re all exceptional individuals) is a disservice to all of the other smart and talented young professionals out there. It pits us against one another, but we must stay strong and united. That’s one of the main reasons I started Asian Happy Hour, to find and support other young leaders in our community…and because going to happy hour alone is really sad.

How you can respond: Thanks…I think. What exactly do you mean by that, if I may ask? From my experience, there are a lot of talented young professionals out there. I’m happy to introduce you to them if you’d like.

“Can I ask you how old you are? For anyone who works in a management or director level position–or position where you have power and authority over other employees–never ask an employee their age! The HR in me says it opens the door to age discrimination–real or perceived. You don’t want to go down that road. But on a peer-to-peer level, it’s just rude. It’s like asking someone their weight. The only difference is people can lose weight, but you can’t lose age. No sir…can’t lose it at all…your age just gets bigger and bigger every year…for the rest of your life…until you die… Then you’ll be reincarnated and the cycle begins anew. Why is life so hard!!!?

How you can respond: So are you asking me for my permission to ask me how old I am? Or are you directly asking me how old I am? If the former, then no, you may not. If the latter, why don’t you just say “How old are you?” to which I would respond “I’ll only tell you if you have sincere intentions to celebrate my birthday with ice cream and candles. Otherwise, none of your business!”

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7 Ways for young Asians professionals to get respect (hint: look older)

Last week I became the next Executive Director for the Vietnamese Friendship Association. One of the things I’ve had to wrestle with–especially as a young and new Executive Director–is the age difference between me and a lot of veteran leaders in this field and community. I’ve previously written about a generational gap and what we can do to support emerging leaders in our community.

While I believe I have the skills and experience to guide the organization and be a strong advocate in the community, I’ve also found that looking older affords me instant street cred.

In the Asian culture, there’s a strong association between age, experience and respect. In some ways, this is reflected in American culture as well–like when we hang on to every sweet word Morgan Freeman says. Naturally, we assume that those who are older have more experience (knowledge or wisdom…) and thus deserve more respect.

Don’t get me wrong, people with experience and knowledge and wisdom deserve our respect. In fact, we owe our unqualified respect to every human being we meet. However, for a young Asian American professional, the perceptions of age and youth are still very challenging to overcome precisely because of cultural expectations. I can’t tell you the number of times people have mistaken me for a high school student. Do you know how hard it is to run an organization when everyone thinks you’re a volunteer? It’s defeating–like being down 16-0 at half time.

At times, I have found myself changing the way I look, the way I talk, even the way I walk, in order to project the appearance that I’m older. It is exhausting! To my fellow Asian Americans, if you’re finding it hard to get the respect and opportunities you need to succeed, try one of these tricks below to “enhance” your age and get you on the fast track for success.

Rule #1: Become a doctor. Just kidding. That’s a terrible idea.

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Start smoking! There was a study that compared identical twins, “one of which had been smoking for at least five years longer than the other.” They found that “smokers’ upper eyelids drooped while the lower lids sagged, and they had more wrinkles around the mouth.” Basically, all I took out of this study was that smokers looked older and therefore got more respect!

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One twin smoked, the other didn’t. They looks years apart!

 

 

Visit a tanning booth: Can’t afford a lifetime of smoking? Tanning beds are your next best option. They instantly add years to your age. You can take a quick nap inside one of these and wake up ten years older! Btw, for those who care about “science,” tanning beds emit an unsafe concentration of UVA rays which is damaging to your skin and can lead to skin cancer. Worth it?

asian tan
You’ll never believe how old these girls really are!

 

Wear hipster glasses: Whenever I walk into a meeting where I want to look older and wiser, I put on my favorite pair of thick rimmed hipster glasses. These glasses add between 2-4 years to my appearance. In Asian years, I’ll look equivalent to the age of an undergrad. Ok fine! Middle schooler…

The boy above is actually 9 years old. But thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!
The boy above is actually 9 years old, but thanks to hipster glasses, he looks 14!

 

Dress Professionally: A friend and mentor once told me that I need to come into meetings well-dressed. Not suit and tie per say, but respectable, which meant no jeans or t-shirts. “You never know who you’re going to run into at these meetings,” he said. “So you don’t want them to think you’re a student.” He had a good point.

This is a high school graduation photo. Dressing professional works!
This is a high school graduation photo, but look how old we all look! Dressing professional works.

 

Eat lots of junk food: Researchers have found that high levels of phosphates accelerate signs of aging. Where does one get phosphates? Sodas and processed foods! So this is an easy win. If you want to look older, simply park it on the couch, turn on the tv and grab a Coke and a smile.

The boy on the left is ahead of all his classmates!
The boy on the left is growing faster than all his classmates! Eat up!

 

Practice effective sleep deprivation: WebMC writes that “chronic sleep loss can lead to lackluster skin, fine lines, and dark circles under the eyes.” It’s true. Ask any stressed out millennial; they look like they’re already nearing retirement age. Toss in some hipster glasses, and you’re basically telling the world you’re ready for an early grave.

stock-footage-young-asian-woman-feeling-tired-and-bored-anxious
Lose sleep to gain years. It’s an easy formula.

 

Become an Executive Director: This is my first ED role and already the number of grey hairs on my head have increased by 30%; I’m waking up with back pain; and I’m pretty sure the hearing in my right ear is starting to go out. Bottom line: If you really want to fast track looking older, then become an Executive Director.

james-hong
Director Hong–VFA’s second youngest ever Executive Director.

 

Wear a turtleneck: Turtlenecks are so effective at making you look older, even Justin Beiber does it. Check out the before and after photo below. He instantly goes from a baby to a solid 8 years old.

beiber baby
These photos were taken just minutes apart. See how a turtleneck can add years to your age?

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Just to be clear, most of these are pretty terrible ideas if you want to look older–except maybe dressing professional and wearing hipster glasses. They are actually safe and effective.

The truth is, we shouldn’t need to change who we are in order to confirm to other people’s expectations. Young professionals have all the skills and talents needed to make meaningful contributions to their work and community. We just need opportunities! Next week I’ll share how I have personally navigated these complex social and professional situations.

In the mean time, I’d love to hear everyone’s experience with age and youthfulness. Has it impacted your work? Do other people perceive you differently? Are you getting the right opportunities? What’s your relationship been like with bosses or managers? Leave your comments below or on the Asian Slant facebook page.

To everyone who ever thought Asians make terrible leaders…

Holy crap! Last week was crazy. And I’m not talking about the Seahawks whoopin’ on the Panthers type of crazy (which was awesome btw). I was offered the Executive Director position, which I accepted on the condition that they let me keep my standing desk. You can read the Board President’s announcement if you’re curious. And also, as an ED newly born into this world, you can read my  adorable first words.

Everything is still very new and happening fast. I’ve only been on the job three days and have had to make 128 decisions so far–from the mundane “What kind of socks does a new ED wear?” to the philosophical “How to honor the Vietnamese culture and heritage while being inclusive of other communities?”

I’m very excited for this new position and am honored to have the opportunity to serve the Vietnamese community at this level. I promise to use all of my skills and experiences to help advance the successes of the Vietnamese and broader Asian American community. I’m especially grateful to everyone who has supported me on this journey.

Anyways, I’ve been getting a ton of emails, Facebook messages and texts on my phone since the announcement went out, and have been doing my best to keep up and respond to each and every one of them. Many folks have been asking me questions about the new role, and I’ve summarized a snippet of them below.

How’s it feel?

It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions that range from “another plain ol’ day at the office” to “Holy crap, I’m on the edge of my seat freaking out because I might actually be slipping off but I need to take a selfie first, omg what do I do?” (aka, Disney’s Space Mountain).

The other night I literally had my first ED nightmare. I dreamed I was trying to lead a staff meeting but everyone was jumping up and down on the tables, drinking and partying. “No one respects me,” I thought. “I’m a terrible ED.” Times like these I just want to be swaddled.

Why did you choose now to become an Executive Director?

This was something I was on the fence about for a while; I was very hesitant and went back and forth. My rationale, at the time, was that I was already able to serve the community in meaningful ways. I was very happy and comfortable where I was at.

Ultimately, after the previous ED left, the space and separation gave me a chance to practice my leadership in new ways within the organization. It helped me visualize my potential role as a new Executive Director, and the skills and perspective that I could contribute to the position.

We had to navigate complex partnerships and I thought “I can do this.” We had to make difficult decisions of types of funding we wanted to pursue or not and I thought “I can do this.” We had to say goodbye to some really wonderful staff and I thought “I can do this.” I had to email the staff to let them know that we ran out of ice cream in the freezer and I thought “I can do this.” Then the staff mutinied, demanded more ice cream, wanted my head on a pike, and I thought “This sucks.”

What kind of leadership do you bring to the organization?

I previously wrote about task-oriented people and relationship-oriented people. If you ever came to me with a problem, my first instinct would be to break the problem down into small steps, and move through them one by one. I’m super task-oriented. This is a strength that I bring to the organization.

Overtime, I also learned that I needed to develop my “people skills” in order to strengthen my leadership. I practiced skills like “active listening” and “compassion” and “empathy.” For example, before when people wanted my time and attention, I would ignore them…like parents to me. Now, whenever someone talks to me, I reply with “Uh huh” and nod my head. Effective leadership rocks!

Are you vegan like your predecessor?

A lot of folks have wanted to take me out to lunch to celebrate and have been asking, “Your last ED was a vegan. Does that mean you’re one too? Are all EDs vegan? James, do you want carrots and hummus?”

My definitive answer is “Heck no.” I enjoy the taste, smell and look of meat. Honest to goodness, I can stare at a piece of meat for hours without blinking. I admit, however, that I have recently switched to a “no cooking meat at home” diet, which has been a great exercise in more sustainable cooking. At the same time, it’s increased my meat cravings tenfold as well as my obsession with zombie flicks.

Wow, your parents must be proud of you!

They are! I think…

Their initial reply was “Executive Director!!! Why not Mayor? Or City Council? Or Amazon, like your sister.” Ugh, that brought me back to my school days when even an A- would disappoint Asian parents.

What vision do I see for the organization and for the community?

Ok, this is a big question. In this blog, I’ve written about challenges that impact that Vietnamese and broader Asian American community. For example, the need for more inclusive early learning programs, promoting civic engagement in the Vietnamese community, transforming how we approach youth development, and broader social justice issues.

I also want to focus internally on the organization. It’s critical we have an organizational culture and structure that will support and nurture our staff and volunteers, and provide a safe environment where everyone can work with dignity and be compensated for their skills, passion and service. For starters, disconnecting people from their work email when they’re not at work!

What are you going to do in your first month?

Huh? Is this a test? Quit asking me so many hard questions. Realistically, I’ll be spending the first month checking in with all of our staff and board to listen to their vision and dreams for VFA and the community, where they see themselves growing, and any anxieties or concerns they may have about me as ED…because I probably have them too!

Then I’ll meet with all of our board members to thank them profusely for hiring me, and to beg them even more profusely not to fire me within the first month.

Finally, I’ll reach out to our community members, supporters, funders and donors to discuss the vision and direction that VFA is headed.

Oh yeah, buy some more ice cream for the freezer too—lest I want another revolt.

***

Anyways, thanks again everyone. If you have any advice for me on how to be a good leader, how to honor our communities, and what kind of ice cream I should buy, I’d love to hear it! Leave your comments below or on the Asian Slant facebook page.

Disconnect from your phone! A New Year’s Resolution Every Asian Should Take to Heart

Happy New Year everyone!I hope you all had a restful holiday.

I for one am ready to get going in 2015 and have my resolution picked out. I know some people–especially at my age–think resolutions are lame and antiquated, but I beg to differ. Resolutions are a great way to get energized and motivate oneself for healthy life changes.

My resolution this year, as it has been every single year since college, is to be more awesome. And so far, I have never failed—except in 2005, the year of eternal darkness. 2005 was the year of the monkey, who is a great enemy to pigs, my animal spirit (I was born in 1984). Anyways, I don’t talk about 2005 anymore; I turned 21 that year…

In order to achieve greater awesomeness, I have specifically resolved to disconnect my work email from my smartphone. I know what you’re thinking, “OMG. O.M.F.G. How can a man who works at a non-profit afford a smartphone?” Relax y’alls. It’s a Windows Phone.

Now-a-days, everyone talks about how kids are always on their phones. What adults don’t realize is that we’re exactly the same way! But instead of using our phones to Snapchat, Tweet or play Candy Crush, we use them to work. As if I don’t get enough of work at work.

There’s been a lot of talk in America about a dangerous trend toward overworking, especially in regards to white-collar workers and exempt staff who don’t punch cards to track their hours. Many conversations I’ve had with my Asian peers anecdotally confirm this trend. “I just got scheduled to another meeting this evening.” “My boss keeps emailing me at 2 am.” “My inbox has over a thousand emails!”

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I too have felt the constant need to work from my phone. Though it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or why, I believe it is a product of cultural norms and external expectations. Things like having to be the highest achieving student later translated into being the highest achieving worker. Others might say that Asians have a culture of obedience, which frankly, I don’t really buy. We Asians can be very vocal and opinionated when we want to be. Besides, everyone is working more! Not just Asians.

Motherjones.com provided an excellent summary on this topic. Here’s some pretty alarming data.

  • 60% of smartphone-using professionals kept in touch with work for a full 13.5 hours per day, and then spent another 5 hours juggling work email each weekend. That’s 72 hours a week of job-related contact.
  • 68% checked work email before 8 a.m., 50% checked it while in bed, and 38% “routinely” did so at the dinner table.
  • People who make more than $75,000 per year are more likely to fret that their phone makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about work.

Unfortunately, the result isn’t increased productivity—just the illusion of it. The reality is we’re inundated with more distractions and stress than ever. In my own work, I’m finding it harder to focus on tasks and projects when a new email is interrupting my workflow every minute. Most of them aren’t even important. Most of them are useless bulk cc’s from other people and annoying mailing lists.

I’m learning that a smartphone, while amazing, is also draining my energy. A smartphone has increased my volume of work, but not necessarily the quality. It has allowed me to extend my work day up to 24 hours, and even send  emoticons too, like 🙂 and :p. So not only did others see me working more, but they also thought I was happier doing it. That’s a recipe for burnout. Technology has made our work increasingly flexible and mobile; yet this same technology has also increased our overall workload. Because we’re now able to literally carry work in our pockets 24/7, we have also felt compelled to work 24/7.

I admit, I didn’t mind the constant connection at first. I love what I do and am grateful to have the opportunity. In fact, a good day work actually gives me energy. But overtime, I have come to realize that it’s not the only thing I love doing. Spending time with my friends and family, playing sports, camping…all of these activities give me energy too, as well as wonderful memories.

I fully admit that work, for some people, has evolved beyond the traditional 9-5. Some people are most productive at night, others in the mornings. And that’s great. I personally prefer the 10-6 schedule. But again, this doesn’t mean we have to work every single waking hour or minute just because the phone is in our pockets. There are more important things we can put in our pockets…like quarters, chewing gums, hands and puppies.

While I may have made a conscious decision to disconnect in my own life, all around me I have colleagues, peers and partners who haven’t. So there’s still that external expectation and pressure to immediately reply emails. This needs to move beyond an individual decision. As employers, we also need to recalibrate our standards and expectations in order to create a new norm for all of our staff.

The bottom line is: you should disconnect anytime you’re not at work.

***

It’s been two weeks since I have disconnected my work email from the phone and it’s felt like walking on sunshine. I’ve danced with bartenders in pubs, enjoyed fireside chats by the ocean, and received a $50 Olive Garden gift card from my mom. Who knew disconnecting from work could bring so much happiness? To be fair, it was the just holidays and many folks were out, so only time will tell. But I’m feeling pretty confident that my work and personal life won’t fall into ruins because of being disconnected.

OR…

Maybe I’m wrong and shit will hit the fan tomorrow. If this happens, then I will quickly reconnect my work email to my phone, sincerely apologize to all I have hurt by my actions, and promise to make better life decisions moving forward.

How about everyone else out there? How do you achieve separation from work?

With New Years, have too many people already hit their happiness peak?

Hello friends! Wow. We’re wrapping up another year. 2014 turned out to be pretty good for me, and I hope for you too. I published 49 blog posts (this is lucky #50!), hosted a launch party (thanks to everyone who came), and updated the name to “The Asian Slant“. I am totally looking forward to 2015 and all of the wonderful things that come with it—like another soon-to-be Seahawk’s Superbowl championship (Read What do minorities, youth and women all have in common with the Seahawks?)…and next Christmas!

Lately though, I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness. Perhaps it’s a mix of the New Year and the fact that, at 30, I’m getting settled into my professional career and am actively thinking about “the future.” Most people associate happiness with money. They chase after new tech toys, fancy cars and higher salaries; all the while taking on more debt. It’s like happiness is an Asian hot pot and everyone is rushing to get all of their fixings before the broth runs out.

Don’t get me wrong; I like all of these things too. Some nights, I wake up from a dead sleep pining for a car with bluetooth and a 3% cost of living adjustment. But honestly, I would rather buy a can of happiness from the discount shelf at Safeway than the organic, gluten-free and locally-sourced happiness from Whole Foods. I simply can’t afford luxury happiness.

Happiness has become big business. Around this same time each year I start seeing a lot of ads and articles on how to achieve happiness . Earn more money! Find a new job! Improve your health and fitness! Follow your passion! Smile more—especially Asians, who have mastered the art of smiling-on-the-inside and the happy-frown. But I’m not falling for all this marketing voodoo. I feel like that I have already achieved a reasonable, minimum level of happiness in my short life so far.

Instead, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to maintain my happiness, in perpetuity. I want to make it last as long as possible. World Life Expectancy estimates that the average Asian American male in Washington State will live 84.52 years (compared to 79.65 for all Washingtonians). That means I potentially have 53.52 years of happiness left to worry about. Ugh! My attention span can barely last through The Hobbit movie; how am I possibly expected to continue maintaining optimal happiness for another 53 years? It’s soo daunting and exhausting. The pressure feels like having to get straight As all the damn time.

Here’s how I see things. I reason that happiness has to hit a peak at some point. Or as I like to call it, “The Happiness Peak.” After that peak is reached, happiness begins its gradual descent back down to Earth. It’s like tossing an apple into the air and watching it fall. Most Americans try to reach that peak as soon as they can; chasing after the new car, buying a bigger house, upgrading to the newest smartphone. While these may seem important, even necessary, a lot of research has found that this type of happiness is short-lived. These desires can never be truly satisfied; there will always be a bigger house and a newer phone.

I advocate for delaying the happiness peak as long as possible. Draw it out! Ideally, I wouldn’t hit my happiness peak until 55 or 60. Then I’ll retire and hopefully catch a second wind. A new iPhone isn’t going to bring me happiness over the next 53.52. It probably won’t even sustain my happiness through next year. I believe it’s better to make memories and experiences with friends and family instead. That’s the kind of happiness that grows with you.

I’ve been on the losing end of peaking too early—like my height. I hit 5’6” back in 8th grade and have been stagnant ever since. If only I could have drawn that out for a few more years. On the other hand, I’ve successfully managed to stretch out my youthfulness an extra decade. At 30, I have the face and complexion of an 18 year old. And when I wear my thick-rimmed hipster glasses, I look a solid 20. But alas, age is slowing catch up. My hair is starting to grey and I wake up with constant back pain. Height and youthfulness—it’s the Asian double-edged sword.

The truth is there are few things that can substantially increase my happiness at this point (Mockingjay Part 2 is one of them). Look, we need to quit trying to cram a lifetime of happiness into a short 30, 40 or even 50 year window. It’s absolutely crazy. It’s like the Asian kid who thinks they need to get a phd straight out of undergrad. Relax a bit.

There’s obviously a lot of content to unpack here. I hope to continue exploring happiness in greater depth throughout 2015. How does happiness differ for Asian Americans? How can we achieve it? Why are some people happier than others? What is the impact of money?

But for now, I’m going to go spend New Years Eve with my family and friends. I’d like to wish everyone a wonderful and prosperous new year! Thanks for your continued support and readership.

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What does happiness mean to you? I’d love to hear everyone’s own experience. Leave a comment below or Facebook me!

5 Causes Asians should donate to right now

Every year there is a large uptick in charitable giving around the holidays, for many reasons.

  • Donors need to make their gifts by December 31 in order to qualify for tax deductions. It literally pays to give. So why not?
  • Retailers aren’t the only folks who need to end up in the black. Many non-profits increase their solicitations between Thanksgiving and New Years in order to close out their year positively. Maybe recently you received a direct appeal in the mail?
  • The holidays are support to be a time of goodwill and charity; perfect for supporting those less fortunate than ourselves.

This year, I decided to make gifts to the UW Pipeline Project, Jackstraw Cultural Center, and $1 to the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition. I was actually just testing their donation page to see if it worked–it did.

But with all of the worthy causes out there who need our support, which ones should you give to? A New York Times article wrote that Asian Americans tend to donate to their communities and native homeland. They are also “giving to prestigious universities, museums, concert halls and hospitals.”

Of course, not every dollar needs to go to a “prestigious” institution. There are many wonderful grassroots community organizations that need our support too. Here are five areas Asian Americans should invest their charitable dollars. Hopefully one of them resonates with your vision and values!

Youth Development

Recently arrived refugee and immigrant students experience tremendous barriers to success and self-sufficiency, including language and cultural adjustment. They are often unfamiliar with English and the American education system, which makes it difficult for them to succeed in school. As a result of these barriers, about 26% of Limited English students in the Class of 2012 dropped out of school in Washington, compared to 14% statewide. The graduation rate for this group is 60%, compared to 79% statewide.

How you can help! Donate to academic and enrichment youth programs. Look for organizations that provide culturally competent services, such as language support or honors youths’ native cultures.

James’ recommendation: My organization of course! The Vietnamese Friendship Association! Students who participate in our programs achieve one grade-level higher than their peers on math and English. Woohoo!

Civic engagement

Asian-Americans are one of the fastest growing communities in the United States according to the US Census. This rapid growth means that our impact and influence on US politics will greatly increase over time. Asian Americans have the potential to reshape the political landscape over the coming decades by continuing to exercise our voting rights, and all signs point in this direction.

How you can help! Donate to organize that promote civic engagement in the Asian American community. Although it’s a broad category, civic engagement can take many forms: voter education, get out the vote campaigns, political candidates, leadership development…just to name a few. Find one that works for you!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Pacific American Coalition for Equality (APACE) works for social and economic justice by transforming our democracy through the political empowerment of the broad API community.

Senior Services

From 2000 to 2010, there has been a 44% increase in Seattle’s Vietnamese senior population. According to the 2010 census, Vietnamese seniors currently make up nearly a quarter of the local Vietnamese population. Depression and social isolation are commonly reported among Vietnamese seniors. Perhaps most worryingly, more and more seniors are living on their own, independent from the care of their children. This is a big fat Asian faux pas (almost as bad as failing math). One time, I interpreted Vietnamese (poorly, I admit) for an elderly man and his dentist because his children weren’t there to help him.

How you can help! Donate to organizations that provide social, mental and emotional support to our seniors. Hot meal programs are very popular among Asian elders, especially if the meals include rice. Seniors also have difficulty accessing transportation, so consider supporting any programs that address this need.

James’ recommendation: Kin On! Their mission is to support the elderly and adults in the greater Seattle Asian community. They offer a comprehensive range of health, social and educational services sensitive to their cultural, linguistic and dietary needs. Plus, they host Mahjong Nights. It’s like the Asian version of senior bingo.

Health

It is widely accepted that the United States spends more on health care than most other countries in the world. Yet we’re no better off for it. Health disparities are even greater for many Asian American communities. “But wait, I thought most Asians were doctors. What gives?” False! Language and cultural barriers prevent many Asian Americans from getting the care they need.

How you can help! Donate to community health centers. These awesome organizations offer affordable health care services to many vulnerable communities. They are usually located in medically underserved areas; places where traditional hospitals might not reach. Health centers also provide a great alternative for Asian children, who fear being coined by their parents.

James’ recommendation: International Community Health Services provides affordable health care services to Seattle and King County’s Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities, as well as other underserved communities. They serve over 20,000 individuals a year!

Human and Social Services

The Asian American community has enormous, even unlimited, potential for success. Despite the “model minority myth” (flattering yet misguided, like the Kardashians) many Asians continue to face systematic barriers—economic, political, cultural, social, etc—that prevent them from achieving their dreams. For example, Asian Americans still endure ugly biases and prejudices from people who think we’re all foreigners.

How you can help! Donate to human and social services! Do not get suckered into all the talk around “efficiency” or “sustainability” or “collective impact.” While these are important, they alone don’t tell the full story when it comes to charitable giving. Basic needs are equally vital. Until people have their basic needs met, they will never be able to realize their full potential. Find an organization that provides these life-saving and life-changing services. Do it now!

James’ recommendation: The Asian Counseling and Referral Service is an organization I have tremendous respect for. They have a food bank, ethnic meal programs, citizenship classes, job training, violence prevention, and much more.

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Where else should Asian Americans donate their money and time? Any suggestions? I’d love to hear where other’s are giving to this year. Leave a comment below or on Facebook. Thanks!

New Asian talk show promises to be sleazy and raunchy

The other day I was out at lunch with a couple of my co-workers. As we ate and talked, we noticed the television playing in the background. It was showing a live broadcast of The Steve Wilkos Show. For those of you who have never seen this, Steve Wilkos was the former director of security on The Jerry Springer Show. Apparently, Steve was so good at his job that they decided to give him his own tabloid talk show.

When I was in middle school, tabloid talk shows were all the rage. The show follows a simple format. A typical show begins with the host introducing a “topic of the day” and then interviewing a guest who is experiencing the particular situation. After the interview, the host introduces a second guest whom the first guest would like to confront. A fight usually breaks out—pulled hair, thrown chair, etc—and then big Steve Wilkos comes on to break it up. And sometimes, for funsies, a third or fourth guest may even come on to the show—followed by more fighting and name-calling.

Most of the episodes for these shows are staged in a way to bring out the worst in people; they are never flattering topics.

  • “Doomed Grooms”
  • “Quadruple Dog Dare Disasters”
  • “She took my man…and my car!”
  • “You ripped my hair out!”
  • “It’s the Rooster or Me!”

My co-workers and I sat there commenting on how childish, stupid and silly these types of shows are. “Why would anyone want to degrade themselves on live tv?” I asked. “Some people just crave the attention,” replied a co-worker. Then we slurped some more pho broth and kept watching. “OMG! We should start a tabloid talk show around Asian American topics!” I finally said.

I’ve previously complained about Asians lack of representation in the media. We may as well break ground on the tabloid talk show genre too. Why not? There are literally hundreds of topics we can talk about.

We’ll call it The James Hong Show; to be hosted by the famous American actor and director, James Hong. What? Did you honestly think I’d volunteer myself to host a sleazy tabloid talk show? Ok fine, I probably would. Here are some of the episodes our show will start out with.

“First born and privileged.”
This episode explores the lifestyle of first born male in an Asian family. Viewers won’t believe the lavish privileges these boys enjoy—higher pay, peeing while standing up, first dibs on colleges, and chore free living. If you think this is crazy, you wouldn’t believe what their older sisters have to say…

“English is my second language, but America is my first love.”
After spending so many years learning English and trying to fit in, Minh is rejected by her one true love, America, who is having a love affair with Canadian pop star Justin Beiber. Our guest will share her stories of love and heartache…and also have a chance to punch Justin Beiber (our surprise guest!) in the face.

“Call me submissive and I’ll cut you.”
OkCupid. Tinder. Match.com. Welcome to the world of online dating, where Asian women are the most viewed, most liked, and most sought after thing on the Internet—second only adorable cat videos. You don’t want to miss what happens when these women confront the men who have been messaging them.

“I lived under the rock of oppression and survived to tell about.”
Everyone lumps Asians together within a broad “model minority” stereotype. Is helpful or harmful? We interview a group of Southeast Asians, a relatively recent arrival refugee group, how this stereotype has impacted for their lives. Their stories will shock you. Spoiler alert: There’s hair pulling.

“Crap! My parents tricked me into getting a phd.”
Think your parents are tough? Listen to the traumatic lives of three siblings whose parents coerced them into getting phds. One child went to a public university, another majored in art, and the third joined the Peace Corps. Several years later, these kids have a message for mom and dad. Special guest Steve Wilkos will also join us!

“I’m just not attracted to Asian men.”
Warning, this episode may contain offensive language not suitable for children. Nerd. Kung Fu Master. Introverted. Shy. Video Gamer. Casual. Small. Boring. Unromantic. Effeminate. Weak sauce. These are some a few of the words used to describe Asian men. Hear their side of the story, and what they wish they could say to their would-be bullies.

“I can’t breathe. Because you’re choking me you idiot!”
How do institutional biases impact the way our law enforcement and legal system treats Asian Americans? Does the model minority myth buffer them from such abuses? Our guest on this episode, Johnny Nguyen, recalls his recent brush with the law. We’re giving Johnny a chance to confront his aggressors. And then special musical guest Taylor Swift will perform her new hit “Shake It Off”!

“Where are you really from?”
We put a hidden camera on five Asian-Americans and followed them around for a week. You won’t believe the reactions they get from random strangers. What these five Asians don’t know is…we’ve invited the strangers on camera to come onto the show. We promise this is an episode you don’t want to miss.

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Would you like to be a guest on The James Hong Show? Got problems with your grades? Are you biracial and proud? Are you an adopted Asian child who wants to be reunited with your birth parents? Do you secretly like chicken feet but haven’t told your partner? Email, call, or text us and we’ll schedule you onto one of our upcoming episodes.