Tag Archives: asian

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.

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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.

***

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.

Why do people think Asians are arrogant and White men make great leaders?

Hi everyone. Happy Wednesday!!! And Happy Thanksgiving.

I wanted to explore the topic of arrogance today–or confidence depending on who you ask. I’ve thought about this issue for quite a while, but never really knew how to best articulate it. A recent experience finally compelled me to write about this.

I was having lunch with a friend this week, who happens to be White. At one point in our conversation, my friend provided me feedback about my leadership and communication style. “You can be overly confident sometimes, which can come off as patronizing. You should tone it down a bit.” My initial reaction was “Awww, you notice me,” followed by “NUH-UH, YOU TONE IT DOWN!”

Let’s take a step back, because the purpose of this post isn’t to analyze whether I am confident, arrogant or a combination of both. I admit that I have been all of those things at various points in my life. Instead, I’m curious about the racial dynamics involved in these perceptions.

Here’s a football example: Seahawks vs 49ths in the 2014 Western conference playoff. It was the final play of the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. The winner would go on to play the Denver Broncos in the Superbowl. In the final play of the game, Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers quarterback, threw a last ditch pass to Michael Crabtree in the end zone. If he caught it, the 49ers would have scored a touchdown and likely won. However, the pass was tipped by Richard Sherman and intercepted by the Seahawks. Many of you may remember Richard Sherman’s postgame interview with Erin Andrews. “I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re going to get.”

Reactions were divided. Some people, most notably Seahawks fans, loved Sherman’s interview. Others derided him for being unprofessional and voiced their opinion in extremely racist ways. The criticisms of Sherman were way over the top. Here’s a snippet of some of the comments I found online.

I’ve noticed a terrible pattern of Black and other minorities being portrayed negatively when they are overly confident, while White players get much more favorable treatment.

Let’s look at Tom Brady. Not many people thought Tom Brady was going to be a great quarterback (we all know how that turned out). But Brady was once quoted saying “I’ve been playing this game my whole life…I’ve started a couple games now, and it’s the same game, man. It’s no different. I kid you not, it’s not that hard. I’m going to be a great one. I’m going to be one of the best at this game.”

Is that any different than what Richard Sherman said? I personally don’t think so; yet the reaction is so different. Sure, Tom Brady has also been called arrogant by some, but rarely have people brought up his race, or ethnicity, or gender, or sexuality.

This double standard exists for many people of color, including Asians. If you seem too confident, too assertive, or too passionate, you get called arrogant, or something worse. Similar to how athletes are single-mindedly focused on perfection, minorities also share the same drive to be the best we can be. Yet we’re told to tone it down; that we should be more humble.

This is incredibly frustrating for me as an Asian American. It feels like I have to celebrate my personal success quietly, and not be too vocal or expressive for fear of being called arrogant. This continuous self-monitoring is very exhausting. Sometimes, when I do something awesome (far and few, to be sure) I just want to “Richard Sherman” it and let the world know without being put down because of my race. It feels like Asians have to moderate our feelings and excitement, whereas most White men can boast about their successes freely and frequently. In fact, arrogance has been viewed as a positive, even advantageous trait, for some White men.

I’ve heard of similar frustrations among women too. There are many intelligent, strong women leaders who are called arrogant or abrasive when they exhibit the same confidence and leadership qualities as men: confidence, assertiveness, directness, and competitiveness. Hilary Clinton, Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer all come to mind.

The duality between being a minority as opposed to a White man is palpable. How come when White men exhibit these same qualities, they are perceived to be trustworthy, reliable, and great leaders? Am I judged by these same standards? Are people turned off because I don’t fit the stereotype of being a quiet, passive Asian? Does it cause resentment when I am vocal and assertive? Or when I challenge authority? Is Whiteness more positively associated with good leadership and confidence? As an Asian-American, does my overt confidence negatively impact how other people perceive me?

The answers to all of these questions are complex and multifaceted, to say the least. I don’t raise these issues and questions as a way to absolve myself of actually being arrogant. Arrogance is still a real thing; and I am totally guilty of it at different points in my life. Nor is my intention to single out or assign blame to old White men. I’m not pointing the finger at each and every single White men and saying “This is your fault. Look what you did to me!” Rather, it is important to recognize and acknowledge these biases and stereotypes exist and that some people benefit from them and others don’t.

There are so many strong, confident and vocal leaders in the Asian American community. We’re tired of being boxed into other people’s stereotypes. We’re not satisfied with the perceptions that Asians are weak and passive, but excellent at math! We don’t to be crappy leaders, but really great doctors. Our goal should be creating a more diverse and inclusive environment where everyone can put their best foot forward, showcase their amazing talents, and highlight their unique skills–without fear of being put down because of their race.

Can you be confident without being arrogant? Absolutely! But is it fair for minorities to be held to a double standard? Heck no. We need to challenge these implicit biases when we see them.

So when it comes to my work, my passion, my leadership and my career, I’ll put it out there. Just like Tom Brady and Richard Sherman: I’m going to be one of the best at this game. And when appropriate, I’m going to celebrate it–loudly!

***

How about other folks out there? Ever feel like you can’t be overtly confidence? Ever been told to tone it down? Leave a comment below, I’d like to hear about other experiences. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. And go Seahawks!

Can Asian leaders think and feel?

I am a problem solver by nature. It’s how my brain is wired. This trait was exemplified today when a colleague shared with me some of the challenges and frustrations she was having with work. Being the type of person that I am, my first inclination was to dissect the problem into small pieces, analyze it, and think of specific solutions. I’ll even draw illustrations with flow charts and graphs if it helps—the Ikea approach. If one solution doesn’t work, I’ll think of another, and then another, and so on and so forth, until we figured it out.

As we got further into the conversation, it became apparent that my colleague wasn’t looking for action steps or solutions; she needed time to process how she was feeling. The type of support she needed most, at that moment, was someone to listen to and acknowledge her frustrations. Basically, she needed empathy. It was a big moment for us and a reminder to me that “problem-solving” isn’t always the best solution.

Being a good leader is tricky business. You have to quickly and accurately respond to changing environments, situations, and people. The challenge can also be compounded by the stereotypes other’s place on you. For example, many people view Asians as too passive to be effective leaders. Sometimes, even Asians internalize these perceptions too. But ask any Asian child and we’ll tell you the same thing: “Don’t mess with a tiger mom.” Are Asians passive? Far from it. Do our cultural values shape the type of leaders we are? Absolutely.

Each style has their pros and cons; there’s no “one size fits” all approach. The hallmark of an effective leader is to be able to identify these various styles and adapt your behavior appropriately. Although there are many ways to define and characterize leadership, the two most common styles that I have come across are task-oriented and people-oriented.

Task-Oriented Leaders

If my example above wasn’t obvious enough, I fall in the “task-oriented” camp. If you ever came to me with a problem, my first reaction would be to help you solve your problem. It’s what I do and I’m good at it. I’m an analyzer. My world consists of order and logic.

Let’s say your parents didn’t know how to use the dishwasher (for Asians, that’s nearly all of us), I would feel compelled, even obligated, to tell your parents how magical dishwashers are and explain in detail how to properly use one. “Start by placing the dirty dishes on the rack. Add some slime in this cup here, close the door and say ‘abracadabra.’ Wait patiently for 30 minutes. Open the door and presto! Clean dishes.” Then I’d fist bump your mom. Mind blown.

Pros: Task-oriented people tend to rate high on technical skills. We take great pride in getting things done proficiently and efficiently. We spend many hours improving our skills and processes. Got a deadline? Piece of cake. A task-oriented person will have it done on time. We try to do more, and do it better and faster. Need help with data? We got you. Want relationship advice? You’re screwed.

Cons: Task-oriented leaders are so focused on getting the job done that they may forget how people feel, which is important because everyone has feelings (even Asian parents). They sometimes miss out on the big picture, which threatens creativity and team dynamics. It can result in poor interpersonal relationships or motivation problems. Many of the traditional career choices for Asian Americans tend to fall on this side of the spectrum: doctors, lawyers, engineers.

People-Oriented People

On the other hand, people-oriented leaders excel with interpersonal relationships. My co-worker is a good example this. She prioritizes relationships and is focused on making sure everyone on the team feels supported and heard.

If you ever approach a people-oriented person with a problem, they will likely ask you how you feel and then swaddle you until you fell asleep. They view the world as if it were a gigantic human chain, where everyone is connected and you’re only as strong as your weakest link.

Pros: People-oriented leaders have the natural gift of empathy. This leadership style focuses on developing trust and rapport among coworkers, and encourages teamwork and collaboration. Their strong affinity for people makes them great office energizers. They naturally motivate others with their positive energy, effective use of trust falls, and occasional group pillow fights. People-oriented leaders believe that a positive, healthy work environment brings out the best in people, which ultimately leads to better results.

Cons: But people-oriented leaders may feel overwhelmed by the amount of work and responsibilities on their plate. They have trouble navigating chaos and may need more direction. As a result, sometimes important details are overlooked or forgotten, which may put a project in jeopardy or lead to ineffective decisions. Social workers, counselors and artists—basically, every profession Asian parents tell their children to avoid—generally fall on this side of the spectrum.

Achieving Harmony

In general, there’s a tendency to focus more on completing tasks and getting stuff done. You see this a lot in our American culture; everyone regularly works 50-60 hours a week without taking a vacation (not healthy at all). This trend also extends to Asian-Americans, which is somewhat ironic considering how everyone pencils us as a “collectivist” culture.

Being task-oriented could lead to short-term success, but in the long-time you’ll likely fail. People will burn out, lose motivation, and eventually move on.

It’s important to understand that leadership and behavioral styles vary from person to person and situation to situation. One style isn’t inherently better than the other. Nor does it mean that you need to spend 50% of your time on each.

Task and People-Oriented Yin Yang

The key to effective leadership is finding a healthy balance between the technical skills needed to get the job done, and the people skills required to make relationships last. When we achieve balance, people will put in more time and energy into completing tasks. And we’ll all have a little fun in the process.

Next week, I’ll discuss how Asians can identify if they are task- or people-oriented, and how you can effectively work with these styles.

Introducing The Asian Slant

Hi everyone! So I’ve been thinking about this long and hard about this–it was seriously the hardest, most agonizing, 6 minutes of my life…ever–and decided to reboot the blog with a brand-spanking new name! I’m pleased to announce “The Asian Slant”.

When I first started the “Playing Asian” blog, my intention was to explore what it means to play, learn, and be Asian-American based on my personal experiences and observations. Growing up in a suburban neighborhood, I didn’t have much exposure to other Asian Americans, and often times avoided many of them in school. The title described the silly, and often times frustrating, tension of a bicultural identity…like eating hot pot on Christmas. I’m really proud of some of my early posts, ranging from topics like Asian social etiquette, the sometimes craziness of living and loving Asian parents, and even why karaoke is awesome.

But by and large, the writings that I have enjoyed the most are the ones that critically, and playfully, explored social justice issues within and around the Asian American community. I’ve had the opportunity to write about personally meaningful topics like youth development, effective leadership, cross-cultural competency, and hipster bashing (though I’ve calmed down a bit in recent months).

The blog has been a catalyst for some really engaging and thoughtful conversations about the Asian American identity and experience. It’s also provided me with some great source material. I would have never organized a kick ass Asian singles event (and written about it) without some pushing and prodding from friends.

As my writing has grown, I realized the name “Playing Asian” no longer reflects the content of this blog. I’m not some fake Asian person speaking on topics that I know nothing about…like Bill O’Reilly on women’s issues or Bill Maher on Islam. Nope. These experiences have been personal, intimate and authentic. I believe many other Asian Americans share these experiences too, yet there are so few outlets that accurately portray the Asian American community.

This brings me back to the new title. “The Asian Slant” intentionally means many things. “Slant” can mean a particular point of view from which something is seen or presented. The topics, themes and content of this blog do indeed articulate my point of view as an Asian American. The content isn’t specific or limited to just Asian Americans though. I think many people, regardless of their background, have had success and challenges with school, work and life balance, bullying, dating, etc. “The Asian Slant” simply describes these experiences from the perspective of one Asian American.

But “slant” also touches upon the racial undertones of what it feels like to be an Asian person living in the United States. I’m sure at some point or another, every Asian person has directly experienced prejudices and oppressive systems which continue to marginalize our community. Our words, experiences, and voices have been twisted, misunderstood or simply ignored—from racist comments of having slanted eyes, to being called a twinkie or banana just because we don’t conform to certain expectations and stereotypes. Some people don’t even think we’re American! For crying out loud mom, I was born in California. You were there. What more proof do you want?

Even with the new title, this blog will continue to explore all of these themes and perspectives. There’s so much richness and amazing experiences the Asian American community has to offer, and many more opportunities for us to continue growing and learning. I sincerely hope it’s well received, and that it continues to spark fun, engaging and meaningful dialogue–please share.

Are you still confused about what an “The Asian Slant” is? Don’t worry, the helpful picture guide below will explain other common types of slants–none of which have anything to do with Asians. And if you’d like to learn more, subscribe to this blog to get regular updates. Oh, btw, the new address is http://www.theasianslant.com, or find me on Facebook!

Not an Asian Slant

This is a wonderful kitchen tool, but few Asians ever have need for a cheese grater.
football slant
The slant route is dangerous with proper execution. But unfortunately, you don’t see many Asians in the NFL.
slant acronym
S.L.A.N.T – This helpful mnemonic device is actually what helps many Asian students succeed in school.
EXinstein_BodySlant_Bent_Kn
Nope. This isn’t an Asian Slant, but does look very comfortable and relaxing.
How is he even doing this? It’s like magic.
Hell no!
No Asian Slant here. Just a bunch of White folks with poor eye sight

Moving in with your partner? Don’t forget to tell your parents.

Jennifer, a dear friend of mine, recently told me that she was considering moving in with her partner. I interpreted that to mean they were willing to wake up to each other’s morning breath and put up with dirty laundry…day, after day, after day. I can barely look at my own face in the morning (for much of the day in fact) so I’m not quite sure why anyone would willingly do it with another person.

Nevertheless, cohabitation has become increasingly common for the average American couple. “In 2011, the Census Bureau reported 7.6 million opposite-sex cohabiting couples in the country with a separate report listing the number of cohabiting same-sex couples at 514,735 as of the 2010 Census” (as reported by Wikipedia). No big deal, right? Right?

Wrong! A big fat WRONG!!! It is a big deal because most life decisions for Asian-Americans need to be run through our parents first. Jennifer is Vietnamese. Her plan was to introduce her parents to Steven, her boyfriend, over dinner. She was nervous about telling them what was on her mind. Why? Before I answer my own question, let’s take a step back.

***

When I lived in Cambodia you couldn’t even hang out with someone of the opposite sex without a third party to chaperone. It’s like the Holy Spirit was busy that day and someone else needed to sub in. “Sopha, eat rice already?” That’s how it would translate from Khmer. “Do you want to have lunch together?”

“Ok. Let me see if my extended family is free to join us.”

“What a delightful idea Sopha! Your family can observe our strictly plutonic and professional lunch to make sure there are no improprieties.”

Can you imagine what moving in with someone must take? There are a lot of social norms that guide dating, romance and marriage in many Asian cultures.

  • No kissing;
  • Don’t hang out alone where no one else can see you;
  • First dates are also the last date, then you marry;
  • Wedding first, house second, kids third;
  • Absolutely no living with the opposite sex before marriage.

There’s no simple explanation for why these cultural norms exist; it dates back many centuries and is very complicated. At the most basic level, Asian cultures see the realms of men and women as uniquely separate. Sometimes this comes out in really charming ways, like when my dad is expected to buy the car so that my mom can drive it (works out great for her). Other times, and quite commonly, things don’t go so well and women are oppressed and abused. They’re expected to run the house and raise the children while men can go off and get drunk. It’s basically Sunday Night Football every single day.

I admit these are extreme examples, but they illustrate why it’s hard for young Asian-Americans (man or woman) to cohabitate. Cultural norms are deeply ingrained into our thoughts and behaviors. Sometimes, we don’t even recognize it, and it may be difficult for other people to understand.

***

“My parents prefer that I marry a Vietnamese guy,” Jennifer said. Steven is White. For younger Asian-Americans, not a big deal at all. But I think Jennifer’s parents, along with many refugee and immigrant families, are concerned about the perceived language and cultural barriers.

“So how did it go when you told them you were thinking about moving in together?” I asked.

“Not good at all.” Apparently, Steven offered to cook dinner for everyone but her parents insisted on bringing something instead. It was a trap; her parents secretly wanted Steven to cook anyways because it’s a sign of being a good host. That never happened though. It was totally awkward and uncomfortable. Perhaps out of frustration, or maybe even disappointment, Jennifer’s mom finally suggested they just order pizza. For anyone not familiar with Asian culture, try to imagine the inverse scenario—going to a Chinese restaurant in New York City on Christmas. Alone. Get it now? It’s that bad.

I felt terrible for Jennifer and Steven and pondered what I would have done in their situation. If anyone is thinking about telling their parents they are moving in with their partner, here’s some advice that may help.

1. Don’t ever tell your parents you’re going to cohabitate! Just kidding. I’m a firm believer in having an open, honest and direct conversation with your parents about this important life decision, but you may have to massage it a bit. Reframe the news so it appears to benefit your parents too. “Mom, living together may actually improve my GPA and future earning potential. By sharing the cost of rent, I can save money now and invest that into a PhD program. I’ll become a doctor, and then both of our dreams will come true!”

2. Tell your partner to bring fruit. I’m dead serious. If your partner wants to show respect, they need to bring the gift of fruit. Mandarin oranges (cuties), mangos and pineapples are extremely popular choices. A cutie tells the parent, “I was at the grocery store and thought of you,” while a pineapple says “I could be your future son-in-law.” Choose wisely, but don’t go overboard. A single piece of fruit will go a long way. Trust me.

3. Take it one step at a time. I’ve learned many Asian parents need to take news in small doses. For example, before I began my career in non-profit, I joined the Peace Corps so that my mom would get used to the idea that I’d never make a doctor’s salary. The same applies to living with your partner. Talk about how expensive rent is, how you feel lonely at night, how the noises outside your window are terrifying, how cooking for one person is so hard, etc. Then break the news that you’re moving in with your partner. Of course, the potential risk here is they want you to move back home with them. Don’t do it!

4. Whatever your parents say, do the opposite. In Jennifer and Steven’s case, when her parents said they didn’t want Steven to cook dinner, it actually meant they did. Asian parents are tricky like that; you have to read between the lines. “Sweetie, I don’t care if you have children or not.” Translation: They expect 10 grandkids. “Being a social worker is a wonderful profession.” Translation: You are a failure and we need to boost your self-esteem before we crush it. “You and Steven should definitely move in together.” Translation: You two will live in our house and Steven will have the downstairs guest bedroom, far away from you.

5. Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Finally, sometimes it takes a little finesse; give and take. Think about what you’re willing to give up in order to get what you want. “Look mom and dad, if you let me and Steven move in together right now, one of you can live with us after you retire.”

“Hmmm, you drive a hard bargain, but I dunno honey.”

“Fine, both of you!”

“Deal!”

***

When I later asked Steven about his experience, he said “I feel like I was set up for failure.” It was rough, but I really admired what he said next. “I’m trying to put myself in her mom’s shoes. They just want the best for their daughter, ya know?”

How to be a Good Lil Asian: Rules and Norms that guide Social Etiquette

Hello everyone. This has been a crazy week at work; every night has gone until at least 7:30 pm—from board meetings to community meetings. One of the challenges of social justice and equity work is that it can be very exhausting at times. You can only talk about civic engagement, race and equity, housing policy, community development, etc. for so long before your brain shuts down and your body curls up hoping that someone, anyone, will swaddle you. Though it’s been exhausting, I constantly have to remind myself to have fun and take this work one step at a time.

But life isn’t all work; we need some play time too. It’s Friday, which means everyone should be going out and having fun! Like…bubble tea, or taking pictures of your food, or attending Asian Happy Hour. To help out, I’ve compiled a list of posts about Asian Americans and social etiquette–just to make sure no one does anything unbecoming of an Asian American.

Rules to Determine Who Pays on Dates, Lunches, Dinner and more
Read this if you’re ever out with friends or on a date. There are rules that govern our behavior, particularly when it comes to who pays the bill. Ignoring these rules has consequences. It may attract a swarm of unemployed hipsters to your community, like locusts who feed upon counterculture and irony.

How to decide where and what to eat
Ever been in a situation where you need to decide where to eat or what to order, but everyone was being super non-committal? It’s probably a result of being either a Seattlelite or Asian. Whatever the reason, here are some tips to determine what to do in these types of situations.

Everything you ever wanted to know about the Asian Flush
If you’re Asian, you probably know what it feels like to get red in the face. Not because you farted, but because you probably just had a shot of cough syrup. Hello Asian flush. This post will tell you how to manage a flush with dignity.

Winning pickup line for Asians, Activists and Nonprofit workers
Disable your OkCupid account. Put away your Tinder app. These winning pick-up lines will turn your boringness into awesomeness. And if they don’t work, then you have my permission to take Tinder back out.

5 terrible mistakes I made with women and how you can avoid them
Pick-up lines may be fun and all, but don’t get carried away—especially all you guys out there. When it comes to women (all people actually), it’s important to show respect and support. Basically, don’t be a jerk. Here are some mistakes I have personally made and what I learned.

We’re Not on Asian Time!
Have you ever had a co-worker come 10 minutes late to a meeting? Or a friend who texts you that they’re running behind. Or a date who thought you were meeting up next week. There’s a word for that, Asian time—and it sucks. Here are the dos and don’ts of Asian time.

How To Be a Good Host
Asians are famous for being great hosts. We will always feed you, even if you’re full. Some of the most legendary Asian hosts of all time have also been known to massage your feet and give you a warm towel. They might even do your taxes for you over dinner. But don’t be intimated by this, anyone can be a good host—here’s how.