Dec 172010

The rest of the reasons for why we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans are (cf. intro, part 1, part 2, part 3):

  • honesty instead of denial
  • to break stereotypes
  • to renew culture
  • enrich theological insights

Of course, this list, in addition to the ones already mentioned in this series, is not comprehensive. And, this list will not likely convince people who downplay or deny their Asian American heritage for whatever reason. What I do hope this series will do is to help us as Asian Americans articulate why it does matter. Aside: wanted to wrap this series up before Christmas week, and open an invitation for you to add to the list, either via comment here or extend the topic onto your own blog.

Honesty instead of denial. It’s better to acknowledge one’s ethnicity and race. Not too healthy to be in denial, or that ethnic-racial background doesn’t matter in America. Having Asian in your blood is not everything, but it is part of the mix. To say it another way, Asian-American-ness does not mean having to call attention to it all the time, and, being okay to talk about related issues on Asian-American-ness when appropriate or necessary.

To overlook the distinct value of Asian heritage in an aspiration of being a “colorblind” society is dangerous. While on the surface, the colorblind intent may be to call for equal opportunity, but in reality, things are much more complicated in a country with a racialized history. One research finds that “exposure to colorblindness can actually reduce individuals’ sensitivity to meaningful racial differences. And as a result, when discrimination does occur, individuals with a colorblind mindset often fail to see it as such.” Another study noted how color-blind racial ideology is linked to racism, both online and offline. Brendesha Tynes unpacks it this way,

“If you subscribe to a color-blind racial ideology, you don’t think that race or racism exists, or that it should exist. You are more likely to think that people who talk about race and racism are the ones who perpetuate it. You think that racial problems are just isolated incidents and that people need to get over it and move on.”

To break stereotypes. The thing about stereotypes is that they’re true of some people. The problem is when a quirky behavioral trait of some gets imposed on the whole group of people. What do people see when they see you? If you’re Asian looking, there’s probably a more complex & rich back story than if you appear to be Caucasian. History books, media, and pop culture, have all told the stories of Caucasians in America quite well. African Americans have gotten their stories told. Asian American stories, not so much.

Asian Americans have to tell their Asian American stories. And there are all kinds: immigrant family, born & raised in America, adopted by non-Asians, Amerasian, refugees, biracial marriage, to name a few. In a day and age where everyone can have a voice on the internet and via social media, Asian Americans have much more to say & share, with the greatest of ease.

To renew culture. While every culture has aspects that are good and beautiful, every culture has blind spots and a dark side. Those who can understand the differences in cultures have the capacity to draw from the best of cultures and renew culture to make it better. My paraphrase of Andy Crouch’s brilliant insight about culture: “You change culture by creating new culture.” (cf. Being Culture Makers)

Enrich theological insights. We read Scriptures through cultural lenses, and much of our theology has been shaped by the Western civilization. With the center of Christianity today has moved South and East, the publications and institutions continue to perpetuate an unaffected Eurocentric theology. While some aspects of theology is “transcendent” across cultures, there is much of theology that is under-developed and under-contextualized. Case in point, you cannot swap 2 Bible-teaching pastors of different ethnicities into each other’s ethnic churches and expect the same results.

Dr. Timothy Tseng (Institute for the Study of Asian American Christianity) wrote in this article, Colorblind and Purpose: How Differences Can Also Bind ::

There is no doubt in my mind that the “colorblind mandate” has had a devastating impact on Asian American evangelicals. It exacerbates our intergenerational gaps, separates us from the neediest Asian Americans, and leaves us feeling worthless in both the American and global contexts. Unlike the previous generation of Asian Americans who were forced to feel inferior and made invisible, our generation has a choice but has often chosen the path of isolation and self-hatred. This is one of the reasons why Asian American Christians have such a difficult time finding unity of purpose.

In a 1999 paper, Asian Pacific American Christianity in a Post-Ethnic Future (published in the September 2002 issue of the American Baptist Quarterly), Timothy Tseng also noted ::

But in order for the Asian Pacific American church to be a prophetic community of faith, there must be awakened within it a Christian Asian Pacific American consciousness. … Otherwise, we will uncritically imbibe theological perspectives from popular, liberal, conservative, and “new age” sources that will only create greater self-contempt (what Dr. Ken Fong calls “Asian American self-hatred“).

Ken Fong’s remark comes from a piece by Dr. Rudy Busto, Asian American Campus Evangelism: Hazarding an Interpretation of Asian American Evangelical College Students. Fong described Busto’s “explanation for why so many AA students were flocking to campus ministry groups was partly due to their subconscious desire to replace their hated self-identity with white, Western born again identity.”

There you have it, folks. We do need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans even in an post-racial post-ethnic society. If you are Asian-American, I hope you will share your story. If you are not Asian-American, I hope you’ll listen to our stories and we want to hear yours too.

Dec 142010

The third reason we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans is multi-cultural competency. 2 Asian American authors have described this as third-culture adaptability (via Dave GibbonsThe Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church) and cultural intelligence (Soong-Chan Rah‘s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church).

What is cultural competency anyways? This is from the National Center for Cultural Competence: a Definition and Conceptual Framework = the capacity to (1) value diversity, (2) conduct self-assessment, (3) manage the dynamics of difference, (4) acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge and (5) adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of the communities they serve.

Many Asian Americans have lived and worked in at least 2 vastly different social-cultural contexts. This life experience can be incredibly valuable for the increasingly multiethnic world in which we live. It seems to me that quite an effort is needed to reframe this as an asset rather than liability. Incredible potential; not yet fully developed IMHO.

I asked an Asian American leader about how his heritage was an asset to his leadership. He’s a leader with an organization that’s connected with college campuses, where the demographics tend to be Caucasian and Asian, with varying proportions from campus to campus. He responded that he couldn’t think of any way that his Asian American heritage affected his leadership.

This would be understandable if he was adopted by a non-Asian family. But this response was a little puzzling when he also mentioned attending an Asian American church. Wondering out loud: do Asian American compartmentalize  more than other racial groupings? How do we all lose out when Asian Americans are unaware and/or unconscious of our multi-cultural competency? Another way to say this: what would it look like if being Asian Americans was more than a generic American?

Many if not most leadership wisdom agree that diversity is a good & valuable thing. And yet, the American church on the whole stay in the pragmatic shadow of the so-called homogeneous unit “principle”, which is more of a sociologically observed description rather than a bona-fide principle. In so doing, settling for an incomplete aspiration than that of the powerful Gospel that breaks down the dividing walls between races & ethnicities as well as the spiritual separation between people and God. Both are important.

Few churches intentionally address the issues of faith & race. In a racialized society, it does matter. A notable portion of living out theology is culturally-colored and not culturally-neutral. Of course, I am not suggesting race & ethnicity should be a part of every sermon and curriculum. But then again, those football illustrations come from a particular cultural context, eh?

One church in Seattle takes time to deal with it — here’s 2 presentations from Quest Church‘s annual day conference on Faith & Race ::

Soong-Chan RahThe Changing Face of American Society and the Church

Brian BantumThe Church Cannot be About Multiculturalism

[photo credit: seeminglee]

Dec 112010

In a recent conversation with a college professor, I ventured to ask whether he has students turn off their cell phones and close their laptops in class. He said unapologetically YES. I told him of my work in social media, and I invited him to share more about his concerns with personal technology in the classroom. He voiced a fairly common concern: he wanted the students’ full attention and personal technologies would divide their attention and take away from that. (but, so does daydreaming or doodling or dozing off, ahem)

Granted, that is certainly possible. It’s within the realm of possibility that using technology in class could be a distraction. It’s also possible that students could pay more attention and more engaged in class when they use personal technology. One research study showed that students who used Twitter for class discussions and assignments increased their engagement more than twice as much as a non-Twittering control group. Plus, they achieved on average a 0.5 point increase in their overall GPA.

I offered 2 examples of where I’ve personally seen how technology does increase attention and participation from the students and/or audience.

1. Text in comments and questions during a lecture/ presentation. In a workshop (aka seminar) setting, on several occasions, I’ve setup a (free) Google Voice, and posted that phone number in the footer of my presentation slides (be it Powerpoint or Keynote). I invite the audience to text in their questions and comments any time, whether during my presentation, or while someone else is asking a question or commenting out loud.

One thing that hinders interaction during a class session is that only one person can talk at a time. If a student/participant has a question while someone else is talking, s/he has to hold that question until they’re finished talking. Holding onto that question draws their attention away from the person talking, and there’s a good chance the person could forget their question.

When I ask an audience to raise their hand if they have a cell phone, every hand goes up. Almost everyone has a cell phone these days. Right?

Results? Some groups text in more than others. The audience pays more attention because now they have another way to engage and interact with the presentation.

During my presentation, I check my cell phone periodically, and at what I deem to be an appropriate time, I can read the text out loud, answering a question or using a comment to reinforce a point. Occasionally a question can serve as a segue to the next point — that’d be a spontaneous bonus.

One catch: this won’t work if there’s no cell phone signal. That’s already happened to me once. Ahem (at&t)

2. Provide a transcript. I took an online course as an alumni of Dallas Theological Seminary, where I paced myself through watching a series of online lectures. What made this course so much more engaging was that it provided the lecture transcript! Wow! That freed me from scrambling to trying to take notes and falling behind. I could listen to the lecture and read the notes! Learn the content with double reinforcement. And, people can read faster than they can listen (on average, twice as fast). But words alone is only a part of the total message that can be communicated; tone of voice and body language can add to the message communication and that comes through audibly and through video. Aside: One often-quoted study cites, “communication is 55% body language, 38% tone of voice and only 7% content of the words you use.” But this study was only in cases of expressing feelings and attitudes. This statistic should not be used to assess all communications in general.

One more thing.

Provide real-time notes and supporting materials on an limited-access website. While in a classroom and after a classroom, invite people to open their laptop (or tablet PC or smartphone) and go to a class website. And have the network setup so that is the only place they can go. Then, Professors / teachers can rest assured that students aren’t browsing the web, checking email, or Twittering or Facebooking. Consider this a live annotated bibliography meets real-time footnotes.

The IT administrator department would simply setup the wireless network to be allowed to access the websites specified by the teacher/ professor. Each classroom can have a separate wireless router, so each wifi network can be individually configured. To make it quicker to configure, a web-based admin website can be used by the presenter to setup what can be accessible.

That’s not hard to implement, right? Know anyone already doing this? I’d love to hear about it! Please add a comment.

[photo credit: flickerbulb]

Dec 082010

The second reason we need Asian Americans to be Asian Americans is health and wholeness. Healthy psychological, physical, and social lives are at stake. Here’s what the data says, via Asian American Health Initiative:

  • Hepatitis B is one of the largest health threats for Asians. Asian Americans account for over half of deaths resulting from chronic Hepatitis B infection in the U.S.
  • Mental health problems in the Asian American community are disturbingly high, yet its services are inadequate.
  • As many as 90% of Asian Americans are lactose intolerant or cannot easily digest dairy products.
  • Asian Americans have a higher prevalence of tuberculosis (TB) than all other racial and ethnic groups.

And on the social & psychological front, Asian Americans need Asian American role models, those who are not super-accomplished superstars, but those who are average Asian Americans, who identify with other Asian Americans. Asian Americans would be healthier on the whole if they can have access to psychological and social help for the challenges of life. And when this help is perceived as unavailable or too shameful to get, despair drive too many towards the terrible choice of suicide. cf. A Family Suicide Risk in US Asians? @ Time 8/19/08. Asian Americans’ Rising Suicide Rates @ 8/13/09.
And, listen to this interview of Kathy Lim Ko (director of The Asian and Pacific Islander Health Care Forum) by Allison Keyes on NPR’s Tell Me More: Tackling Asian American Health Disparities.

[update 8:30am] // Now for most of us who are healthy and life is good, it may be hard to relate to the life challenges that some Asian Americans face. Believe you me, all of us will face some challenges in life somewhere along the way. And even the most together and/or accomplished Asian American can hit psychological road bumps; the silent killer, if you will. In other words, there’s an undeniable uniqueness to our genetic makeup as Asian Americans, embedded in the biological fibers of our being. And, for most of us having had formative times in an Asian cultural context, that shapes us, as well as being obviously Asian American in appearance, we have a shared experience of sorts as a minority in a (currently) Anglo-majority American context. //