Where is our Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson?

African Americans have their Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. While these few do not represent the whole, they boldly speak up for the whole. And, the mainstream media goes to them for their perspectives.

Caucasian Americans have their Billy Graham and Rick Warren. There’s also Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Again, they don’t represent the whole diversity of Anglo Christians, they boldly speak up for the whole.

Latino and Hispanic Americans kind of have Jesse Miranda and Luis Palau as their voices. I don’t know exactly who speaks for their tribe, but I think they’d boldly speak up for the whole.

Even the Hebrews had their Moses and Joshua.

Asian Americans have no one who boldly speaks up for the whole. We need a voice.

What would it take to have that voice?

Passion. A clarion voice that boldly speaks up with confidence and persuasion. You can’t fake passion. You have to have that fire in the belly, no fear to speak up even if you’re misunderstood, even if you don’t have the perfectly-crafted words. Public speaking is 93% about delivery and only 7% about the words.

Platform. A clarion voice has a large audience that listens to what s/he has to say for both intangible and tangible reasons. Some call it charisma. Definitely need cross-over appeal in both the religious and civic realms, as well as inside the tribe and outside. Need to have an organization with financial supporters that keep that platform active too.

Conviction. A clarion voice has to have something to say. That person has to have a sufficient understanding of the tribe’s compelling concerns. And that person is taking action to address those concerns and boldly advocating others to join the cause. That person lives out that conviction with an unwavering lifetime commitment through both actions and words.

Like it or not, we as Asian Americans will be stereotyped because we have that face. But without a voice, there is no way to change that stereotype of silence. Without a voice, we’ll be invisible and misunderstood.

I know there are many differences among Asian Americans: ethnicities, languages, cultures, generations, affinities. “Asian American” is not an attractive label or strong rally cry. Asians are known for being group-oriented, but Asians aren’t known for rallying around a voice. Without a voice boldly speaking up for the whole, we’ll remain apart.

Could I be that voice? You’ve got to be kidding! I know a lot of things I don’t have in and of myself. It takes a driven and focused Type-A personality to be that clarion voice.

What I do have is my personal blog. I’ve occasionally advocated for the next generation Asian Americans. But like others who are in this space, I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed or stereotyped. I prefer being eclectic and speak of my many varied interests.

But last week has changed me. I will use my words to advocate for the next generation Asian Americans. 7% still counts.

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20 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for being so vulnerable with these recent posts. But please, whoever emerges as a voice for Asian Americans, please rise above the charicatures of Al and Jesse and Pat and Jerry and so many of the other “voices” who offer the rest of us little more than rants.

  2. Al Hsu says:

    I’m not sure any one AA Christian really has emerged as our “go-to representative,” but Soong-Chan Rah might be the closest we have right now, among others, like Ken Fong, Dave Gibbons or Peter Cha, depending on which circle(s) you’re talking about. Soong-Chan has certainly been one of the most visible and vocal in recent public controversies, and he has wielded his influence well.

  3. joe says:

    I think you certainly have some pull as a “thought leader” in the Asian Am community… albeit only 7% worth 😉

    When I think of the African American community, they’ve had incredible struggles and trying circumstances where voices had to emerge. Perhaps a lesser extent (but still significant) with the Hispanic community. Asians arguably have had a relatively easier experience as immigrants in this country. We’ve had less of a need for someone to step up to battle injustice or racism imho.

    I think we’re not as cohesive, culturally or politically as other minority groups (I base that on absolutely no raw data that suggests Asians are less politically active – just my gut feeling)

  4. djchuang says:

    Jeremy, with you on that. I’m thinking of the names I’d listed, let an Asian voice be a winsome statesman like Billy or Rick, and not as polarizing and mis-representative.

    Al, I recognize and respect the 3 influential voices in Ken, Dave, and Soong-Chan, who are probably the most quoted by Christian media. What I’m feeling the void for is a voice to represent us as Asian Americans in mainstream society & national media. I’m not sure if any of these leading voices would want to take on that role.

    So in that absence, we do see local voices get quoted in the recent media blitz. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

    New York Times >> The Rev. Hank Hahm, delivering a sermon to a
    Korean-American congregation at the Christ Central Presbyterian Church, said
    that everyone, including himself, feels angry and isolated at times. “I look at
    him and I look at his rantings and ravings, and he was disturbed,” Mr. Hahm
    said, “but he wasn’t that different from me.” Won Sang Lee, before delivering a
    sermon at another service at the same church, to a congregation of mostly
    Korean-born immigrants, said in an interview that he would urge members to
    become more involved in each other’s lives. “With our family members, make sure mentally and spiritually they are all right and to pay attention to our neighbors more closely, and see how we can help,” he said.

    New York Times >> Peter Chin, the pastor of Open Door Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Va. — roughly five miles from the home of Mr. Cho’s family — said he had received reports of hateful comments aimed at Koreans being posted on Facebook and various blog sites.

    townhall.com >> the Rev. Peter Chin, the pastor of Open Door Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Va., five miles from the suburban town where Cho grew up, noted that hateful comments aimed at Koreans were posted on Facebook.com, a site popular with young people.

    Christian Post >> A strong family unit was the answer posed by the Rev. Young Hwan Kim, president of Asian Clergy Association of the United Methodist Church
    in Virginia. … An emotional Kim looked towards the family to set a good
    example and engage their children in a Christian life. The Korean pastor said
    parents have to practice what they believe, especially teachings such as loving
    your neighbor. “When children do not see from their parents the real Christian
    life there is no way, no place they can learn how they can practice Christian
    life,” said Kim. “So I think parents and adults need to make sure whether we
    really live Christian lives or are we just sort of hypocrites.”

    Washington Post >> Young Bong Kim, senior pastor of McLean-based Korean United Methodist Church of Greater Washington, shared an e-mail in which one of his parishioners said he was experiencing such pressures. “People in my office look at me differently,” wrote the man, a government employee working in the District. “I cannot even approach my co-workers to talk. I feel so ashamed. I feel like I gotta do something to show that I’m a good neighbor.”

    Washington Times, quoting UPI wire >> The Rev. Dong Sun Lim, pastor of the
    Oriental Mission Church in Koreatown… said a message of condolence from South
    Korean President Roh Moo-hyun wasn’t enough. “All Koreans in South Korea — as
    well as here — must bow their heads and apologize to the people of America,”
    Lim told the Times. “Yesterday was the most shameful and tragic day in the
    100-year history of Korean immigration to the United States. All we can do is

    iht.com >> “Part of it is that we are feeling shame because he is Korean,” said
    Myung Sub Chung, pastor of the Young Saeng Korean Presbyterian Church about a
    mile and a half, or two kilometers, from the house of Cho’s family. “Mainly, we
    are angry because he is the gunman.”

    Charlotte Observer >> “Money is important, work is important. But nurturing
    children is the most important,” the Rev. Eul Kee Chung, pastor of All Nations
    Korean Baptist Church, said at the memorial service, … “Do not ruin your
    children’s lives. Do not let money get in the way.” … the Rev. Hee Yoon Lee,
    laid bare the still-raw, complicated feelings of many Korean immigrants … “We
    feel like it’s our fault. We feel like we should apologize and beg for
    forgiveness,” he told his flock. “The reason we feel this way is that a
    Korean-born person did this tragedy.”

    Dallas Morning News, quoting NYT >> A pastor at a Korean church in Centreville watched the tapes on television with his family. He told the Seoulnewspaper JoongAng Ilbo, “All my family said that was not the Seung-Hui we knew. It was the first time we saw him speaking in full sentences.”

    Denver Post >> “They feel ashamed,” said [Rev. Kun Sang] Cho, pastor at
    Asbury Korean United Methodist Church. “This is our culture. If one of my
    members got involved in a crime, all members feel the shame.”

    Guardian Unlimited >> “We respond to this tragedy as Americans and as Koreans,
    so let’s pray for this nation, that this nation will heal,” the Rev. Dihan Lee
    said in prayer.

    WSOC >> Pastor Sue Lee said, “As a youth pastor, I totally understand what the
    young generation is going through. This will hopefully raise more awareness for
    the parents. For the Korean parents as well. There is so much that they need to
    know about what young Asian American teens are going through in the U-S. It’s
    not like everyone of us individually is the same person. So like I don’t want
    them to be negative. To see the way that people think about us because each
    Korean is individually different.”

    Daily Herald >> “I know there’s a strong Asian slant to the story, but today
    as a church, we are coming together; not just as Koreans but as Christians,”
    English ministry pastor Richard Kohng said. “We want to show solidarity and that
    we are part of this nation,” Kohng said. … “Today we gather in respect of the
    lives lost in the Virginia Tech shootings,” the Rev. Chul Sup Bang said during
    the service, with a Virginia Tech flag and flowers decorating the stage.

    Sandusky Register >> Pastor Dongsam Cho has been the leader of the church since
    1987. He said it is important for Koreans in America to embrace American
    culture. The church opens its doors to all and believes that a town is less
    likely to turn on people with whom they are familiar. “It is a terrible tragedy
    what happened and it is sad for all,” Cho said. “We need to work on healing
    during this time.”

    Boston Globe >> “There is a pretty strong history of Koreans here intensely
    pushing their children academically,” said Peter Chin , pastor at Open Door
    Presbyterian Church in nearby Herndon, which has many members from Centreville. … Esther Chang , youth pastor at the Central Korean Presbyterian Church, one of the largest Korean churches in the area, said the Virginia Tech tragedy has spurred introspection among the many families in Centreville. “It’s causing a lot of parents and a lot of children to think deeply about what’s important in life,” she said.

    Austin American-Statesman >> The service, conducted in Korean and English,
    included about 13 Korean pastors from the Austin area, a gathering that the Rev. John Ahn of the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary said was unprecedented. “This is the first time the entire community has come together in such large numbers to remember those who are hurt and still crying,” Ahn said. “There was a lot more ease after his video was shown,” said Ahn, referring to the video and photo package Cho sent to NBC News detailing his motives for the shooting. Since then, Ahn said, the focus has been shifted from Cho’s identity as a South Korean to his problems in school. “He was definitely a psychopath,” Ahn said. “Once the video was aired, people realized that this wasn’t a racial issue but a mental health and gun control issue.”

    Orlando Sentinel >> When Dar Lee learned a South Korean was the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre, he was mortified. “It makes us so embarrassed,” said Lee, pastor of Orlando Korean Baptist Church in Longwood … Pastor David Larry Kim at Korean Presbyterian Church of Orlando was equally horrified — but saw the rampage as a disgrace to the individual, not all Koreans. “I tell people this isn’t a reflection of an entire group,” said Kim, who was born in Virginia to South Korean immigrants.

    Pittsburgh Post Gazette >> “We feel like this is one community,” said Daniel Lee,
    senior pastor at the All Nations Dream Church in Annandale, which last night
    held a prayer service in honor of the Virginia Tech victims. “We are building on
    something here. It’s hard. It takes a lot of time to build something up and just
    a little bit of time to break it down.”

  5. djchuang says:

    I’m encouraged to see the Seattle Post Intelligencer give Eugene Cho more than a sound bite or quote; he got to write a full column about his perspectives on the Virginia Tech massacre (that’s what they’re calling it over at wikipedia). The article is titled “Koreans, Korean Americans cry for 33“, published on April 24, 2007.

  6. Ken says:

    Yes, a voice. But this voice must not only represent the Top 3 Asian Americans (Chinese, Japanese and Korean) They have to some how articulate the thoughts of Southeast Asians, Indians and etc…as best as they can. There are various Asian Americans here in America and possibly not just have have one voice but various voices to speak up and out about A-Americans.

  7. Rudy says:

    In terms of Hispanic voices, in recent years Samuel Rodriguez has been visible in the national media on the issue of immigration. Here he is on NPR: NPR: Immigration Could Cost GOP Latino Evangelicals

  8. djchuang says:

    Joe, thanks for your vote of confidence, I’m glad I can be persuasive with you even though we’re physically 3,000+ miles apart 🙂 I cited not only minority examples, but also examples of voices for the majority racial grouping, and the majority have not struggled as such, but still do have representative voices. I’m honing in on solely the need for a representative voice, and what it’d take to have one for us Asian Americans. And it doesn’t have to be approached as polarizing or combative — and this can be our distinct advantage too.

    Ken, I’m with you on seeing a Asian Christian voice that would represent the entire 34+ ethnicities that are under the broad Asian American umbrella. I think the top 3 Asian groups are Chinese, Filipino, and Asian Indian, but I think I know what you’re getting at 🙂 A lot of the Asian American Christian dialogue tends to cover East Asians like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, which I think comes from simply the historical immigration development over time. We do need the full spectrum of East Asians, Southeast Asians, and South Asians in the mix. But just to get one to consistently represent East Asian in mainstream national media, just one for Southeast Asian, just one for South Asian, boy, that’d be something, more than nothing.

  9. Bo Lim says:

    DJ, I agree with Jeremy that if I were African-American I would not want Al Sharpton reprsenting me althought he gets plenty of coverage in the media. I’d prefer a John Perkins, who has worked tirelessly for reconciliation over decades and though may not be in the press on a weekly basis, provides the voice that desperately needs to be heard. My question is, “Where is our John Perkins?” and when I mean our I don’t necessarily mean Asian, I mean Christian. That is, as Christians, I need to be mindful that my people is first and foremost the church. And thus I advocate for reconciliation, not merely the promotion of a marginalized group of people in society. I don’t think that is what Al Sharpton is fighting for. The difficulty is that in order to model reconciliation to the world we need go about the messy business of doing this within the church. And here I agree, we need role models, voices, and advocates from and for the Asian community.

  10. Bo says:

    DJ, I returned to your site b/c I recall somewhere you mentioned Peter Cha’s sermon (an old prof and friend of mine). Thanks I found it. What I found was unparalleled network of (among other things) Asian American Christians. That alone is a tremendous service to us all (including your purported 7% voice). As one who was recently introduced as “the only Asian prof at SPU” (which isn’t true but close to it) and desperately longs for conversation partners regarding these matters, I greatly appreciate your work. Keep it up bro. As has often been noted Moses needed an Aaron and Joshua a Caleb.

  11. djchuang says:

    Bo, thanks for your timely comments! While there is quite a network among Asian American Christians, it’s also been hard for me to find conversation partners to keep the dialogue moving along. (welcome to the blogosphere!)

    For those of you looking for Asian American voices, sermons that addressed the tragedy with sensitivity to the Asian American cultural context, I’ve posted them over at Next Gener.Asian Church – http://nextgenerasianchurch.com/2007/04/23/addressing-the-virginia-tech-tragedy/

  12. Lon says:

    Great post DJ. There’s only one place I turn to when I’m checking in on the Asian American Christian scene… right here.

  13. e cho says:

    well, it’s all kinda funny.
    the seattle times did an article when quest was getting started 2001 and i had this quote in the article,

    “He acknowledges seeing himself in a role somewhat similar to the Rev. Al Sharpton or the Rev. Jesse Jackson, African-American leaders emerging from religious roots to take on larger issues.”

    let me retract that statement. sharpton and jackson are just figures of the past. i think to myself who are going to be the chris rocks, ophrah winfreys, barack obamas, and russell simmons of the asian american community.

    and fwiw, i lost couple supporters once they read that quote. they were scared of sharpton…

  14. djchuang says:

    Eugene, with you there.. being provocative is one of the ways to get attention and engage an audience, and Sharpton and Jackson are figures that do that. Of course, we don’t want figured like that who don’t very well represent the whole and bring along some excess baggage, but I do think we need to have an Asian American face and voice who is recognizable and representative for “us”, as diverse and as broad as that is. Right now, the ONLY widely-recognized face and voice of Asian America seered on the American mainstream conscience is that of a mentally-disturbed killer. Not good.

    At Q in Atlanta, they deconstructed cultural influence into 7 channels. Not only do we need a public voice that emerges from the church, like you said, but also in media, arts & entertainment, business, education, government, and social sector. So we need the next Oprahs, Bonos, Jack Welchs, Peter Druckers, Obamas, and Bill Gates too.

  15. tracy says:

    The word “Asian” itself is too broad of a term to have 1 leader.
    Also we are doing very well in North America and do not face the hardships of other races.
    We are the “model minority” as they say.

    We should just continue to work hard and be model citizens in school and the workplace and everything will take care of itself. We do not really need a voice to stand-up for us and criticize other races.

    I really don’t want an Asian Jesse Jackson because he has proven to be a poor role-model over the years and has sent the African-American community backwards.

  16. Bev says:

    Blacks have a very different history than other ethnic groups, and we all know what they are. I really wish there did not exist the term “asian american”; as someone mentioned here it’s too broad a category, and I feel stuck when I comment on issues relating to “us”.

    Do Americans of European decent regard themselves as European American? Only lately I guess but very rarely, and usually they do not. The Italian American experience isn’t comparable to those of the Dutch, or the French. It’s just too freakin’ broad a term. BTW, Falwell, Graham, etc speak on behalf of Christians (the religious right), and without regard for race as they certainly do not speak for white Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Methodists, Unitarians, and so on.

    Anyway, there’s no need for a “representative” to speak on our behalf. Like the Irish and Germans, we are children of immigrants. People who talk about the need for an Asian jesse jackson-type (and God forbid – al shady sharpton) are coming from a ridig perspective that Americans of Asian decent need to fit into this mold that’s shaped by the African American experience (one that is totally different from every preceding group).

    As a Chinese American I have a lot of role models! While there are not too many of us, compared to other groups, the Chinese in America have proven over and over again that no one and nothing can stop us from becoming examples of the American success story. Our perseverance is our voice!

    Lastly, Southern Blacks do not subscribe to the hatred espoused by other black “leaders” of big urban cities; most do not even want to be associated with them.

  17. Dennis says:

    Sorry for the late comment. I just came across your website from the LA Times article and am intrigued by your blog. Here are some of my thoughts. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

    Other than the whole “Asian Americans being too diverse to warrant a single voice” argument, it’s never been clear to me personally what role Asian American churches play in the broader Asian American movement or more broader social issues, such as discrimination or economic injustice. On the other hand, the Black church has historically played a major role in the civil rights movement and continues to be a voice for Blacks and their struggle for fairness and equality. MLK, of course, but even Malcolm X when he converted, communicated and instilled on their followers a broader sense of social imperative that came from their respective religions’ moral teachings. In addition, my sense is that Black (as well as Latino) churches have always been integral parts of the local community.

    The AA churches I’ve been a part of or have visited seen to be more catered inwardly toward its members, who “commute” from other areas to attend church each weekend, and have no real relationship with the local residents. And with no real sense of duty to the broader society. Having worked on Asian American civil rights issues for about 10 years now, I’ve yet to see any Asian American churches or their leaders get involved. Having been raised in an Asian American church, I can’t say that I’m surprised but am still disappointed.