who could speak for all Asian Americans

Suppose a mainstream media outlets wanted to identify and interview leading Asian Americans. Someone recently asked me to suggest at least 3 community leaders for a news documentary piece. I need your help.

The African-American community has Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who do Asian Americans have? (Granted, Sharpton and/or Jackson do not represent everyone in the African-American community, but they are vocal representatives, even if self-appointed.)

So, who should I suggest as spokespersons or representatives of the Asian American community? Someone who could speak representatively for the 15 million Asian Americans?

I used 1 of my lifelines, and polled my followers at Twitter and friends at Facebook (which mirrors from my Twitter feed). Here’s the list of responses I got:

Because of my connections with Christian ministries, many responded with Asian American Christian leaders. My name was mentioned too, but I’m playing that bashful Asian race card, and left my name off the above list.

I’m not sure any one person could represent the whole 15 million, with over 30 different ethnicities and languages under the “Asian American” label; it’d take at least 30. The 3 who are most knowledgeable about the whole are probably Ronald Takaki, Frank Wu, and Helen Zia, listed above.

There are a number of Asian Americans who’ve been in government roles, elected or appointed, like Bobby Jindal, Gary Locke, Elaine Chao, David Kuo. Some would say that a political or government leader is more of a community leader than a leader in the realms of business, sports, arts, medicine, or media. There are plenty of Asian American leaders, just don’t recall any that speak out on mainstream media.

But, I can’t think of any one Asian American leader that’s a household name among even 50% of the Asian American population.

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14 Responses

  1. Steve K. says:

    Here's another one: Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang.

  2. Dave Ingland says:

    Since Asian-American encompasses different heritages such as Chinese-American, Vietnamese-American, Hmong-American–heck, even some people group Indian people as Asian–how could one person represent several groups of people that really are diverse?

    I've heard Asian-Americans discuss this subject by saying we don't have much representation in media. True, but would we settle for someone like Dave Gibbons representing all Asians, or would he better-represent Korean-Americans and not Chinese-Americans? Culturally, each of the microdivisions within the Asian-American groups will cause us to be different in several important factors.

    African-Americans can unite under the cause of oppression and racism, but for any of us like me that have been called negative aspects of being Chinese, yet I am not Chinese, can't really relate on that level.

  3. Excellent Question, you've got my attention.

    Two things come to mind: 1) we can be our own individual spokespersons, we have the tools to do this with social media, why do we have to lean on someone else?

    2) If that doesn't work, and the world really wants a true reprenatitve, why not have a business leader, sports leader, or someone that transects a larger segmentation of the Asians in US.

    Lastly, I'm not sure these are representative of Asian Americans –putting a religious filter (whether it be Christian, Muslim or Buddhist isn't 'representative')

    Your cousin in law— Jeremiah

  4. human3rror says:

    hah. i like that.

  5. human3rror says:

    i would nominate jeremiah…. he's the man in the tech space. charlene li also, perhaps?

  6. human3rror says:

    Margaret Cho: http://www.margaretcho.com/ she's funny.

  7. Lon says:

    what a great question… let me know if you stumble across 'the' canadian leader too… we've got 2 million or so in canada.

    btw, are there asian ghetto's in the states?

  8. While the Asian-American Christian leaders mentioned above have a lot of notoriety and press, I feel like I need to balance them by suggesting some pastors who have more conservative leanings. Hoover Wong, Cory Ishida (Evergreen SGV), Steven Chin (Boston Chinese Evangelical Church), and Dan Low (Bread of Life Church) would fit into this category.

    For more public figures from sports, there are the American-born Michelle Kwan and Michael Chang, and Norm Chow of UCLA.

    For figures from politics, there are U.S. House representatives Mike Honda and Patsy Takemoto Mink, Doris Matsui, and Senator David Akaka. Former Governor of Washington, Gary Locke.

  9. LT says:

    I'm not sure if we've reached household Asian American names. Some celebrities may come to mind but I'm not sure if we want to be so quick to suggest them.

    Apart from the Christian community, I think these few names should be mentioned.
    – Jeff Yang, one of the founders of A. Magazine, SF Chronicle's Asian Pop Columnist, Author
    – Carmen Van Kerckhove, President of New Demographic, a diversity education firm. Her perspectives on race and diversity have been featured on CNN, MSNBC, NPR, USA Today, and The New York Times.
    – Guy Kawasaki, Apple legend, founder of Garage Technology Ventures, co-founder of Alltop.com and more.

  10. djchuang says:

    All, thanks for the recommendations and comments thus far!

    Someone else recommended other notably accomplished AAs: George Takei, Mako Fujimura, Steve Chen (YouTube), Sandra Oh, Jennifer 8. Lee, David Ho (scientist) – cf. http://twurl.nl/3bbciv

    While there are many more very accomplished Asian Americans, and would be able to tell their personal lessons learned, I don't know how many of them would be conversant about the Asian American community.

    @Jeremiah, well, my thoughts have developed over time about this; I used to think we don't need a representative voice. I now see the value of having some representative faces and voices.

    While there are social media tools available, and many who've attained great accomplishments, without representatives to speak up for the community, Asian Americans stay marginalized, stereotyped, and its community needs stay hidden.

  11. Humman3rror

    Wow, thanks for the vote, but I stand by my conviction that each Asian American should tell their own story by doing, and using social tools.

    Why have a representative that represents us? Why can't we individually represent ourselves? Gene suggests that we're stereotyped, the best way to beat that is to not have a 'representative' but to do it and change it.

    Let's not focus on nominating anyone, and just self-represent ourselves. That's what I'm going to do.

  12. Pete Sung says:

    Wow, very cool topic and nice comments. How about adding director Justin Lin to the mix? (better luck tomorrow, fast and the furious, etc). I would think he'd have an interesting perspective on the Asian American community.

  13. Dennis Choy says:

    DJ when you say Asian American are you talking about someone who would represent all generations or just 2nd generation and beyond. I know in the Korean community (sadly) there is usually more respect given to someone who is either Korean born and/or speaks the language fluently from the 1st generation Koreans. I'm one of the Pastors at an American Church but my mom's Korean 1st generation church doesn't necessarily see me the same as there pastor.
    In saying that it's a great question and I throw in my nominee – HINES WARD – Pittsburgh Steelers