Blog: Diversity, and I mean real diversity

From left: emcee Eric Liu, keynote speaker Diankha Linear, a Foster High School staff member, Foster teacher Sue Pike, Cindy Gilsdorf, Carol Handley, Thach Nguyen, Hoan Do, and Assunta Ng (Photos by George Liu/NWAW)

Last Friday, we celebrated diversity at the Jumbo Chinese Restaurant by awarding $6,600 worth of scholarships to high school students who have exemplified the spirit of diversity.

I created the Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship in 1994 through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. The truth is, I did not know anything about diversity until I heard the word from Norm Rice when he ran for mayor of Seattle. I was profoundly inspired.

Diversity is a new concept, not only to Asian immigrants, but to other people. I have seen many who have made positive comments on diversity. Do they really embrace it? No.

Many of my friends and family believe that it is acceptable for other children to marry outside their own race. But when comes to their own, their attitude is this: Not in my backyard.

I had never seen my American-born friend so angry after learning that her daughter was dating a Black person. Mind you, many consider her a civil rights activist.

Deep in my heart, I don’t care if my sons marry outside their race as long as they are happy. One friend viewed it as odd, “You mean, you don’t care what your grandchildren look like?”

No, I don’t care.

Her eyes rolled.

Years ago, an African American friend was raising money for scholarships. When I wrote the check, she asked, in a matter-of-fact manner, “This is for an Asian student?”

No, I wanted to give it to an African American student. Though she was surprised, she was pleased with my response.

2010 scholarships winners (from left) Imran Hafiz, Rima Akras, Maheleone Faalelea, and Kaycee Kegan with Jesse Robbins, who received the diversity scholarship 10 years ago

Practicing diversity

Saying that you have good friends and colleagues of all races is a small way of practicing diversity.

Implement diversity as a way of life. Be inclusive in your daily life in every sense of the word.

Even though I publish Asian community newspapers, I spend a great amount of my daily activities interacting with non-Asians. The Diversity Makes a Difference scholarship and the Women of Color Empowered luncheon series, which I also started, reflect my commitment and convictions toward diversity.

A decade ago, my sincerity puzzled many high school counselors. “Do you just want me to nominate Asian students for your diversity scholarship?” they asked.

No, just because the scholarship program is run by the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation doesn’t mean that we will consider only Asian students. Our application form has not specified that the scholarship is for Asians only. In fact, there were years when we did not award the scholarship to any Asians because the Asian candidates did not have strong qualifications.

The irony is that the scholarship judges are all Asian students, yet they are able to show impartiality in the judging process by following the criteria. They look at candidates’ deeds and not their faces.

Many nominees and their parents thanked me after the diversity scholarship event. The real rewards came later.

A former winner, a Black female, called to me from behind years ago. “You are … Ng?”

I turned my head.

“You gave me a scholarship,” she said, “I am now at Seattle U.”

I didn’t remember her name nor her face because she’d grown up. When she mentioned that she was from Rainier Beach High School, I remembered her instantly. She won for her dedication and leadership in organizing a tutoring group to mentor minority students who needed help in math and science.

What more can I ask for when I see young people succeed! That smiling face is still pretty much in my mind. ♦

5 Responses to “Blog: Diversity, and I mean real diversity”

  1. MFaalelea says:

    When Chinweoke Eke presented Scholarship award, I cried. Thank you so much for touchy speech, hugs and giving me scholarship. I am encouraged to go on and do better for others. Also thank you very much, Pemco and Microsoft.

  2. Linda Phan says:

    It is hard to find an Asian group that has branched out of just Asia. I like how this scholarship is awarded to everyone and not just an Asian student. Diversity is not just in minority groups but is everyone. I am glad that this idea was embraced fully.
    The story about parents not wanting their children marry outside their own people, I find very true. Many of my relatives still have that frame of mind. Even though they claim that it is OK, but when their child does come home with a boyfriend or girlfriend of another ethnicity they are not too happy about it or the parents would be OK but the aunts or uncles are not.
    Thank you for sharing this story. I have learned a lot from reading this story and will bring it with me to share to others.

  3. William Turnbull says:

    It is encouraging to read a story about the real meaning of diversity. Most people embrace “diversity” when there is some percieved benefit to them, a door which can be opened or an opportunity they can grab buy using diversity as a key. Many, as Editor Ng’s friends who rejected a black boyfriend, would otherwise prefer to be left alone, avoid other races and prevent them from entering thier space. These people have derogatory names for people of other races, use them frequently in conversation (hak guei, yang gweidz, etc), yet object when there is some perceived racial slight to them.
    Thanks to Editor Ng for writing an article which took courage to write, will surely be rejected by many of her readers, but which is important.

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