By Assunta Ng
When you read that headline, you probably thought, “Is she crazy? What is she thinking?”
Within me, I embody 5,000 years of Chinese culture and wisdom. It makes no sense that I am declaring — especially in Asian American Heritage Month — that I don’t endorse Asian cultural values.
But let’s be honest, even Asian cultures have their faults. So what are the dark sides of my Chinese heritage that I distance myself from? What are the Chinese cultural values with which I identify most?
What I like about Asian cultures
I love the fact that we are hard workers. Loyalty is in our name, and we would sacrifice everything to support our family. Family is our foundation.
Humility helps us to build character to some extent.
We don’t need financial gurus like Suze Orman in the Asian community because our motto is “save, save, and save.” Americans like to spend and borrow while many of my Asian friends hate to be in debt.
According to the 2010 Census, Asian Americans have the highest income and education level compared to others. We place high priority on education. We might not spend much money on luxurious items, but we are more than willing to pay for our kids’ expensive tuition at Ivy League colleges and private schools.
Hierarchy obstructs progress
Asian culture teaches us to obey authority and elders and to respect hierarchy.
When an elder speaks, we have to not only listen, but to also accept what they say, even though they may be wrong. Only in my 50s did I muster all my courage and tell my parents that they were wrong many times.
However, my sons often tell me, “Mom, you made a mistake.”
They have liked to correct my English pronunciations and point out my ignorance toward technology and popular culture ever since they were kids. No, I don’t mind that my children seem to be smarter than me. They are my best teachers sometimes. The more they grow, the more I treat them as equals. If I said that to my mother, she would feel that I was being disrespectful.
“Face” ruins lives
We worry too much about what others think of us. Saving face is a big cultural burden among Asian immigrants. How many times are we afraid of doing something because of someone’s disapproval or the chance at gossip, even though we know it’s the right thing to do? Is it important to please yourself or to please everyone else?
Some Asians force themselves to buy an expensive house or accept a prestigious job because of “face.”
Getting rid of the “face” burden takes courage, but freeing yourself will be the reward.
Modesty is not the best answer
Asian culture emphasizes modesty. As a result, we shy away from promoting ourselves and speaking the truth even during critical times.
In America, you have an obligation to share your knowledge as it can save your co-workers’ time and your employer’s money. Yes, it might involve marketing yourself and even drawing attention to yourself, but, to me, sharing your skills and expertise is not bragging. Sometimes, it’s the best thing to do for yourself and your company. After all, how are you going to reach the stars if others don’t know your abilities and contributions? Do you want to break the glass ceiling? Marketing yourself at the right time and the right place is the key for Asian Americans to rise as leaders.
Quietness is your enemy
I was raised to be quiet and obedient, to not make noise or rock the boat. However, not speaking your mind is a mistake.
As publisher, I’ve learned that we have to challenge authority and injustice when it comes up.
Asking questions will change your life. You have a voice, and it’s up to you to use it. The more you use it, the more powerful it becomes.
Diversity is a gift
Had I not come to America, I would probably be a racist. My family instilled in me lots of good values, but also instilled were prejudices toward Blacks and other Asian ethnic groups because of what my family had gone through during the Sino-Japanese War. In their minds, all Japanese people are the same.
As community leader Jerry Lee said, “That’s 60 years ago, and those Japanese are dead.”
America has transformed me to be receptive toward new ideas and cultures. I am grateful that I have shared some beautiful friendships with Japanese Americans and other people of color. They have opened my mind and my heart.
To show my commitment toward diversity, I have started diversity machines through the Northwest Asian Weekly Foundation. We give out scholarships to whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, and other students based on their work on diversity.
The other diversity project is the Women of Color Empowered lunch series. We bring the most diverse group of women together to learn, share, and support each other. It’s only in America that I could initiate programs like these.
Don’t forget, diversity is a gift.
Failure moves us forward
Failure is hard to accept in Asian cultures. Failure makes individuals feel guilty and shameful.
I have seen divorced women treated as outcasts in China even though their husbands were at fault. Making little money is also considered a failure in Asian cultures, and unhappy young people suffer more than they need to because they believe that they’re completely at fault. If you commit a crime, you would never get a second chance in Asia.
But America believes in redemption. Millions of dollars have been spent to help teenage parents go back to school to get their GED. Former drug addicts and gang members are given a second chance to make a difference in society. They go out and speak to youth, helping them keep their lives on track.
My biggest disagreement with Asian cultural values is the belief that family should be the only ones we take care of. Each of us has a responsibility toward our community, our city, our state, and our country.
We should extend our generosity to people who don’t have the same last name.
That is what I admire about Americans who always offer help to strangers. After the Haiti earthquake, thousands of Americans went to the island to help rebuild. I have known many white Americans, including Bill Gates through his foundation, who have gone to Africa to develop clean water, work to eradicate polio, malaria, and other diseases, and to improve agricultural systems using their own time, money, and talents.
American culture preaches philanthropy and generosity. Asian Americans are slow to grasp the importance of giving back and embracing charitable causes.
Being both Asian and American has given me a little bit of liberty. It has shown me the freedom I have to be who I am, to choose what I believe, and to live the life I want. Without fear, I celebrate my ability to reject and keep the better of the two worlds. (end)
To read the publisher’s blog in Chinese, visit www.seattlechinesepost.com.