Chinese Americans in the U.S.: 2011 convention overview

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships, Writing how-to's 13 Comments

I absolutely must share the experience of my day at a Chinese American-sponsored event that offered great ideas and inspiration for everyone. Since I can be grouchy about issues related to my ethnic heritage, it feels wonderful to be totally positive (for a change).

My good time took place at the national OCA convention. This Washington, D.C. -based group was originally founded in 1973 by Chinese Americans and states its mission as “embracing the hopes and aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans.” This year’s convention (Aug. 4-7) was held at midtown Manhattan’s Grand Hyatt and I had a blast attending it last Thursday.

The adventure consisted of going to two panel discussions and a keynote luncheon. What follows are thumbnail summaries on the various speakers, their organizations and their projects. I’ll bet you’ll find something below that will make you say, “Wow.” Okay. Here we go….

Inspiration from NYC principal Ed Tom

Even now, I remain uplifted by the message of the keynote luncheon speaker, Ed Tom. This Chinese American guy had a cool job as a Saks Fifth Avenue buyer. He quit to become an underpaid New York City math teacher (!). In 2005, he went to the South Bronx to found Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics.

Ed Tom and one of his students.

As the principal of this public school, he and his mostly black and Latino students can brag about a 92 percent on-time graduation rate. The kids have been going on to four-year colleges and winning millions of dollars in scholarships.

Their story was turned into a documentary by Christopher Wong, who is Chinese American too. You can watch video from “Whatever It Takes” on the PBS website.

During our convention luncheon, Ed, 40, was a dynamic speaker in a sharp suit. He said a lot of important stuff, which included two central points:

“Each of us must decide our moral purpose in life.”

And his second point:

“If you can find your passion in life, then you can find your compassion for others.”

His speech practically made me cry. And I totally agree: Life demands a greater context for each of us that goes beyond doing right by our children and families, or even the pursuit of our creative dreams. Why am I here? I’m still trying to answer that and Ed’s talk helped.

In addition to lunch (salmon, risotto, salad and some sort of dessert pudding), I sat through two terrific workshops. Then there were the breaks, which gave me a chance to wander the job fair’s exhibitors in aggressive pursuit of free pens, cups and other irresistible knickknacks.  :-)

Census panel: Who we are

(left to right) Moderator Julia Huang with panelists Tuan Nguyen, Robert Asaro-Angelo and Howard Shih.

Data from the 2010 Census is creating an intriguing portrait of America. The morning panel on “Trends in the AAPI Community: Population and Economic Power” gave a feel for what’s out there.

The moderator was Julia Huang, CEO of interTrend, a Long Beach, Calif. Asian American marketing firm.

A running theme during the panel was the remarkable diversity of the Asian American community — and how important it is to build a collective voice as a political power base.

As for the panelists:

>>> The U.S. Department of Labor has a new study, “The Asian American Labor Force in the Recovery.” Click on this link to also find similar studies that were done on three other groups: : blacks, Hispanics and women. Robert Asaro-Angelo, the department’s regional rep, noted that 7.2 million people — 5 percent of the U.S. labor force — is of Asian descent. Asians have the lowest unemployment rate, tend to be more educated and are more likely to work in the private sector.

>>> The Asian American Federation of New York has an online Census Resource Center that’s run by Census Programs Director Howard Shih. He told us that Asian Americans are growing at an even faster rate than Hispanics. And while many people think Asian = Chinese, he explained that increasingly, “Asian means South Asian” because the Indian population is booming. On the downside: The personal net worth of Asian Americans has dropped by a drastic 32 percent — more than for any other group. Reason: real estate-loving Asians are big on home ownership and unfortunately, property values have tanked. Another fact: In NYC, the overall higher average incomes of Asians masks another reality — there are many poor Asians whose poverty rates are almost twice as high as non-Hispanic whites.

>>> Tuan Nguyen, deputy director for MQVN, talked about his New Orleans-based group. Its mission is to help Vietnamese Americans fishermen deal with the aftermath of both Katrina and the BP oil spill. He had so many stories. There was the old lady who is now growing vegetables in her backyard and selling them at a local farmers market. The fishermen and shrimpers have gotten out of that quiet immigrant head; they’ve learned how to pick up their cell phones and mobilize their ranks at lightening speed. The community is also exploring aquaponics as a new industry.

>>> P.S. — The U.S. Census Bureau had a booth at the convention job fair. The 2010 Census data on New York and New Jersey is now available at It can be searched by topic, geography and specific population groups. The bureau also has a walk-in New York Regional Office in Manhattan at 395 Hudson St., Room 800. Phone numbers: 212.584.3440 and toll free at 800.991.2520.

Culture & arts advocacy

Liz OuYang with a painting by teens.

I also really enjoyed an afternoon panel on “Arts as an Advocacy Tool.” It highlighted projects going on around the country.

The panel was moderated by civil rights attorney Liz OuYang who is president of OCA-New York. She talked about her chapter’s “Hate Crimes Prevention Art Project,”

The annual event is run as an art contest that builds awareness among teens of all races and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth. As for the four panelists:

The New Museum is the black spot amid the green.

  • The green squares mark all the art galleries that sprung up around the New Museum, which opened a $60 million building at 235 Bowery in 2007. Yes, in Chinatown. What does this mean? Jerome Chou blogs about this issue and more on Open City: Blogging Urban Change. This website, which documents changes in NYC’s three Chinatowns, is sponsored by The Asian American Writers’ Workshop.

Friends are having fun with this one.

  • Center for Asian American Media has brought the world many films, including the one about our favorite educator, Ed Tom. Interactive online projects are also of interest. This San Francisco-based non-profit has launched the “filipino or not?” Facebook app and introduced, a website for sharing the stories of multiracial Asian Americans. More documentaries are on the front burner, said executive director Stephen Gong.

(l. to r.) Liz, Terrell Piyachat, Curtis Chin, Stephen Gong.

The film explores Asian Americans & political activism.

  • Nearly three decades ago, three white guys got away with beating Vincent Chin to death in Detroit. Back then, the murder of this son of Chinese immigrants became a rallying point on Asian American civil rights issues. To keep the message alive, Curtis Chin (no relation to Vincent) has made a 40-minute documentary that’s available online. Watch “Vincent Who?” for free at As for more on Curtis: He’s originally from Motown. After many year in NYC, he’s now a writer in Los Angeles.


I hope you’ll find useful info in these many, many links to people and places. There’s great information here that needs to be shared.  :)

And I also must give a shout-out now to one of the convention co-chairs, the ever-patient and gracious June Jee, who urged me to attend. Thanks girl, for caring about us all!! xox.

Comments 13

  1. What a fascinating day you had! Your reference to Vincent Chin has particular meaning to me.Growing up in the minor WASP gentry, it simply never occurred to me that there could be such a thing as prejudice against Asians. We are all too familiar with the black-white thing in this country: its historical causes, complex effects, etc – but prejudice against Asians? I would have looked puzzled and said “but…why? China has the oldest civilization on Earth. They printed books when most Europeans couldn’t even read. You must be kidding me – why would anyone be prejudiced?” Alas for the ignorance of the well-intentioned!My perception changed radically when I began to see things through the eyes of my wonderful, beautiful, brilliant adopted son Noel, who is of Philippine descent.Even within the LGBT community, Noel experienced prejudice – often of an unconscious variety. Many times he would be talking to some boy in a club who would say “well, you’re really cute and all, but I don’t date Asians,” utterly unconscious of the hurt and the inherent prejudice of such a remark. One of the most deeply painful moments of my life was when, after one such experience, this beautiful boy said to me “tell me the truth, am I ugly?” Tears come to my eyes even right now as I write about it. That Noel is truly beautiful is testified to by the fact he put himself through his undergraduate career by working as a dancer in New York’s clubs. Like virtually all gay boys, he is obsessed with his appearance – is a true gym fanatic and god forbid I put any carbs on the dinner table! But in his case, it goes deeper than that. The effect of those comments and of his experiences as a child on the streets of Jersey City – run very deep and in spite of his astonishingly brilliant academic and professional success now that he is in his 20s, the old insecurities and self doubts are never far from the surface. It hurts me so much to see the residue of the pain he has suffered. At least, unlike Vincent Chin, he is alive to work on overcoming the hurt. If there is anyone who thinks the problem of prejudice and bigotry doesn’t include Asians, please bring them to me so I can slap them hard a few times!The older I have become, the more intolerant I have become of intolerance. I used to look for causes and even make excuses – now I just react “this is evil and stupid! Stop it!!! Stop it at once!! You’re hurting people I love!”

  2. Thank you for sharing that recap Betty! And thanks also to Toby for that glimpse of parental anguisseiZeeing your child being mistreated and knowing that there is very little that can be done to change so much built in prejudice, is so heartbreaking.

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    hey, thanks for the feedback. that’s why i loved going to this convention. great to see the spirit of inclusion at the oca convention. in terms of what toby’s saying, i’ve heard the same thing from white parents with chinese adoptive children. it’s a shock to them to be discriminated against because these are white folks who have never been stared at before!

    i had a similar experience being married to a black man. for the first time, i really, really understood racism against black folks because suddenly, it was personal. it wasn’t like i was black but it was like second-hand smoke. second-hand discrimination based on the company i was keeping. multiracial families are a good thing!

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  6. Unrelated…but today is International Left Handers’ Day. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but POWER TO THE PEOPLE! :)

    I thought this post was informative, but am rushing out. I will read it again and comment. The employment stats were especially interesting.

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  9. Hi! Betty, it takes time for me to catch up your blog from my hectic schedule. Thanks again for your sharing information! ^^

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