Having a Hard to Pronounce Name: Does it Make a Difference?

When I was an undergraduate, a Filipino American classmate once asked me why I was pronouncing my last name wrong.  What?  I was pronouncing my name wrong for the first 20 or so years of my life?  Apparently so, and my parents never bothered to correct me, leaving our last name constantly mispronounced.  But what’s in a name really?  According to this article and others, quite a lot, especially if names are “hard” to pronounce.

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Shark Tank: “Gold digger” Yunha Kim & Simple Habit

I think the last time I wrote about Shark Tank was when 3 Korean American women were trying to raise money for their dating app, Coffee Meets Bagel, where one sister (I think the one that went to Stanford for her MBA?) turned down a theoretical offer of $30 million from Mark Cuban.

Well, I was watching the premier episode of Season 9 of Shark Tank (originally airing on Sunday, October 1st, 2017), and saw Korean American and fellow Duke alum Yunha Kim (not to be confused with *the* Yuna Kim) – who I actually met briefly a year or two ago at a Duke alumni event in San Francisco – trying to raise money for her company and namesake meditation app, Simple Habit.

The reason why this particular pitch became somewhat controversial was that Mark Cuban had called Yunha a “gold digger”:

“The $12 million valuation she was putting on Simple Habit was, for Shark Tank, probably one of the highest ever. She felt it was worth it, though, because she already had a built-in user base and other investors. Kim knows she has a hit on her hand, especially given the popularity of apps like Calm and Headspace.
For Mark Cuban, that’s where it all fell apart. Kim was having trouble explaining why she needed to get a shark involved with her business when she already had plans to get other celebrities and influencers involved. There’s also the matter of her prior rounds of investments and the fact that she’s coming from Silicon Valley, a place the investors on Shark Tank are notoriously wary of. (“The Valley takes over,” Cuban groaned when Kim started her pitch.) They usually feel like the entrepreneurs are pitching into the publicity void, since they’re already set for money.
Cuban felt that Kim had the cash, and she was working on securing the celebrity endorsements, so why was she taking up the time of hungrier entrepreneurs who didn’t have a proven track record of turning products and ideas into proven businesses? “You’re a gold digger,” he told Kim. She looked absolutely shocked.”

Personally, I was a bit disappointed in Mark Cuban using that term. I understand Cuban’s concern about other entrepreneurs using Shark Tank as he termed it, a “growth hack” to get the publicity and growth resulting for appearing on Shark Tank without really needing to attract investment capital. Cuban could have more artfully said that Kim was using Shark Tank as a publicity vehicle or was seeking the limelight.

In her defense, guest “shark” Richard Branson called out Cuban on his remark, and Cuban later was backpedaling to explain himself. But it was a bit too late for Branson as he threw a cup of water on Cuban (and vice versa).

As I had commented on one of Yunha’s posts on Facebook (we’re “friends”):

“I just watched the episode tonight on my DVR. You did a great job. Cuban’s remark was sexist and inappropriate. Even if your goal was for publicity, gold digger would be the wrong term to use professionally, especially to a woman. I’m a fan of Cuban on Shark Tank as well as his strong endorsement of Hillary Clinton last year, but his comment disappointed me.”

Personally, given the years I’ve watched Shark Tank, I don’t think Cuban is sexist, but I do think calling Yunha a gold digger was definitely not appropriate.

Manicurists, Casino Workers, and Medical Scientists: A Glimpse into heavily Asian American Jobs

More than half of all American “personal appearance workers” (including manicurists and pedicurist) are Asian American, while more than a fourth of all casino workers are Asian American.  A little more than a fifth of all computer and mathematical area workers are Asian American.   While some of these facts are surprising and others are not, all are revealed in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report on jobs and ethnicity for 2016, also summarized nicely in this article from Bloomberg.    Above, I show some of what I consider highlights of the data, shown against the percentage of Asian Americans in the work force (6.1%) as a way provide some context.

As I mentioned, some of the stats are not surprising.  There are a lot of Asian Americans in the manicure/pedicure salon business, as we have talked about in the past.  No one should be surprised by the large amount of Asian Americans in STEM professions.  Some of the other stats are more unusual.  Indian Americans have concentrated, for various reasons, in managing hotels and motels and driving taxicabs.  Many Asians and Asian Americans like to gamble, so casinos and many of the local card rooms in our area hire Asians Americans to provide services.  A significant number of Asians have moved to the Las Vegas area to work in the casinos and find cheaper housing – enough to support two 99 Ranch markets.

The Bloomberg article has interesting numbers on other ethnic groups.  Almost 40% of all barbers are African American.  Almost two thirds of dry wall installers are Hispanic.  One thing not highlighted in the Bloomberg article is the opposite – what jobs ethnic groups don’t do.  I looked at the BLS data, and there are practically zero Asian American loggers!  Not surprising.

One take away from this data is that along with great cultural differences, Asian Americans have also have large differences in the jobs and the income that Asian Americans families take in.  Being a nail salon worker averages $26,220 a year compared to a medical scientist averaging $80,530.  Note that there are more than twice as many nail salon type workers than medical scientists.  It would be interesting to see how different categories of Asian Americans fare in the different categories, but that data doesn’t seem to be available.

Filipino American Downward Mobility and other Asian American Data Points from Pew Research

Filipino American Data based on data compiled by the Pew Research Center

After he graduated from high school this year, Number Two Son mentioned to me that one conversation he has continually had with a close Filipino American friend regards how few of their Filipino American peers were ambitious with their college choices.  Their levels of achievement and college choices seemed much low, especially compared to other Asian American students at their Silicon Valley high school and despite that many of their parents were well educated.  While I personally could see some examples, without real data, it was hard to say whether the kids he saw were just cherry picked examples within a self-selected group in an area heavily obsessed with education.  A Pew Research Center compilation of Asian American data shows that Filipino Americans are indeed downward mobile from the initial immigrant generation (data shown above).  This compilation should be useful to people who want to make data driven conclusions about Asian Americans.

The Pew Research Center has conveniently disaggregated data nicely into specific facts sheets for specific Asian American groups.  A blog post looked at the aggregate data, and some of the findings surprised me – there are more than 20 million of us now and growing.   Other interesting facts – Asian Americans are 11.3% of illegal immigrants, with the top country of origin being India (not what I expected).  Asian Americans live in a multi-generational household more frequently than the general population (been there).

The data that shows that Filipino Americans are downward mobile doesn’t explain WHY that is the case.  I looked up some work in that area and found Susan S. Kim’s Ph.D thesis comparing Korean American and Filipino American youth.  The thesis concludes that Korean American communities have education institutions that encourage and support education much more heavily, and that the rapid acculturation that Filipino Americans experience, especially given the colonial history of the Philippines, doesn’t necessarily contribute to better performance.  This makes a lot of sense to me.  Also, I find that Filipinos, like many Americans, buy into the myth that academic performance in things like math is much more from innate abilities rather than hard work.  “Such bullshit!” is Number Two Son’s comment on that myth.

While I find disaggregated data to be very useful, others find the mandated collection of disaggregated data to be objectionable.     Other studies looking at Filipino American downward mobility are here and here (focusing on San Diego), and Susan Kim’s thesis contains many more references.

8Books Review: “Trespassers?: Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia”

Because I had grown up in neighboring Newark and then lived in Fremont California for many years before moving to San Jose, I was intensely curious to read what Trespassers? Asian Americans and the Battle for Suburbia by Willow S. Lung-Amam had to say about Asian Americans life in suburban Fremont.  Would it present anything that I didn’t know already? After reading the book, I was surprised at how much was new to me – primarily the amount of resistance Fremont’s Asian American community encountered when it starting asserting itself in areas ranging from education to shopping centers to housing.

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Sticks and Stones and Asian Last Names

“Stick and stones may break my bones but names will never harm me”
– A Children’s Rhyme

After The Wife and I got married, she said that she would change her last name.    She had a Filipino last name that didn’t look at all Asian – a person with that same last name could easily be white.  I told her that I didn’t really care and that she didn’t need to change her name.  Turns out that having Asian last name can have an impact.  NPR reports here that a Canadian study has shown that resumes with Asian last names sent to Canadian employers received fewer call backs than those with non-Asian names.

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Eking out a living riding a bus: Asian American Seniors in New York

8a-2016-12-120116-wabc-casino-buses-seniors-02-imgIn the Asian ethnoburb where I live, one sees three kinds of buses.  One kind is the Santa Clara Valley Transit public transportation bus, and another is the kind is the tech bus, as white Google buses pick people up and drop off every week day near my house.  A third kind is the bus that stops at the local Asian shopping center that picks up people to trips, often to casinos.  My dad takes buses like this to gamble at distant casinos like Cache Creek – about two hours away from my house.  I recently saw this article and was stunned to learn that some Asian Americans from New York, mostly seniors, take a similar two hour casino bus ride for a surprising reason: to make ends meet.

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White Flight from Asian Neighborhoods and Schools

1280px-johns_creek_high_schoolWhile many white liberals declare themselves strong advocates of diversity, in her essay “Ghosts of White People Past: Witnessing White Flight From an Asian Ethnoburb,” Anjali Enjeti says that for many of them, that advocacy ends when a certain percentage of those diverse people live by them.   We have written about Asian ethnoburbs and about white flight from them, but what really surprised me is that the ethnoburb that she talks about wasn’t in Cupertino, Irvine, or the San Gabriel Valley but is in the suburbs of Atlanta Georgia.   While I think that Enjeti misses a number of points, she makes many pointedly accurate observations about white fragility and the limits of racial progress in the United States.

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8Books Review: “The Wangs vs. The World” by Jade Chang

wangsJade Chang’s novel The Wangs vs. The World  follows one crazy Chinese American family as they try to piece their lives back together after the economic recession of 2008. Mr. Charles Wang  is a self-made man who immigrated from Taiwan and made a fortune with his beauty product empire. But a series of bad choices leaves him completely emptied out (house and cars included).

His family, including his second wife and three (almost all) adult children to dramatically change their lives and revisit their goals. Charles secretly hopes to the small amount of money he has left to retake his family’s ancestral land in China, while his oldest daughter Saina prepares for the arrival of her frazzled family. Instead of rags to riches, it’s riches to rags–an immigrant story turned on its head.

This book is an entertaining ride, exploring each character’s back story and current travails with wit and humor. And with a fresh voice, Jade Chang provides wry commentary on our modern life. At the heart of it all is an endearing story about a family coming together in the midst of a lot of sh**.

He never should have fallen for America. As soon as the happy-clappy guitar-playing Christian missionary who taught him English wrote down Charles’ last name and spelled it W-A-N-G, he should have known….In Chinese, in any Chinese speaker’s mouth, Wang was a family name to be proud of…But one move to America and Charles Wang’s proud surname became a nasally joke of a word; one move and he went from king to cock.

These are the moments that make you chortle to yourself quietly, or bemusedly note the bitter yet strikingly accurate commentary on the world, and turn to the next page.

 

Victoria Lai’s Sweet Taste of Success Running an Ice Cream Parlor

I caught this NBC News feel good story about pursuing your dreams recently about Wellesley-educated, former lawyer and Washington, D.C. insider Victoria Lai who had worked for the Obama administration (as Counselor to the Director for U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services, DHS) to pursue her love of ice cream and open up her own ice cream shop – www.icecreamjubilee.com

Not sure why NBC is doing a story on Lai now, since she’s been doing this at least since 2013, according to this Bloomberg Law story when she was doing ice cream part-time and opened her first store in July 2014.

8Asians_NBC_News_Victoria_Lai_ice_cream

I’m impressed. I don’t think I’d have the guts for financial and professional reasons to give up my day job to pursue a personal passion, hobby where I feel I could actually make a living. I wonder what Lai’s parents think when she gave up her career in law and government? Probably not a traditional career that a Tiger Mom would approve of.

Struggles in Oakland Chinatown

Oakland_Chinatown_streetsign_(6426)

The only Chinatown I remember growing up was Oakland Chinatown. 

When my family first came to the Bay Area, we lived in the East Bay, and Oakland Chinatown was the nearest place my parents could get Filipino vegetables and other Asian groceries.  For a long time, the nearest dim sum restaurant was in Oakland Chinatown, and when I was a grad student at Berkeley, I did volunteer work there – just a quick BART ride away.  With that background, I was saddened to read that like other Chinatowns in the US, Oakland Chinatown is struggling.

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TAP-SF Presents: Careers in Taiwan Panel

So I’m a bit behind on this blog post – back in July of this year, a friend of mine asked me to videotape her for a panel she was speaking at for the San Francisco chapter of Taiwanese American Professionals (TAP-SF) on “Careers in Taiwan.” I was more than happy to since I wanted to learn more for my own sake.

What surprised me was the value that being fluent in English in working in Taiwan. Personally, with the number of Taiwanese and Chinese students who have studied in the U.S. and return to Asia, I thought that the job market would very tough for Taiwanese and Chinese Americans in Taiwan. However, since Taiwan is an export oriented country and the U.S. is a major market, knowing English and knowledge of American culture are valuable assets. The difficulty of finding a job would be more finding a job you liked or was a great fit and that paid well.

Additionally, I thought that Tony Huang, Venture Partner at WI Harper Group, had some interesting insights as to the Taiwanese government’s efforts to encourage entrepreneurship in Taiwan, given the stagnant wages and economy in Taiwan due to the economic pressures of being dependent on China as well as having a small domestic country. The government of Taiwan is apparently the largest investor in 500 Startups, helped 500 Startups open a Taipei office, and has opened a Silicon Valley startup incubator for Taiwanese startups to grow their presence in the U.S. :

“Operated by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center provides financial, management and manufacturing assistance to the fledgling firms. It also pairs them with accelerators such as CoinX, Founders Space, Plug and Play Tech Center and Wearable World Labs, as well as venture capitalists like H&Q Asia Pacific, SVT Angels and WI Harper Group.

“TIEC represents the next step in the government’s international entrepreneurship development scheme,” MOST Minister Shyu Jyuo-min said. “The facility is a one-stop shop when it comes to breaking into the high-tech region in California, and also offers selected startups grants of up to US$20,000 in living expenses.”

TAP-SF_Careers_in_Taiwan

According to Shyu, the center follows recently established Taiwan Rapid Innovation Prototyping League for Entrepreneurs and is to be complemented by a US$300 million Taiwan Silicon Valley Fund channeling public-private sector resources into potential-laden projects.”

For personal reasons, I’m likely to stay in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area, but it’s always nice to keep one’s options open to new opportunities in Taiwan and beyond.