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Our Strength and Our Future

Delivered at Program Service Center -- HHS
RADM Kenneth P. Moritsugu, MD, MPH
Deputy Surgeon General
13 May 1999

(Below this is an article by Frank Wu)

An Open Invitation to Participate in
 -- "THE MOMENT" -- 
Dr. Freeman's Latest Book Project


Aloha! Talofa! O hai-yo gozaimasu! Namaste!
Good Afternoon!

And thank you for inviting me to be a part of our celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

I am a third generation American, of Japanese ancestry, born and raised in Hawaii – and proud of it.

My grandparents were fishermen and farmers on a small island in the Sea of Japan, who emigrated to Hawaii in the late 19th Century. My father served in the U.S. Army with the Military Intelligence Service in the South Pacific in World War II, and retired after a 30-year career in Civil Service. My mother worked as a nurse-receptionist in a physician's office till the day she died, twelve years ago.

But that is not why we are here today. Each time we celebrate the heritage, the culture, and the contributions of various races, we note the uniqueness of each, the African American, the Native American, the Hispanic, the Asian, the German, the French, the English, the Irish ...

But as we acknowledge these unique characteristics, these unique backgrounds, these unique peoples, we should not lose sight of why we celebrate these cultures. We should be celebrating them, not to be emphasizing our differences, but rather to be noting how these differences contribute to diversity and to richness in our society, the sum total of our ethnic and cultural diversity in America. We should be celebrating them, to acknowledge the contributions of our varied heritage, whether we are white, or black, or yellow, or brown, or red.

It is this interweaving of different peoples that results in the richness and beauty and the strength of the tapestry of our nation.

So today, we could well consider who the Asian and Pacific Americans are: a diverse mix of peoples whose background comes from more than half of the globe: from the Pacific Ocean and the Pacific Rim, to the largest continent, Asia. 



We could dwell on the contributions of the various cultures: the ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans; the seafaring Polynesians, Micronesians, and Polynesians; the steppe-wandering Mongolians. We could speak of the contributions of the Chinese philosopher Kun-fu-tse; of the military genius of Shogun Hideyoshi
Tokugawa; of the peaceful, political acumen of Ghandi; of the saintly charity of Mother Theresa; of the grace and beauty of Balinese dance; of the leadership of King Kamehameha.

We could dwell on the contributions of contemporary Americans of Asian and Pacific descent: 

such as Senator Daniel Inouye from Hawaii, who brings his experiences in the Second World War and his law background to our Congress;  such as his colleague, Senator Daniel Akaka, a native Hawaiian, former pastor of Kawaiahao Church in Honolulu;  such as Astronaut Edison Onizuka, who lost his life in the Challenger disaster, and who has, among other things, a shuttle craft on Star Trek named for him;  such as Maya Lin, designer of the one-time controversial Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, which has, since its construction, become the most visited monument in Washington, DC;  such as Jessie Kuhailoa, better known as Kunishiki, an American of Samoan ancestry, the first non-Japanese to become a champion Sumo wrestler;  such as the late Dr. Haing Ngor, the Cambodian refugee physician, who won an Academy Award for his almost autobiographical performance in "The Killing Fields;"  such as Connie Chung, the Chinese-American newscaster on national network television;  osuch as Keanu Reeves, the movie actor of Hawaiian, Chinese, and Caucasian ancestry;  such as Dr. Khurana, or Dr. Chandrashekar, two Americans of Indian ancestry who won the Nobel Prizes in Biochemistry and in Physics, respectively; and the examples continue – Americans all, with their Asian or Pacific backgrounds.

But that is not why I am here today.

What each of us brings to the workplace and society, is one person's unique combination of genetics, cultural background, environment, and upbringing; which provides but a single perspective, unique to each of us. Each individual has a unique personal heritage to contribute.

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As we observe Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month, we take this opportunity to celebrate these specific cultures and their contributions to diversity in our society; and they are many and diverse in themselves: the Chinese, the Japanese, the Korean, the Pilpino, the Thai, the Indian, the Sri Lankan, the Singaporese, the Bangladeshi, the Hawaiian, the Samoan, the Guamanian, the Micronesian.

And this list is by no means exhaustive of the various cultures included as individuals of Asian and Pacific descent.

But as I said earlier, we should celebrate how these various cultures contribute to diversity and to richness in our society.

It is this interweaving of different peoples that results in the richness and beauty of the tapestry of our nation.

Consider two examples of how this ethnic and cultural diversity contributes to our society: 

Maya Lin, the Asian American architect, who not only designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but also the memorial to the great civil rights leader, the Reverend Martin Luther King, in Montgomery, Alabama. The memorial is a large, round, table shaped fountain in black stone. Water gently pulses from its center, and quietly, but forcefully and constantly spills over its edges, to flow out and dissipate in the plaza surrounding it. This memorial was designed by an Asian, trained in an American school of architecture and
design, to commemorate the memory of a great Black American. More recently, there has been the phenomenal sports celebrity, Tiger Woods, the "youngster" champion of the professional golf circuit: he is a quarter Thai, a quarter Chinese, a quarter Caucasian, an eighth Native American, and an eighth Black. 

As I look out into this audience, I also see this diversity in the sea of different colored faces, each an individual, together making up our family of society.

President Clinton, in his State of the Union message a couple of years ago, stated, "Diversity is not our weakness, it is our strength." And how right he is.

The Reverend Doctor Philip Wogaman, pastor of Foundry Methodist Church in Washington, DC, the church where the President, and I worship, said in a sermon recently, "God made us different to enrich each other."

And international management and leadership consultant Lou Tice observed: "Diversity in the workplace provides us the opportunity to see what we can't see ourselves, from another perspective."

And today, it is this blending and melding of heritage, this diversity, that is at the same time transparent, and yet very obvious, this diversity which is our strength and our future, of which I speak.

Diversity in the workplace, whether it be gender, culture, or race, has enormous power for a society and to help an organization achieve its mission – with more effectiveness, with more efficiency, with higher quality. 

It provides a true "value-added" to both management and its mission, as well as to staff and the work environment.  It enhances an organization's perspective. It enhances a society's perspective on issues, and in doing so, multiplies its capabilities to plan, organize, analyze, execute, and evaluate, through its ability to provide more than a single perspective.  It provides for varying skills and experiences, from a gender as well as an ethnic basis, to better understand issues, to better address mission and achieve goals, to better understand impact on varied populations.  It provides the rich pool of life experiences, cultures, knowledge, skills, attitudes, that is the invaluable aggregate of individuals, while at the same time acknowledging the uniqueness of the person. 

1. All-Day "Diversity Seminar" Program -- Click Here
2. "Diversity Day" Presentation or Keynote Address -- Click Here
3. "Black History" Presentation -- Click Here
4. Dr. Freeman's African American History Collection -- Click Here
5. Preview Online Diversity Course -- Click Here

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6. Critical Incident Debriefing -- Click Here
7. Symbols that Address Cultural Awareness -- Click Here
8. Employee Assistant Seminars in DC Region -- Click Here

It is the power of one, and it is the power of many.

We can and should celebrate the uniqueness of our several cultures and heritage, but within the context of the whole -- not only when we celebrate one culture as we do today, but every day -- to embrace collaboration, to work with the commonalities, as well as to emphasize the differences, to achieve a seamless integration of the power of one. It is not the aloneness, but the strength of culture, to utilize the power of diversity, to provide our strength, both for now and for the future.

Let me leave you with one tangible example – the power of the tapestry of diversity.

You see the beauty of this piece of cloth as you look at the whole fabric. It is strong, it is colorful, it is beautiful.

But the cloth is made up of many threads, interwoven horizontally and vertically, the warp and the woof of the fabric. Each thread is different, and of many hues and textures.

The weaving of the cloth provides the strength, and the capability to withstand adversity. Each strand supports each other. The stronger threads provide body, and sustain and assist the weaker ones. The thinner strands add delicacy and beauty to the total fabric. Remove a single thread, the cloth still remains, supported and sustained by the others.

The colors of the individual threads collaborate to produce the pattern of beauty: the red, the black, the white, the yellow; the blue, the green, the lavender, the orange. In fact, when we see the tapestry, we do not see single colors, but rather the blending of each into the integrated whole.

Unravel the weave; the tapestry ceases to exist. Without the supportive interplay of the threads of different colors, materials, textures, strengths, directions, all that remains is a bundle of fibers with no meaning, no structure, no beauty, no strength -- and no future.

We, too, must be like tapestry -- a strong, collaborative interweaving of our various cultures and backgrounds, making up our society.

Let us celebrate the cultures of Asians and Pacific descent; let us celebrate the value of their contributions to our diversity.

Let us celebrate the seamless integration of the power of one: 

the power of the threads of our American tapestry, 
the power of the warp and the woof of the weave, 
the power of many:
interwoven into our strength and our future;
interwoven, white and black and yellow and brown and red, and all colors in
between, into our 

"one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."




Dear Dr. Freeman:

I want you to know how pleased we were with your presentation, Diversity: The Value of Mutual Respect, which was presented at our Multicultural Training Observance in Dallas, Texas on May 22, 2002.

Employees who participated in both sessions of your presentation were nearly unanimous in their assessment of its relevance and value. Your approach to viewing diversity as a multi-layer phenomenon was unique. And your ability to relate to a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-generational audience, and keep the participants attentive throughout your presentation was a major contributor to your success. A major benefit of your presentation is it offered to those in attendance a unique framework for assessing their basic beliefs about living and working in a multicultural society, and provided us a point of departure for additional discussions about the benefits of mutual respect in the workplace and the larger community.

I am happy we were able to bring you to Dallas as a part of our Multicultural Training effort. Your presentation was the "meat and potatoes" of what we regarded as a very successful training.

Emerson Lattimore
Emerson Lattimore
                        Civil Rights and Equal Opportunity Manager


To learn more about seminar -- Diversity: The Value of Mutual Respect
To Schedule Dr. Freeman for Diversity Presentation
To View More References:
Prince George's County Public Schools Equity Assurance Office
Seattle Port Authority

When we deal specifically with Cultural Awareness,
we address eleven Symbols that impact every organization.

Check out this unique video and half-day presentation.

WFO Eastern North Dakota Connects to NOAA Diversity Lecture Series

As part of the Monthly Diversity Lecture Series, a group of WFO Eastern North Dakota personnel participated in a talk on by Joel Freeman entitled "Dealing with People Who Drive You Crazy." 

The talk took place live in Washington, D.C., for NOAA Headquarters personnel and was viewed live over the Internet via Real Player on the PDW in the Training Room. The voice quality ranged from  good most of the time to a bit fuzzy at other times. 

The talk was quite interesting, as the expert (Dr. Joel Freeman) spoke about various personality types that must interact in the work setting. We all realize some of us are more "doers than thinkers" and vice-versa. The point is that each of us brings value into the workforce, although each in a different way and further understanding of these personality variables will increase each person's and then the overall offices functioning. 

He also spoke about differences relating to gender, religious and ethnic backgrounds, age and others. Again, further understanding of these differences in the workplace will enable all of us to improve our work place relationships and could all make us "feel better" about our contributions to the office and agency mission.

Speaking as an American…

By Frank Wu

“Yeah, and what do they do in China?”

Whenever I have had the fortune to appear in a public forum offering my opinions on a contentious subject, I receive calls, letters, and e-mail messages from people who disagree vigorously and vehemently with my perspective and my message. Although I enjoy the 15 minutes of fame, I am taken aback by a few of the responses. They run along the lines of that rhetorical question about China—a land from which my parents came but where I have never been. My own mother tells me not be to too controversial. She says, “It will be bad for your career.”

Little does she know I’ve made a career out of being controversial. She has a point though: To be respected as a critic requires being accepted as a citizen.

Half the time I argue about immigration, I am met with the objection that China wouldn’t make it easy for a Westerner to become Chinese. The implication is that because presumably a white person would not be welcomed in China, an Asian person can be excluded from America.

When I argued for affirmative action against conservative author Dinesh D’Souza, on the C-SPAN program “American Perspectives,” I had the greatest exposure and the worst reaction. Because the two-hour show taped from Brown University in late 1997 was aired during the holiday season and on New Year’s Day, viewers channel surfing cable stations between the football bowl games saw the two of us discussing the most racially divisive of current political issues.

I made a modest case for affirmative action. I said that we should start with the real problem of racial discrimination, rather than so-called “reverse discrimination,” and ask what we were prepared to do to address its effects. I emphasized the importance of principled approaches to remedying racial discrimination and pragmatic compromises that would achieve real results. I described affirmative action as a limited program, a means to an ends rather than its own goal.

Still, I must have impressed a few in the audience—and not favorably. I welcome controversy, but I prefer that it does not become personal. The correspondence I received was about two to one in my favor, but within the negative mail were some warnings – one writer advised, “you’ll learn,” and sent along material purporting to show that African Americans were descended directly to apes, that Jews were engaged in a global conspiracy, with information about white supremacist Internet Web sites.

One of the dozens of hand-written letters I received afterward, without a return address, opened with the inquiry whether they had affirmative action in Japan.

I am tempted to reply, “How would I know?” Or with perhaps with too much cleverness for my own good, I could retort, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

My interlocutor deserves a more thorough answer though.

I don’t believe it is accidental, disapproving of the opinions of individuals who are Asian by asking them about their presumed ancestral homeland. With less sophistication than the speaker supposes, it is an ad hominem attack in its classic form. It has less to do with the substance of an argument than the identity of the person advancing it.

I have heard the point put often enough as a direct taunt. It comes as the heckler’s jeer, “If you don’t like it here, then go home.”

The same sentiment can be presented as empathy. I have listened to people explain to me, trying their patience as much as mine, that they understand how I as an Asian American may face discrimination here, because when they as Americans were traveling as a tourists in China or Japan they too felt prejudice.

As much as I value efforts at mutual understanding, even this kindly person is offering up an analogy which is frustratingly inappropriate. It shows what is wrong with the way Asian Americans are perceived as well as the subtlety of the error.

As a law professor, I help train people to argue from analogy and distinguish among different cases. The proper comparison to the treatment of a white American overseas—where she is in fact a “foreigner”—is the treatment of a non-white American overseas—where in fact I am a “foreigner;” say, me in France. If the idea is to match up the ancestral connections, then the most apt comparison to the treatment of a white American in Asia is the treatment of an Asian American in Europe. Incidentally, a non-white United States citizen visiting “the Continent” is likely to be accepted as a bona fide Yankee. I am as able as my neighbor to be an “ugly American,” a loud, rude, English-speaking tourist expecting to be catered to. When I am outside the United States, it is readily apparent to the rest of the civilized world where I come from.

If they are racist in Asia—and I am confident that some segments of any society are “racist,” however the term is defined—I regret that as much as any American. But it serves as no excuse for racism against Asian Americans, because it has virtually nothing to do with Asian Americans.

Maybe, I think, I should announce an obvious disclaimer. Asian Americans can be racists too.

Every time I discuss race relations, whether on a radio program or a college campus, no matter how hard I try to take a tone that is conciliatory, someone challenges me by asking what I have to say about Asian Americans who are racists. I don’t know how to answer their rhetorical question.

Of course, some Asian Americans are racists—however we define that term.

Just as is true of other communities, Asian Americans may reveal their prejudices in private among themselves. They might even exclaim it publicly and purposefully.

Some sound like they are Asian supremacy of some sort. Others will talk about “the blacks” in a manner that sounds like a disturbing echo of the Ku Klux Klan.

Confirming again that ethnic divisions can be drawn finer than reason, a few Asian individuals will denigrate other Asian groups: Japanese believing Koreans are inferior, Indians hating Pakistanis, Mandarin-speaking Chinese mocking Cantonese-speaking communities, and so on.

The possibility of intermarriage brings out the worst. When their son or more likely daughter announces her engagement to a “foreigner,” parents of the immigrant generation may be more dismayed than the potential in-laws. Their arguments—or commands—about the purity of bloodlines, grandchildren who “look like us,” or filial piety may appear archaic but they are no less painful for their bigotry.

Asian Americans can be every bit as sexist and homophobic as anyone else as well. Asian American parents may favor their sons and mistreat their daughters so much that, as sensible as it seems to the parents, appears absurd to observers. They are as ready as blacks and whites to disown a child who turns out to be gay or lesbian.

So what?

I should no more be expected to defend these people who have nothing do with me other than their face resembling mine, than blacks or whites should be asked to apologize for demagogues of their respective racial heritage.

Nevertheless, I agree all of us who care about racial justice must emphasize moral principles rather than our own interests. So for once and for all, I will be clear as I can: Asian Americans who mistreat other people on the basis of their race are reprehensible—and all the more so, if they criticize other people for returning the favor.

If Asian Americans are biased, then they should change. We should not be satisfied to be reduced to the lowest common denominator, along the lines of, “I’m racist; you’re racist too.”

Every opportunity I am given, I denounce injustices committed by Asian Americans. I try to persuade Asian Americans that they are not only doing wrong to others in the abstract, but also failing to help their own cause in reality. They lose their claim against discrimination if they engage in it.

The only difference is that when I am taking to task Asian Americans, I usually do so to Asian Americans. I don’t believe it helps Asian Americans improve if I persuade non-Asian Americans of these points. It may only create a backlash among Asian Americans. They become angry I am “airing dirty laundry” instead of addressing the actual problems.

Since I have been giving speeches for over half my life, I don’t mind facing debating tactics. I worry, however, that many Asian Americans are silenced—along with Jews, Latinos, immigrants, and anyone else who somehow seems like they don’t belong. They are treated like guests enjoying the privileges of this country. They understand that they are expected to remain polite.

So they keep their mouths shut, even though they as much of a right as other citizens to take part in our political process. Or if they speak up, they are looked at with some sort of suspicion even if the next person voices similar views.

Stereotypes have a self-fulfilling quality. Stereotypes give us images of other people, but they also give us scripts to follow. It is easier for Asian Americans to sound exactly like their stereotype, performing according to the script: submissive, passive, agreeable, docile.

It is no surprise that Asian Americans feel excluded from race matters. As D’Souza, the author of books such as The End of Racism, observed privately when we debated initially, it isn’t often that an Asian American is invited to comment on civil rights, much less that two Asian Americans are given the opportunity. As much as I disagree with D’Souza’s opinions, I agree with him that more Asian Americans should be offering their opinions. I also am appalled that some of the criticism of his work opens with the observation that he is from Bombay, or that he is Catholic, or that he is an immigrant—and for a few critiques, it don’t progress much further beyond that. I am heartened that what happens to me extends to him as well.

Public discourse is the greatest of democratic traditions. Whatever they do elsewhere, we should demand that everyone think for themselves and we ought to encourage all of us to share our thoughts. Ethnic newspapers such as AsianWeek are part of a rich tradition of civic journalism. Even when the popular press has forgotten or ignored its public responsibilities, the more specialized media that serves a community has maintained its role: watchdog; advocate; spokesperson; forum; cheerleader; critic—all together, with often contradictory goals and in a sometimes messy manner.

Above all, however, Asian Americans must participate in the dialogues of democracy. That is what it means to be an American.



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--The 4-CD Audio Book version of Return To Glory!
--140-Minute Video: A White Man's Journey Into Black History

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