APIA Leadership: Beyond the Boat

By: David

The notion of leadership is one that is highly valued among many individuals. In addition, race and diversity is a topic that is consistently prevalent in our society. When blending the two, the two elements complement one another quite well. Recently in life, there has been many events relating to  the two topics. Within this past month, I have had to plan for Asian Pacific American Association’s (APAA) Annual Culture Show, partake in various student of color panels, and discuss about cross-cultural communication. In addition, the recent events at the University of Missouri and Paris has definitely impacted me as an individual by urging me to reevaluate myself as an Asian Pacific American leader.  Today’s blog post zooms in on the two notions of leadership and culture, Asian Pacific Islander Leadership: Beyond the Boat.

Bamboo Ceiling

Before starting, I want to take some time to talk about the “bamboo ceiling” phenomenon. The term “bamboo ceiling” derives from Jane Hyun’s book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. To sum it up, the term refers to the barriers and limitations to Asian Pacific Americans to rise to leadership roles it. In regards to the historical context, before the modern days in Asia many people would built their homes out of straws, mud, and bamboo. Figuratively speaking, the “bamboo ceiling” is what limits Asian Pacific Americans in career success. Once the rooftop is sealed, an individual can only achieve so much, and therefore it often restricts one’s ability to reach their full potential.  

Beyond the Boat

As part of the title, I decided to include the phrase “Beyond the Boat.” Though there are numerous interpretations to this phrase, this is one concrete way of defining it:
“The concept of ‘Beyond the Boat’ was taken from the phrase, ‘Fresh off the Boat.’  The term ‘FOB’ often limits immigrants and Asian Americans, a way of making generalizations.  ‘Beyond the Boat’ was used to seek out the ways APIs were complex and rich in history, especially through activism, solidarity, and social change.” – Verna Wong

The term “fresh off the boat” is an older term for immigrants who are new to the United States who are freshly arriving off the boat (this was before air travel was a possibility). Altogether, we have the phrase, “fresh off the boat.” One thing to be aware of is that with race and culture there also comes many generalizations and stereotyping. The phrase “Beyond the Boat” is a way for individuals or a culture group to break these stereotypes and generalizations to overcome such judgements and expectations.

Relating back to the topic of leadership, the image of Asian Pacific Americans in leadership roles is one that is barely visible. According to LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), “less than 3% of the leadership of the nation’s top for-profit and non-profit groups are Asian Pacific Americans.”  With such a low percentage of role models, it’s difficult as an Asian Pacific American student to see a future past the “bamboo ceiling.” As an Asian American in today’s society, there is a lot of  concern as to what leadership opportunities are available for myself and others in the future. To go “beyond the boat” requires me to constantly step outside my comfort zone and always having to put in the extra effort to be acknowledged. Furthermore, this phrase inspires me to break the stereotypes and generalizations revolving around Asian Pacific Americans and also to increase the 3% of APIAs in leadership roles.

Conclusion

To conclude, the duty of being a leader is never an easy task to do. From any standpoint, there will always be some form of systematic oppression despite circumstances. As a student leader for APAA, I find it most difficult promoting such events and activities relating to the Asian Pacific culture and showing the common interest for those who may not identify with the culture itself. Furthermore, I find it difficult to motivate my fellow peers to embrace the trait of being a leader to increase the 3% due to the lack of APIA role models in society. As many millennials begin to enter leadership roles after college, it will be interesting to see how the percentage of leaders with a different ethnic background evolve throughout the years.

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