We are story tellers – tales of success, tales of achievement

This story telling process began with the newspaper ASIA, The Journal of Culture & Commerce, founded in 2002, graduated to the Asian Heritage Awards in 2004, expanded into the BOOSTEM program for young girls in 2012 and continues today within the framework of Make It In America.

Whatever the incarnation, the Asian American story has always been our focus – a story of struggle, hope and achievement. This was the model we began with after 9/11.

In 2002, we needed an inspirational story to offset the hate and misunderstanding that led to the attacks on the World Trade Center.  Einstein once said that you can’t solve problems where the problems are, so we sought a different model. The model for that story was the Asian American community of San Diego.

True, many of these stories seemed redundant — the immigrant who came to the U.S. with two dollars in his or her pocket and rose to start a pharmaceutical company, become McDonald’s leading franchisee or run a multi-million-dollar business. But then there was the Filipino mother who became both an Army colonel and a Navy commander, the major general who turned the attention of a nation on the unseemly practices of his own beloved Army, scientists and researchers who discovered HIV or went on to win the Presidential Medal of Science, inventors, entrepreneurs, fashion designers and football players.

In doing so, we created an Asian American tapestry and allowed it to unfold before a mainstream audience that was not familiar with this story at all. And in so doing, we created legacies such as San Diego’s first Asian elected official who was all but forgotten until we retold his story.

This brought people together. And they cared about each other. And they began doing things together. Those of Japanese and Chinese descent forgot the legacy of the past; Thais, Laotians and Cambodians dissected themselves from petty differences. And Filipinos even got along with Filipinos.

And so the next logical step was to celebrate this achievement in the form of an award. In 2004, we created the Asian Heritage Awards, which has since become the most glamorous event of its kind for the Asian American community of San Diego, earning numerous awards and recognition, from the White House to the State House. The glue for these awards, again, was achievement – in the arts, education, science, technology, community service, business, cultural preservation, legal affairs and even government and military service. The Asian Heritage Society, founded by Rosalynn Carmen the next year, has produced the awards since.

The turning point came in the fourth year, when the ceremony was held at the University of San Diego’s Joan Kroc Institute during the 2006 midterm election. Back then, honorees were voted by ballot and we recorded more than 40,000 votes, more than any of the four city council primary elections that year. In comparison, the most votes cast were 28,224 in District 6.

The glue to bringing people together has always been achievement – more properly, the recognition of achievement. By 2007, the Asian Heritage Awards became a formal evening gala. That transformation signaled another transformation – from media company to non-profit. Like the rest of the industry, we indirectly experienced the effects of Google-ization, which convinced major media players that they should upload free articles for exposure. With less and less people, especially in their 20s, no longer willing to pay for information, the newspaper industry experienced difficulty recouping. 
In effect, we were caught in the crossfire, at a time when we launched a second edition in Los Angeles. As a result, we had to reinvent ourselves to carry us into the future.

We had done everything we were supposed to do. The newspaper found a niche market, it turned out award-winning articles and photos, it turned a profit the third year and continued 20 percent in the black the next four years. But by then, we, like everyone else, were hammered by advertising fallout, the digital innovation and the trend away from print. 
The history of ASIA is a history of turning points. While we experienced turmoil, we vowed to live on, move on and go beyond the change. Where our emphasis had been creating a voice through publishing, that medium for that voice became the Asian Heritage Awards. And the Asian Heritage Awards did improve, expand and bring in larger and larger audiences each year, topping 550 in 2011. Rather than drown because of innovation, we took our media arm, ASIA, The Journal of Culture & Commerce, and used it to go completely digital in magazine form.

And we kept telling those stories. By now, they were not just stories in print, but full video presentations, with images and accompanying music to celebrate the achievements of our Asian Heritage Awards Honorees.

The Asian Heritage Society’s mission had been twofold: To preserve the legacy of Asian American achievement and to help grow the leaders of tomorrow. Now it was time to focus on the second leg.

As globalization changed the workplace dramatically, we set out to determine whether this generation was ready to meet the challenges of the future and found they were not.  Rather than be prepared for technological change, most classroom preparation was on passing tests. At the same time, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) became the new mantra. STEM this or STEM that, and our kids will be prepared to meet the world – so went the dictum.  Science fairs and festivals became the order of the day, in which students were encouraged to create experiments and demonstrate them — with little purpose as to why.

What was missing was an actual appreciation of the art of science and how it is related to technology and, most importantly, how to use both to compete effectively with the rest of the world.
The answer was BOOST, created by Rosalynn Carmen. The acronym stands for B-usiness, O-pportunity, O-utreach, S-cience and T-echnology – a formula that combines an appreciation of science and technology with the spirit of entrepreneurship. The formula became the genesis for BOOSTEM, a series of workshops for female students of Asian and Hispanic descent to prepare them for the future. 

Understanding this formula assures a globally competitive talent pool for the future in this rapidly changing technological landscape in which a dwindling job market and growing working class will create a generation of entrepreneurs by default. In short, goodbye jobs, hello innovation.

By 2007, we began seeing the rapid increase of jobs moving overseas, with much of that movement encouraged by our own elected officials. At one luncheon gathering hosted by a local business group, we sat with the owners of a local company who used a U.S. Education Department grant to develop a cellular product that they sold to a China company to create jobs there. There was something wrong with that picture. At the same time, we knew of business leaders in Asia, especially China, who were not so satisfied with their experiences, but, instead, were seeking ways to relocate to the U.S. 
American businesses in San Diego and Southern California share this with their overseas counterparts and are looking to this country to show them why this place is still the best in the world to do business.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the political leadership to do that. 

And that is the next phase of this story.  Late last year we decided to do something to make “Made in the USA” mean something again. “Make It in America” this November is the venue to do that by providing a venue for overseas investors and innovators to examine potential partnerships here in San Diego and elsewhere in California. 

Since she emigrated to the U.S. in 1984, Rosalynn Carmen has held the belief that America as the best place to create, innovate and do business: “For 200 years America has taught the world how to build things and build them cheaper. We can wait for the standard of living and incomes in these countries to rise so that it’s less expensive to do it here again, or we can evolve to the next stage by building a platform that combines the diligence and tenacity of Asia and the freedom and creativity of America. That’s the paradigm shift that our ‘Make It In America’ conference is all about. ”

This conference is the next chapter of this story, but in no way is it the final one.