Forward and Upward for Asian Americans

When our family moved to Chicago in the mid-80’s, our life was mostly wrapped around my husband’s schooling, our involvement in the school’s influential activities, and church life.  With three little girls to raise, I had to dive into the corporate business world for full-time employment even though my husband juggled up to three part-time jobs, to make ends meet.  Being that my background in the working world had mostly been on stage, in recording studios and other settings where my music took me, I did not have the skills nor the training to move into a significant position in a business office that most Asians in Chicago had. 

Thus, I started out as a receptionist in a suburban chemical company where I learned to work office machines and basic secretarial duties, and applied my public speaking and voice-over abilities to warmly greet and serve customers who called or walked in.  Even though I had been the managing editor of my high school newspaper, loved to write and edit others’ writing, and submitted a plethora of papers throughout college… I did not know how to touch type!  I still don’t!  Somehow I was able to produce typed paperwork in good time, every time.  This was probably due to good spelling and grammatical skills (no spell-check, nor grammar-check back then).

The amazing development that happened when I had transitioned to working in the high-brow offices in downtown Chicago stupefied my new co-workers who had business school degrees, perfect business wardrobes and many years of corporate experience to qualify for their positions.  Not only was I the only non-White woman in the role of executive assistant to a senior vice president/company division manager, but my previous experiences as a receptionist, a life insurance policy analyst and an administrative assistant to a department manager- all short stints – hardly qualified me in their eyes (or mine, for that matter).  Yet, I became a favorite, not only of my boss, but also of his co-senior VP’s, his division’s department managers, even the president.  [You can ask me later how I know this.]

Back in the 1980’s, Asian-Americans were stereotyped as being smart, well-educated and very hard-working.  I suppose that stereotype worked in my favor to a certain degree.  However, looking back over these many years, I believe that my forward and upward movement in that company and in subsequent work settings can be attributed to at least two factors (on the human level*) – first, what my father called “carriage,” and second, my keen cultural sensitivity and adaptability.  [The latter abilities come from my life as a TCK!]  As I have come to know and observe Asians and Asian-Americans through the years, seeing them strive to move forward and upward, it has pained me to see the talented ones struggle, some never feeling fully appreciated in the circles they rise up into.  It’s my desire through this blog to share and coach, as well as learn more from you who read this!

* On the supernatural level, the two factors are prayer and God’s grace (unmerited favor).

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Fighting Those Germs!

Ahhchhh! The flu season is upon us! Colds and bronchitis and stomach viruses – seems I am constantly praying for more and more who notify their FaceBook friends they’ve come under an ailment. One of the great advantages of working from home is limited exposure to the germs; but next week my hubby and I will be downtown for my most favorite annual conference to attend – Moody Founder’s Week! There will be several thousand attending the gatherings, and I’m sure I’ll be shaking lots of hands, hugging many friends, and singing with gusto with those around me. Lots of exposure! However, I can’t help but mention that when we were working in Japan last winter, every single one of our co-workers came down with a cold or the flu at some point, while my husband & I did not! So, I’d like to share some tips that would benefit you, too, and hope they become good habits.
1. Carry with you anti-bacterial hand wipes. Wet Ones and Melaleuca Clear Defense are available in singles individually wrapped. Sometimes it’s not convenient to wash my hands before eating a meal or a quick snack. I refuse to put something into my mouth with unwashed hands, even if I am using “clean utensils.” Three packets can easily fit into a coat or pants pocket. Each evening as I prepare what I am wearing for the next day, I replenish my supply of hand wipes.
2. Wash your hands with soap and warm water after each toilet visit; however, beware of the germs in a public restroom! After soaping and rinsing, I do not touch the faucet with my clean hands. While the water is still running, I quickly grab a paper towel to dry my hands and use that same towel to close the faucet. Before throwing it away, I open the restroom door with it, keeping my hands clean.
3. Stay hydrated and moisturized. Although central heating inside buildings and cars is one thing I am grateful for during Chicago winters, the heat is dry air that sucks out moisture. Breathing in this heated air easily causes dry nostrils (and throat) which makes you prone to germ infection.
a) I use a non-medicated, saline nasal spray about three times during awake hours and once in the middle of the night. It’s good to have a bottle in your desk at work, another in your car and one at home. The 3-oz. bottles cost less than $2 usually, and can be carried onto an airplane. Another option is moisturizing with petroleum jelly on a Q-tip. Dry, cracked lips and fingertips will also invite infection, so keep them moisturized.
b) No matter what season of the year, drinking at least eight cups of water a day is important for overall good health. During the winter, I am even more mindful of good hydration, so I drink more. However, water does get boring, and I crave something with taste now and then! Although I tend to drink lots of coffee and tea, I know for a fact these drinks are diuretics, causing my kidneys to extract water from my bloodstream, as opposed to hydrating my body! So, what about sports drinks and the claim that they hydrate better than water? Sports drinks are specifically formulated to help athletes “maintain optimal fluid balance” (see runner/author Matt Fitzgerald’s article: http://www.active.com/running/Articles/Which_fluid_hydrates_best__Water_or_a_sports_drink_). There are many sources that tout the benefits of sports drinks, but I like how Fitzgerald’s gives advice on what to look for/best ingredients in a sports drink and why. When I compare the ingredients of drinks like Gatorade and Boost to Vemma’s Bod-e Thirst and Verve, it’s the Vemma drinks that I would rather put into my body (loaded with vitamins, without all the sugar)! http://dianevelasco.vemma.com/
c) Lozenges and gum. In Japan, we learned of the benefits of chewing gum with Xylitol. Apparently, this natural sugar from birch helps prevent middle ear and sinus infections. Here’s a good article: http://www.livestrong.com/article/385717-xylitol-gum-benefits/ Trident gum is a brand that has xylitol. Lozenges or throat drops keep your throat lubricated, as well. My preferred brand is Ricola with Echinacea; however, if you are still in child-bearing age, avoid anything with Echinacea.
4. Boost your immune system. Airborne became popular a few years ago, and we would take a dose especially before getting onto an airplane. However, Airborne has Echinacea which has been found to negatively affect fertility. It is difficult to find a product that can beat Vemma, not only to boost your immune system, but also to provide the 12 full-spectrum vitamins and antioxidant protection. This chart provides good information: http://www.vemma.com/science/product-comparison.cfm.
Keeping your own surroundings germ-free – your desk and keyboard, the table where you eat in the lunchroom, the pull-down table opposite your airplane seat, your bathroom at home – will enhance your self-protection from infection or virus. Call me OCD (as my former co-workers often teased), but I frequently wiped-down these areas, and was known to take fewer sick days due to a cold or flu than anyone else!

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Tips & Insights to be shared- the working list

This view is made perfect drinking from a mug of hot cocoa or super hot green tea, and soothing music playing in the background.

This view is made perfect drinking from a mug of hot cocoa or super hot green tea, and soothing music playing in the background.

Some of the topics I’d like to give & receive tips and insight on:
Winterizing
Social Graces
Chicagoland
On My Own, but Connected
Healthy & Smart
Smart Traveler

These are not in any special order, and I have yet to figure out how to make them into separate categories on the blog. I would never imply to know-it-all, and hope that you will contribute to these topics; even recommend more! Stories and illustrations, questions and comments are more than welcome.

Since it’s January and the cold weather is upon us, I’d like to start with a few short tips. If you have a car, it’s always best to park it in a garage to protect it from the elements. But if you park outside, keep in mind that starting your car and taking off right away will bring an early death, especially if it’s over 5 years old. A young friend who had moved to Chicago from a warm climate was never instructed to take time to heat up her car her first Winter – at least 3 minutes. She had problems with the engine throughout the season, and into the Spring. I wasn’t surprised to “hear” the car sounding “elderly by Summertime.

Our first two Winters in Chicago, back in the 80’s, I was commuting by bus and train. Being new, generous friends outfitted me with a hand-me-down Winter jacket, coat, scarves and gloves. I also got into wearing leg warmers whenever I wore a suit dress or skirt to work. I learned the hard way that the trick to not freezing and getting sick was not really connected to my outerwear, but to my underwear. In today’s Chicago you can find heat-retaining underwear for a pretty penny in most clothing stores. I strongly advise you to invest in these items, plus good waterproof/slip-resistant boots, elbow-length gloves with grippy fingertips, microfiber-lined scarves and hats. I know it looks more cool to go hatless, but your head is the primary area through which your body heat escapes. Learn from my mistakes (I got sick often those first two Winters) and bundle up!

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Welcome to Forward & Upward!

Almost all my life I have been a learner and networker.  Being the firstborn in a Filipino-American family in the 1950’s, I learned early on that the responsibility of gaining acceptance and respect in our mostly Anglo community lay on my shoulders.  Observing and learning the culture in my school and our neighborhood, and then passing on the information to my parents and younger siblings were tasks I took on as my role in the family.

My parents were rabid American patriots, and talk of American history, politics and pop culture were the norm between my mom and me, and even with my usually-quiet dad and me.  Concurrently, my parents exposed us kids to the beauty of Filipino arts and culture in a myriad of ways.  But the most influential person in my young life with regards to understanding my Filipino and Asian heritage was my maternal grandfather, a resident of Manila but a once-a-year visitor (with grandmother, too) to all their grandchildren in the U.S.  I developed a fascination and desire to “be Filipino” which culminated in a summer visit to Manila when I was turning 14.  The visit morphed into a 3-year stay (including high school) with my grandparents in Manila!  Eventually, I went to college in the Philippines, married a Filipino, birthed three daughters, and pursued a music career there, totaling 14 years.  Then my family and I lived and worked in the U.S. for 11 years (in three different time zones).  We had grown to a family of six before returning to Asia to live and work for four years.  In 1998, we returned to the Pacific time zone, moved in 1999 to Mountain time, and in 2003 back to Chicago!  Then in 2011 – 2012, my husband and I had the privilege of living in Japan to serve survivors of the Great Earthquake and Tsunami.

So what does all this have to do with helping Asians/Asian Americans thrive in Chicago life?

I have come to realize that in my experiences of traveling and living abroad, and in returning to American life in 1974, 1983, 1998 and 2012, many have turned to me for practical help in TCK* and “2nd-gen” relational issues.  As a TCK who has moved around a lot within the U.S., I have had a rich variety of situations and circumstances to learn from and raise my children in, as well as watch and coach my husband in his assimilation.

Getting well established and enjoying life in an American region that has the distinct four seasons, a unique and colorful culture, and a very diverse population can be tricky not just for recently-arrived Asians (from the home country or the west coast), but even for 2nd generation, young Asian Americans who are finally on their own.  I have found that many may not be well-trained in everyday housework, adult decision-making, European-American etiquette and cross-cultural sensitivity.  It is my desire to help my readers become very comfortable in the small and everyday workings of private life, as well as the significant items of public life.  Chicago is such a great city full of fascinating and inspiring people, and a breeding ground for greatness in many aspects of American and international life.  I hope you will use this blog as a resource for seizing and making the most of life here, to avoid learning the hard way or too late in the game!

*Third Culture Kid

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