Help­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­cans move into main­stream BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By QI­DONG ZHANG in San Fran­cisco Kel­lyzhang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

Ch­ester Wang has a lot of ad­vice for Chi­nese Amer­i­cans: reg­is­ter to vote; par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­nity ser­vice; be­come politi­cians who un­der­stand and rep­re­sent Asian Amer­i­cans; and be­come jour­nal­ists who deliver a voice to the main stream.

And the ad­vice-giv­ing from the 67-year-old suc­cess­ful Sil­i­con Val­ley real es­tate en­tre­pre­neur and Acorn Cam­pus in­vestor doesn’t stop there.

“As Chi­nese Amer­i­cans liv­ing in the US, it’s ut­terly im­por­tant that we be­come part of the com­mu­nity, and make sure we do not take and take and take from the com­mu­nity. We need to think about giv­ing, and if we do not do it, our chil­dren will pay. If we do more now, our chil­dren will have more rights to en­joy.

Wang em­pha­sized that most Chi­nese Amer­i­cans don’t re­al­ize the most im­por­tant rights they have are in their hands: the power to vote and the power to par­tic­i­pate.

“Imag­ine if we have 50,000 reg­is­tered Chi­nese-Amer­i­can vot­ers in a city and 48,000 of us vote. Which politi­cian would ig­nore such a group? We can be a pow­er­ful group if we vote to show our power. Ev­ery one of us should know that whether our chil­dren are li­a­bil­i­ties or as­sets of so­ci­ety de­pends on what we do to­day,” he told China Daily in an in­ter­view.

“Chi­nese Amer­i­cans will al­ways be sec­ond-class cit­i­zens if we limit our­selves by not voting, tak­ing from in­stead of giv­ing to the com­mu­nity, go­ing for money- mak­ing ca­reers in­stead of do­ing pub­lic ser­vice in Amer­ica, and not vol­un­teer­ing our voice in the main stream me­dia,” he said.

Mod­estly claim­ing him­self as hav­ing “more fail­ures than suc­cess when it comes to busi­ness and pol­i­tics,” Wang says Chi­nese Amer­i­cans learn about US pol­i­tics mostly the hard way.

“I read about 20 years ago that the New York City Coun­cil once ap­proved build­ing a re­hab cen­ter right next to Chi­na­town, which was prac­ti­cally putting a jail next to where Chi­nese Amer­i­cans were liv­ing. It hap­pened be­cause ac­cord­ing to voting records, only 700 of 100,000 Chi­na­town res­i­dents voted. The plan was even­tu­ally re­versed be­cause of re-voting, but the les­son is bit­ter enough for ev­ery one of us to learn to­day,” he said.

Wang took a very dif­fer­ent path than most stu­dents from Tai­wan in the early 1970s when it came to a ca­reer choice. A 1969 grad­u­ate of Tai­wan Ts­inghua Univer­sity with a de­gree in physics, he re­mem­bers his mother sewing $300 ex­changed from the black mar­ket into his pants when he left Tai­wan for the US to study.

Ob­tain­ing his PhD in physics from the Univer­sity of Ore­gon in 1974, he chose to teach com­puter sci­ence in Saudi Ara­bia in­stead of go­ing into the job mar­ket. “I was 27, sin­gle and wanted to see the world,” he said.

One year of liv­ing and ex­ten­sive travel in the Mid­dle East was an eye-open­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for him. ``I saw how wa­ter was more ex­pen­sive than oil, I met with a con­trac­tor who has over 48 PhD en­gi­neers work­ing for him, and I heard friends talk­ing about real es­tate property ap­prais­ing 4,000 times within a year. “

He re­turned to the US in 1975, ea­ger to study for his MBA at San Jose State, and soon started a real es­tate agency and re­mod­el­ing busi­ness. In 1991, he and his brother Stan­ley built the first and then largest shop­ping plaza, which had as its an­chor store 99 Ranch Mar­ket, in San Jose in north­ern Cal­i­for­nia. 99 Ranch Mar­ket has be­come the most pop­u­lar gro­cery chain store in Cal­i­for­nia. It also is the largest Asian shop­ping mall — 130,000 square feet — in the state, with daily traf­fic of ap­prox­i­mately 6,000 people. It fun­da­men­tally trans­formed the tra­di­tional mom-and-pop re­tail busi­ness into a commercial shop­ping plaza with its mod­ern IT and high-tech con­cept. The mall also be­came an al­ter­na­tive to San Fran­cisco’s Chi­na­town for Sil­i­con Val­ley res­i­dents who had to spend 40 min­utes driv­ing there to get au­then­tic Chi­nese food.

His busi­ness in­stinct then drove him to­ward se­nior hous­ing be­cause he was con­scious of the needs of the baby-boomer gen­er­a­tion. He raised funds and built 88 con­do­minium units which lead di­rectly to the 99 Ranch Mar­ket in San Fran­cisco. And he also fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing hous­ing for se­niors in China, where he is build­ing a fivestory com­plex in Kaifeng city of He­nan Prov­ince, pro­vid­ing Western qual­ity of liv­ing stan­dards in China.

If the law classes in the MBA pro­gram he took taught him a cit­i­zen’s power and re­spon­si­bil­ity, it was real es­tate de­vel­op­ment that put him di­rectly in deal­ing with lo­cal govern­ment, from city plan­ning to de­ci­sion mak­ers such as city coun­cil­men or mayor.

“I found my­self be­com­ing friends of Su­san Ham­mer who was run­ning for San Jose mayor at that time; Ron Gon­za­lez, who was the 63rd mayor of San Jose and the first His­panic mayor since 1850 in Cal­i­for­nia, Steve Westly (2003-2007 Cal­i­for­nia state con­troller and CFO); and Mike Honda, cur­rent US Con­gress­man. I soon be­came fa­mil­iar with con­cept of cam­paigns, di­ver­sity voting is­sue for all races, mi­nor­ity rights, and neigh­bor­hood cam­paigns. Su­san Ham­mer, for ex­am­ple, be­came mayor ( 1991- 1999) be­cause she won 70 per­cent of the mi­nor­ity votes with the help of our heavy cam­paign­ing for mi­nor­ity and swing vot­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, that ex­pe­ri­ence made him un­der­stand how main­stream Amer­ica views Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, and he has de­voted more ef­fort to com­mu­nity ser­vice since the 1980s.

Wang also calls for nur­tur­ing Amer­i­can-born Chi­nese politi­cians who un­der­stand the cul­ture, rep­re­sent mi­nor­ity rights and speak for the main­stream pop­u­la­tion. He be­lieves Chi­nese Amer­i­cans should also en­cour­age the young gen­er­a­tion to pur­sue me­dia ca­reers in the US.

“Me­dia is the voice and tongue of our group, whether it’s print or broad­cast or so­cial me­dia. We need to have our own voice,’’ he said. ``Chi­nese par­ents tend to en­cour­age their chil­dren to pur­sue pro­fes­sions such as lawyers, doc­tors, ac­coun­tants so that they will not starve. But pol­i­tics and me­dia are es­sen­tials to our bet­ter sur­vival in this land of op­por­tu­nity. If the main stream me­dia such as the San Jose Mer­cury News re­ports daily sto­ries on Chen, Zhang, Zhao and Wang, the main stream grad­u­ally will not con­sider us as some­body out of the main­stream, and the gen­eral pub­lic will learn to ac­cept us. Our im­age is de­pen­dent on our own mak­ing. Our goal should be help­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­cans be­come part of the main­stream. If we don’t do it, our chil­dren will be the ones who suf­fer and be treated as sec­ond-class cit­i­zens.”

From his ex­pe­ri­ence of build­ing a commercial shop­ping plaza such as 99 Ranch Mar­ket, Wang said China’s eco­nomic power to­day is chang­ing the cul­ture and re­tail shop­ping habits in Sil­i­con Val­ley and else­where.

“When you have strong eco­nomic power, people pay at­ten­tion to your cul­ture strength. More Amer­i­cans are learn­ing Chi­nese lan­guage, cul­ture and even medicine to­day, which we did not an­tic­i­pate a cou­ple of decades ago. Chi­nese acupunc­ture, for ex­am­ple, is be­ing prac­ticed widely in the San Fran­cisco Bay area and in many parts of the US, and the trend is grow­ing. If we com­bine that part of cul­ture strength with the good part of Amer­i­can cul­ture, our po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic power will be ad­mirable.”

Wang has three sons and one daugh­ter. His el­dest son Justin is a grad­u­ate of Tem­ple Med­i­cal School in Philadel­phia and is an emer­gency doc­tor; his daugh­ter An­drea, a grad­u­ate of UC Davis is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for the Dis­ney Fam­ily Mu­seum in San Fran­cisco; his son Anthony is study­ing at USC’s med­i­cal school and his youngest son Jef­frey is a grad­u­ate of Berke­ley in bio­engi­neer­ing and works for a mi­cro pri­vate-eq­uity firm in Sun­ny­vale, Cal­i­for­nia. Wang and his wife Olivia, a fam­ily doc­tor, live in Los Alto Hills, Cal­i­for­nia.

QI­DONG ZHANG / CHINA DAILY

Ch­ester Wang has a lot of ad­vice for Chi­nese Amer­i­cans.

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