< Back to Member List
I’ve always been a somewhat reluctant participant in diversity issues for most of my working life. I believe that because I am half Japanese and half Black, female, and hearing impaired, many of my employers seemed eager to seat me in their diversity committees and I always got the feeling that I was filling several diversity quotas all at once. This left me with quite a bit of discomfort, fear, and even grumpy resentment at times. I never felt that I could be the voice of all Asian, Black, female, and disabled people that I often felt the pressure to fulfill. I tried to deflect questions about “Why are Black people so angry all the time,” “Why are Asians so competitive,” “What is it like to be female in a male dominated field (I was a classical guitarist music major long ago, the only female of 13 men in the program at one time), and “What do disabled people need from us?” I get exasperated when I find myself having to explain for the umpteenth time why X or Y is a racial stereotype or that we all aren’t like that. I always felt that I could only answer for myself—a child of a mixed marriage, hearing impaired women, whose parents emphasized neither cultures. I cringed at the great burden, the responsibility I felt to try to give the broadest answer I could think of, covering everyone, all differences. I could never do it, naturally, and I started to run and hide when people started talking Diversity in my presence.
My upbringing did not have a very ethnic tone to it. As a family, we did not talk about racial prejudice or racial injustice that played out on the television or in the newspaper on an almost daily basis. We did not read the great Black or Japanese poets, did not eat “soul food,” and did not use chopsticks. Our mother tried very hard not to teach us the Japanese language or the Japanese way—her goal was to raise us as “American GI children.” We didn’t go to Cherry Blossom Festivals and we didn’t go to Black Arts Festivals. We all just were. We existed, we went to school, we worked, we came home, we ate, we laughed, we cried, we fought. We were a family. We all knew and recognized each other. We all just were. To be perfectly honest, I usually never “remembered” that I was a minority until someone else would point it out:
“Can I touch your hair?”
“Hey China Girl, where’s your chopsticks?”
“Can. You. Understand. Me? Am. I. Speak. Ing. Loud. Enough?”
“Oh, I don’t think we’d be your cup of tea—we don’t play Black music and there won’t be any Black guys here.”
“Tina, we want to do something for Black History Month next week on Racial Reconciliation—what should we do?”
“Why are all the Fathers on the Father’s Day cards White?”
At those times, I was very much, uncomfortably, anxiously, Other. And ironically, I also never felt that I was Black enough when I encountered certain people:
“You’re not the real thing—you’re mixed.” (i.e. Your opinion doesn’t count because you can’t possibly Know What It’s Like.)
“What do you mean you can’t dance?”
“But I don’t think of you as a Black person!”
Everywhere I turn, I am being filtered through someone’s set of ethnic notions, and that can be exhausting. The thought of dealing with all of that on a work-sanctioned, organized (somewhat), and showcased way was very undesirable to me. The thought that a collective few would be charged with identifying and defining Diversity matters for everyone else was overwhelming and frightening. What’s worse, progress –while it is definitely happening and sometimes in amazing ways—always seems to advance ever so frustratingly slowly and with irregularity. Baby steps forward and sometimes leaps backwards or sideways, great strides forward, followed by long periods of bureaucratic nothingness. And always someone feels marginalized, slighted, neglected, misunderstood, trivialized, or ignored by our work. Diversity seems to be a forever moving target and it means different things to as many different people. What are we working toward? What do we want to see happening? How can we accomplish our goals? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are our commonalities? What are our differences? How can we gain allies? How can we work together to make it all happen? When will Diversity feel as natural as breathing?
I think the thing that finally captivated me and drew me into Diversity issues is working with the minority students in the Aurora Lights and Pre-Collegiate programs at the University. These are young people who are being told that Yes they can. They can succeed in school. They can work hard and have their work matter. They can go to medical school. They can become Health Sciences Librarians. They can go to college. They can learn to conduct research. They can work with others in any setting. They can be whatever they want to be. They can pursue their passions. They can dream. They can enjoy the successes of their labor. They can give back. They can make a difference in their communities. I love working with these teens, working with others to empower them to believe in themselves and giving them the tools that they need to succeed. It is for these hopeful students that I see the importance of staff and faculty of the University taking the necessary steps, making the effort, showing up and speaking out, coming together to roll up sleeves and work on issues that will smooth the way somewhere down the road. We all might all be so lucky to also benefit from our efforts directly, but that, to me, is secondary. Very desirable, but yet secondary. It is my hope that in being the co-Chair of the Faculty and Staff Multicultural Affairs Committee that we can make a positive mark on the University with our collective talents, experiences, knowledge, and drive. It is my hope that we can take all of our hopes and dreams and stories and make them both visible and tangible—showcasing our accomplishments, our work, our projects across the University of Colorado. I hope that we will continue to pave the way for young minority students to pursue not only the health sciences, but any career that they desire without having to constantly face the sometimes daunting navigation of all the known—and unknown—stumbling blocks of racial, gender, ethnic, and financial inequity. This is where I hope to make a difference.