Class of 2016’s Bing Wei shares a recent story inspired by President George W. Bush this Immigrant Heritage Month.
When our PLS family gathered over Zoom last October 2020, I was depressed. My video update centered around reading my poem of describing helplessness through the imagery of Chinese cooking during the COVID lockdown. My poem, titled Saving the Souls During COVID-19 expressed my hopelessness and frustration of my Chinese ethnicity being associated with a virus. My sense of being foreign was exasperated through such name calling. As a specialist in US-China trade and investment with an expertise on corporate social responsibility (CSR), my Personal Leadership Project (PLP) of 2016 was aborted due to geopolitical tension. The crash of my PLP, which focused on bringing Chinese investments to California’s un-developed areas to create local jobs, led to the worst time for me living in America for 20 years.
I was comforted my poem was selected for the 2020 Reunion. Many PLS classmates and alums were texting me while the video of my poetry was screened to show their support. Magic happened during that reunion – my lightbulb was lit. President Bush commented after my poetry: “I know many of you are going through a hard time. But it’s your country now. Take the opportunity to lead!” My sense of belonging of my adopted country was suddenly rejuvenated. These words provided me with a deeper understanding of what leadership means, the ownership and responsibility of it.
Even as a young executive in my 20s at an American company in Hong Kong, leadership never came naturally to me. As the youngest in my family, my much older sisters led the household after we witnessed my parents being taken away by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. I never imagined I could lead.
After I moved to the States in 2000, I overcame the challenge of working in a corporate environment as a minority, as well as leading in my second language, English. I even became the first Chinese SVP for a Bay Area policy advocates group, taken by surprise of my own accomplishment.
However, President Bush’s words inspired me to think leading is a self-starting process. I do not need to be given a title by a company or an organization. I can lead through how I feel.
Since the October reunion, I immersed myself into the topic of “race in America.” I started to ground myself among grass-roots non-profits locally to promote global citizenship and condemn xenophobia. By March 2021 when the Atlanta shooting happened, I took my community leadership further. Not only did I speak at the rallies, but I also organized our own rally in Palo Alto with a couple of Palo Alto City Council members with an overwhelming turn out. I went on considering running for a political office and have now started to help a local candidate running for 2022 Congress. I have the new goal to increase representation in Congress for Asian Americans. I am also helping Asian-founded companies to establish their CSR programs.
Even as a registered and voted Democrat, I cannot be more grateful for President Bush’s inspiring comments. That was indeed my core aspiration to become a local AAPI community leader in the San Francisco Bay Area.