SPEECH AT LUNAR NEW YEAR CELEBRATION-OCA, Organization of Chinese Americans. 20 February 2016 Sunny Park
Happy New Year, y’all! The year of the Monkey! The happy Monkey!
I came to the United States on September 5, 1974, arriving in Indianapolis, Indiana. I found my first job on the day I arrived. I worked as a steakhouse kitchen cleaner, making $1.80 an hour. I went to school and I went to work: waiting tables, driving a truck on the weekends, and with about 15 percent English fluency, selling life insurance policies to Indiana farmers for New York Life Insurance. I moved to Atlanta in 1978, and in 1983 I started a commercial cleaning business to help jobless Korean immigrants. That cleaning business became one of the top-10 private janitorial companies in the United States, with operations in 18 major U.S. cities. However, My professional title, as always, is CEJ: chief executive janitor.
Yes, I made a pretty good life in the U. S. What I know is; in the U. S., anyone can achive what they hope and work for, and is not uncommon. What make the different is; what do you do with your “success.” I decided to help the country helped me to stand.
Thank you, Dr. Tan, for your kind introduction. Josephine and I have worked together for the AAPI community for quite some time. Thank you again for your services for the AAPI community. It is my honor to speak to such a distinguished group of leaders on such a special day. I want to thank to President Alexandra Guo and the leadership of OCA Georgia. I had the privilege of sitting with Alexandra at the NAAAP’s annual dinner last October. She liked my speech, and I am here.
I have about 15 minutes to change the world. I want to bring up a very familiar subject to all of you, but perhaps from a different perspective. We Asian Americans are a valuable and integral part of the United States. We work hard and pay a lot of taxes, and we’ve built very respectable communities nationwide. What qualifies me to ask you to do something important? Let me brag about what I have done for my new country, the United States.
I also wish to share my frustrations, as I am depressed as we are not doing enough to change it, such an easy task.
I, with a face that says “foreigner” to Americans, am not doing enough to change the perception problem we have. While we are true-blue U.S. citizens, we generally aren’t accepted by mainstream Americans as patriotic American neighbors.
My children inherited a foreigners’ image in this country, whether that’s good or not. In reality, “foreigner” means that you are not in my team. Often, it also perceives as you are with my enemy side.
It was the first day in the U. S., landed at Chicago O’Hare Airport for a transfer to Indianapolis. It was a chilly September day, with snow flurries. I came to this land of opportunity for my own personal gain, and I was standing at the airport with a determining smile. Six hours later, I landed my first job, setting foot in the land of opportunity. I really liked this country. Something I never even heard in Korea. Making $1.80 an hour was like winning the lottery.
During breaks at that job, I had chance to read some old magazines at the restaurant’s coffee table for employees. I found a list of Americans who paid the most taxes. I determined to be on that list one day.
This nation gave me a tremendous opportunity to feed myself and allow me to stand proudly all by myself. I needed to do something for the United States. To make a long story short, I decided to pay $1 million or more each year as my income tax.
I have no doubt that this nation — even 100 years from now — will still be the world’s best place to live, work, and raise children. We still will attract immigrants from all over the world. With your participation, we can keep the title.
Fast-forward a little more than 20 years. It’s 1995, and my wife, Kay, and I have embarked on The Highlander, the famous yacht that belongs to the Forbes family.
Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, invited 18 guests on his family’s yacht for a dinner cruise. Steve Forbes is a respectful leader and a fine businessman. The Highlander left Boston Harbor for a dinner cruise.
Kay and I sat around with “the Iron Lady.” Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister of Great Britain, and former first lady Nancy Reagan were among Steve’s guests. I had to ask Steve, “Why I am here? Do you need the bathrooms cleaned?”
I had only met him twice before. I had helped the Heritage Foundation when he was leading their fundraising efforts. I never thought I was close enough to Steve Forbes to be invited onto his personal yacht.
I impressed him as a loyal American when he met me, an Asian American so patriotic to his new nation. He felt like meeting a patriot in very old days. What he was also telling me in his inside was; Asian Americas are not patriotic.
An immigrant came to the United States in 1974 with almost no knowledge of English and started cleaning a steakhouse kitchen. Two decades later he’s dining with world dignitaries on Steve Forbes’s yacht — unimaginable anywhere on the face of the earth . . . except for the United States.
I had the privilege of serving the Georgia Ports Authority board for 8 years, including as its vice chairman. Here’s what I want to brag about: the Georgia Ports Authority’s cargo volume tripled during my tenure. The winning team at GPA invited me to work with them, asking me to lead the efforts to bring more cargo ships to Georgia’s ports — Savannah and Brunswick.
I worked hard, traveling all over the world, mostly to China. My pro bono service for the people of Georgia really worked. I was proud to sign agreements for the 3-million-square-foot distribution-logistic center development projects with Target and Ikea in Savannah. My pro bono service actually worked to the tune of creating 6,500 additional jobs. All I did is represent Georgia with this broken English and this foreigner’s face. You all can do much better than me. If Sunny can, you can!
I’ve received few awards and plaques during my professional time. I treasure most the following four recognitions:
* The Americanism Medal from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
* The Patrick Henry Award from the National Guard.
* The Patriot Award from the USO.
* The President’s Volunteer Service Award.
These recognitions, I believe, helped change the perception of Asian Americans — maybe a little anyway. I came to this country at age 30 and received these awards at age 60 and after. You all have plenty of time and energy and wisdom to do it better than I am doing. If Sunny can, anyone can!
Individual success is important, but you don’t want to build a nice house on a sandy foundation. A better group image for all of us is like a solid foundation, because perception simply can be reality. Anyone who has decided to live in the United States might as well decide to love the nation and follow with acts showing that love.
As a father I am obligated to build a solid foundation for my children and their generation to live like insiders.
“Insider” means “Americans in general.” Start imagining me and all of you with Asian faces as “my fellow patriotic Americans.”
As a janitor, I did what I could to change our image issues. Most of you are smarter and richer in knowledge than I am, speak better English than I do, are better looking and younger than I am. . . .
YOU CAN DO A MUCH BETTER JOB IN MAKING MORE AMERICANS BELIEVE THAT ASIAN AMERICANS ARE THEIR PATRIOTIC AMERICAN NEIGHBORS.
THANK YOU FOR LISTENING!
HAPPY MONKEYS, EVERYONE!