Acceptance Speech: LEAP Leadership Awards Gala 2014

PHOTO: 2014 LEAP Gala Honorees: (Left to right) Irene Chang Britt, June Aochi Berk, Amanda Susskind, Glen S. Fukushima, Dr. Loretta P. Adrian with LEAP President/CEO Linda Akutagawa. Photo via LEAP.

The following text is from remarks delivered by Glen S. Fukushima on July 24, 2014, at the Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics, Inc. (LEAP) Leadership Awards Gala in Los Angeles. LEAP honored Mr. Fukushima and three other individuals and a nonprofit organization at the 2014 dinner.

Thank you for the kind introduction.

I am honored and humbled by this award, which is the result of wonderful opportunities I have enjoyed thanks to loving parents, nurturing teachers, supportive colleagues, and dear friends.

Among the dear friends are my classmates or near-classmates from Gardena High School who are here tonight—including Warren Furutani, Irene Hirano, Ron Ikejiri, and Joel Okada.

Another dear friend is J.D. Hokoyama, whom I first met in the 1970s when he was working at JACL (Japanese American Citizens League). He was a true visionary in founding LEAP in 1982, the year I finished graduate studies at Harvard University. In the 32 years since then, I have experienced first-hand the profound need for organizations such as LEAP. Whether in academia, journalism, law, government, business, or nonprofits—all of which I have experienced—there is a tremendous gap between the contributions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders can make and the opportunities we have to make those contributions.

This gap has many sources, which I do not have the time to discuss tonight. However, one source is Asian values. For example, when I was growing up, my parents taught me that if I’m in the presence of others who are older or more experienced than I am, I should listen but not speak. Imagine my surprise when I found that in my seminars at Stanford University and at the Harvard Business School, students got higher grades for challenging and debating not only their peers but even their professors!

My parents also taught me that I should not openly show my confidence, since doing so may cause others to become envious of me or to feel I don’t need their support. This is completely contrary to what I experienced in corporate America, where the common wisdom is, “How can we have confidence in you unless you have confidence in yourself?”

These are just two examples of how Asian values can hinder one’s ability to be accurately evaluated in American society. What LEAP does so well is to teach AAPIs that one need not change one’s values to be fully recognized and accurately evaluated. Rather, one can learn the skills, techniques, or attributes that will make it possible for one’s true abilities and potential to be understood and appreciated by non-Asians.

Let me conclude with a story. At a party in the German Embassy in Tokyo several years ago, the new German ambassador to Japan asked me (in front of a Japanese, a French, a British, and an American guest), “Mr. Fukushima, are you Japanese or are you American?” Before I had a chance to answer, the Japanese, a senior business executive I’ve known for over 20 years, said, “Mr. Fukushima is more American than American and more Japanese than Japanese.” He explained that I could be logical, analytical, articulate, argumentative, and legalistic (as many Japanese view Americans to be) but that I could also be kind, considerate, respectful of others, deferential to seniors, and value human relationships (as many Japanese pride themselves to be). I considered this to be a true compliment and evidence that perhaps I had learned something from my 30 years of flying back and forth across the Pacific Ocean more than a dozen times each year.

Finally, to J.D. Hokoyama, his successor, Linda Akutagawa, and LEAP, thank you for your more than three decades of preparing AAPIs for leadership positions so they will have more opportunities to make America a better society!

Thank you again for this generous award.