Saturday, September 8, 2012

Teaching a Toddler the Lesson of Conservation with Help from EPA's ENERGY STAR

One day my husband came home and found my son and me sitting on the floor playing.

"Why are you sitting in the dark?"

"What? Oh. I hadn't noticed!"

"Uh, yeah...why don't you turn on some lights in here?"

My husband often makes fun of me that I'm really used to low lights in our house and have a high tolerance for it because I grew up in an immigrant family where not wasting anything--energy, water, food, etc. was of paramount importance. Now that I think back on it, our family room was often lit by just one mah jong table lamp, which had an extendable arm and could be pointed to various spots around the room, and occasionally the TV.

It's fact, early on I found myself teaching my son what the word "waste" meant, as he would do things that toddlers do--open the fridge when there was no need, turn on the faucet just to play with it, fill his kiddie pool beyond what was necessary. I found myself struggling with this explanation. After all, how do you teach kids not to waste something when that "thing" is so intangible? They can't see the reservoirs that hold our water, or the consequences of an overly taxed energy grid.

Energy efficient heating: snuggling with cat
That's why I'm really grateful for the efforts by folks at the Environmental Protection Agency for the tools they provide parents and kids to teach them the values of energy conservation. Not only is their information super accurate, but they make lessons fun and easy-to-digest, through their kids program Team ENERGY STAR, which is infused with a Lorax theme.

I borrowed The Lorax from the library and my son instantly loved it. He had empathy for the birds and the bears who were losing their homes, and understood that pollution was yucky and dirty. The use of the Lorax in Team ENERGY STAR, as well as their use of real incentives (I'll get to that in a minute) to motivate kids to conserve energy is smart and will make a big difference in educating the next generation of American consumers.

Right now through Sept. 17 if your child submits a story at (it can be a photo slide show, video or essay), he or she will be in the running to receive some sweet prizes, including:

  • The new Lorax DVD, which will go to the first 100 kids to submit essays
  • 25 winners will receive ENERGY STAR certified electronics products donated by LG Electronics, including televisions, computer monitors, smart phones, and mouse scanners
  • Top winners will also be featured in Times Square on the LG billboard.
  • Plus, some of the winners may have a chance to participate in ENERGY STAR day in October with EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.
The social change geek in me sees this as a genius way to foster environmental education in a sneaky way--kind of like hiding spinach in brownies. The mom in me sees this as an important opportunity to make sure our kids learn the value of conservation (Albeit in a way that's self-serving. These are kids, after all!). Go ahead and enter, and sign up for other great aspects of the Team ENERGY STAR campaign at

Disclosure: I found out about this contest because I am a paid consultant for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however I was not paid to write this post. I am a long-time supporter of environmental and health issues.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tongue Tied: Are we losing our ethnic language?

It’s a common experience for most Asian Americans: people assuming that we can’t speak English. This misjudgment confronts us on the street—yelled angrily at us and muttered under people’s breath. It can be unwittingly revealed at social events by people who compliment us on “how good our English is!” It even surfaced in the midst of this year’s gubernatorial race, when a Rob McKenna staffer tweeted, “Shut up and speak English #Asians.”

Asian Americans who only speak English find this particularly ironic. For me, as a fluent English speaker who majored in English lit and is probably more familiar with Spenser, Coleridge and Dickinson than your average racist on the street, this stereotype is particularly laughable.

I didn’t start learning Mandarin until college, where I studied abroad in Shanghai, so I’ve experienced both sides of the fence: an Asian American who communicates in English only, and someone who can speak both English and the language of my family’s heritage.

For me, I wanted to be able to communicate with my relatives and better understand where I came from. Mandarin curriculum wasn’t an option in high school, and my parents pulled us out of Chinese school when I was little—the fact that we hated it and was an hour’s drive away helped them along in that decision. So in college I dove in and double majored in Chinese, and never regretted it. The experiences and people I was able to meet through learning my heritage’s native language have helped shape who I am today.

But I can understand the perspective of other APIs, who feel that learning Vietnamese, Japanese or any of the hundreds of dialects from their home countries isn’t something that they want or need to do.
The reasons for this “loss of language” are wrapped up in a number of psychological and sociological issues that APIs grapple with. For some third or fourth generation Japanese in the Northwest, the Japanese language was lost, because speaking it in public, or even at home, was discouraged due to anti-Japanese sentiment during World War II. For others, second language learning tends to become de-prioritized by those who are taking on a rigorous academic schedule.

“Given the heavy academic load that many Asian American students are facing, it is easy to de-prioritize learning their native languages especially when they feel that they already use it at home and that there are no advanced level language classes available until college,” says Rebecca Deng, media director for TD Wang Advertising Group.

T.D. Wang, a local advertising agency that specializes in culturally relevant advertising and marketing campaigns, makes the point that bilingualism is “almost a requirement to succeed” in that industry. In fact, 100 percent of their employees are bilingual. However, when second language acquisition is most important, during childhood and adolescence, children often don’t understand the value that being bilingual can bring to their future profession, so it’s left to the parents to enforce.

“When I was younger I never understood the need to speak Vietnamese, because my mom understood English and spoke English to me no matter how broken or accented it was,” says Tuyen Than, a Vietnamese American student at UW. “I felt more of a need to fit in rather than be different. As I got older, the language gap between my family and me grew larger and larger. When I finally saw my dad and his family (my parents are separated), I could barely communicate with him.”

Some immigrant parents are fearful that if their children don’t speak English well, they won’t succeed, or they’ll experience racism. Or, they may believe that only certain languages, such as Mandarin or Japanese, rather than a lesser-known dialect, will be useful in the workplace. Some parents merely don’t have the time or resources to enforce native language learning in the home, and their own English is fluent enough, so that communicating in English is just easier.

As the mother of a three year old, I’ve found that raising bilingual kids is actually harder when the parents’ English is native or fluent, because the temptation to speak English is just far too great. For parents who only speak their native tongue, they can expect that English language acquisition will come to a child through attending public schools, television, movies and books. But the farther removed a parent is from one’s native culture, the harder it is to maintain social interactions “in-language” that demonstrate to the child that Asian language learning is more than just a chore or homework, but simply a natural way that people communicate.
If that’s the case, second and third generations of APIs may slowly find their language fluency slipping away, unless there are more concerted efforts to boost native language learning among parents and youth.

Uninformed, prejudiced notions such as those demonstrated by the McKenna staffer will likely always be a presence in the lives of APIs. However taking pride in one’s own culture and identity, no matter what language it’s in, is often the best revenge.

This story originally appeared in the International Examiner. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Why is Bullying Worst for Asians?

“They were chasing me all year, and hit me in front of my house. I felt very upset and didn’t know what to do.”

“When I came back to school they tried to shoot me with a gun. They showed me a gun and I ran away.”

“The teacher doesn’t listen to us. I feel depressed or afraid to go to school. I have nightmares.”

Unfortunately, the stories of these Burmese refugees are not unusual. Two separate studies, one by the U.S. Department of Education and one by UCLA, have found that Asian Americans endure far more bullying in schools than other ethnic groups. The Department of Education research, which interviewed 6,500 students from age 12-18, found that 54 percent of Asian American teenagers said they were bullied in the classroom, sharply above the 31.3 percent of whites who reported being picked on.

“This data is absolutely unacceptable and it must change. Our children have to be able to go to school free of fear,” US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a forum on the topic.

The figure was 38.4 percent for African Americans and 34.3 percent for Hispanics. Policymakers see a range of reasons for the harassment, including language barriers facing some Asian American students. Some in the API community have also commented that this situation also has to do with how Asian parents are raising their kids. Not preparing kids for how to defend themselves, and encouraging non-confrontation have made them easy targets for people to take out their sometimes racist, prejudiced beliefs.

It’s a hard dose of reality, but the truth is that bullying does not stop in the schools. Incidents of hazing in the military, workplace bullying and even bullying of seniors have all taken spotlight recently.

Congressman Judy Chu has requested Congressional hearings on the subject of military hazing and harassment prevention policies, following a series of high-profile hazing incidents, including one that led to the death of her nephew, Lance Corporal Harry Lew, in April of last year.

“The hazing of our nation’s defenders is inexcusable,” said Congresswoman Chu. “These brave men and women volunteer to be placed in harm’s way to protect our country.  They deserve better than to face discrimination or malicious treatment from their fellow soldiers in return.  I know firsthand about the pain a family faces when hazing leads to the loss of a loved one, and it is something no family should have to endure.”

Congressman Chu’s nephew, Harry Lew, was a 21-year-old lance corporal in the Marines, who was found asleep on guard duty in Afghanistan one night last April. After a sergeant announced over the radio that “peers should correct peers,” his fellow lance corporals ordered him to do push-ups, then stomped on his back and legs; poured sand in his mouth; punched him in the back of his helmet; and forced him to dig a chest-deep foxhole. At 3:43 a.m., while crouching in the foxhole, he shot himself in the head.

Lance Corporal Jacob Jacoby, who pleaded guilty to assault in Lew’s case, was sentenced to 30 days in jail, and will have his rank reduced to private class. The judge in Jacoby’s court martial said that she found no evidence that the abuse led to Lew’s suicide, even though his death occurred just 22 minutes after the incident.

Understanding how to combat bullying starts with understanding bullying behavior at its earliest stage—this is when it has the best chance of being corrected, during childhood. According to Seattle Children’s Hospital, children bully for many reasons. Some bully because they feel insecure, and picking on someone different, or physically weaker provides a feeling of being more important, popular, in control. In some cases, bullying is part of an ongoing pattern of aggressive behavior, and these children are unable to manage their anger in an appropriate way. These cases should be identified early so that professional counseling can help them learn to deal with their feelings, curb bullying and improve their social skills.

Other kids bully at school and other settings because they are copying behavior they are seeing in their own homes. People who are exposed to aggressive interactions within their own families often learn to treat others the same way, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle.

It can be difficult for parents to stay on top of bullying behavior that is taking place electronically—although this can be just as vicious. The Department of Education study found that teenagers in Asian communities are three times as likely to face taunts on the Internet. Over 60 percent of Asian American youth reported being bullied online every month. Only 18.1 percent of Caucasian students said the same thing.

Although social networking sites can make teenagers feel as if they are constantly watched by their peers, there is a ray of hope in this social media landscape. Sharing stories and videos online can galvanize supporters outside of a bullied person’s immediate community. For example, the It Gets Better Project, started by Seattle’s Dan Savage, posts videos by high profile celebrities and other LGBT community supporters, including President Obama, which encourage gay teenagers by telling them that life does get better, and to focus on the future.

The documentary movie “Bully” has an online site where parents, teachers, students and advocates can learn more about bullying, download toolkits, and take actions to stop and report bullying.

For more information on bullying, go to:

This story originally appeared in the International Examiner on July 4, 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Green Momma Parties: My Detoxifying Lifesaver

For several months I’ve been eagerly awaiting the launch of Women’s Voices for the Earth’s new Green Momma Parties! They’re a spin-off of WVE’s Green Cleaning Parties, which gave people all the tools they needed to make their own cleaners and reduce the amount of chemicals in their homes. The Green Momma Parties are designed for baby showers, parents’ groups or get-togethers with friends. They’re all about educating parents about reducing toxic chemicals in the home, while empowering them to become advocates for safer products at the same time.

This winter I found out that I’m expecting again. For those who didn’t know yet, surpriiiiise!! I’m due at the end of September and it’s a boy again, and yes, I’m completely unprepared for the chaos of having 2 kids. I’m the type of person who can anticipate how much chaos there will be, and instead of furiously trying to figure things out for myself, I look for tools to make things easier. That, and I procrastinate. The Green Momma Party Guide is one of those tools, because it gives you totally manageable, affordable solutions that anyone can do, no matter where you live or how much money you have. Awesome.

One piece of advice in the guide that I thought was super valuable is this: “wash your baby simply with castile soap and water.” With my first baby, we used the Johnson & Johnson soap that the hospital sent us home with, and bathed him about every other day. He ended up with horrible eczema and cradle cap, and still has flair ups now and then. Now, we make sure we only use castile soap and water with him, and limit baths to twice a week. For anyone whose children are having skin troubles, try this first before trying out other skin care solutions. We found that it really cleared things up.  

These tidbits of advice are best learned from other moms, and WVE recognizes that new moms learn best from other moms. That’s why I think the Green Momma Parties are so genius—they provide accurate, scientific information and recipes tested by experts, but encourage a format that allows women to empower and support each other.

It is estimated that between 80,000 and 85,000 chemicals are in use in the environment in United States, yet only about 200 of these chemicals have been tested for safety. Women’s Voices for the Earth believes that all products, especially those for vulnerable populations like babies, should be safe and non-toxic.
To sign up to host a party, go to And while you’re there, sign up to become a member and consider donating to this fabulous organization!

**Disclosure, I am a paid communications consultant for Women’s Voices for the Earth, and they are one of my favorite clients

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Let's (not) talk about sex

If stereotypical Asian parents drove cars like they doled out sex advice, you’d be experiencing some serious whiplash.

“Sex just isn’t talked about. It’s shameful. And then there’s all this pressure to have children, and lots of children,” said Katherine, a 39 year-old Chinese American.

This typical “abstinence until it’s time to get married and have lots of children" policy can send a potentially sexually active young adult into a tailspin.

New studies have shown that due to unique stigmas and a lack of communication on sexual health and sexual education in the home, Asian Pacific Islander Americans have lower rates of condom use, lower rates of HIV testing and, in some groups, high teenage pregnancy rates.

While many American adolescents have to suffer through the “sex talk” with their parents, most Asian American families avoid the subject entirely, and API youths have to rely on the public school system, friends, books or movies for their sexual education. Discussing sex is an extremely personal topic, and infused with taboo and assumptions. Many parents fear that even bringing up the topic of sex will actually encourage their children to become sexually active, even though a study by the University of Washington found that students who received comprehensive sex education are half as likely to become teen parents as those who get none or abstinence-only sex education.

According to the National Asian Women’s Healthy Organization, more than half of Asian American women are uncomfortable talking about sexual and reproductive health with their mothers, and even more so with the male figures in the family.

“In my household, sex was hardly ever brought up,” said Justin, a 31-year-old Filipino American. “It was assumed that I came out of the ether, basically and that’s how it was.” But at the same time, living in America and being surrounded by American media, Justin was inundated with sexual images and stories. His mom’s solution? “Cover your eyes until I say when!”

All of this silence and trusting that other people will do the important job of educating young people about sexual health and the risks involved with sexual activity, has resulted in some surprising figures. The model minority myth has furthered the assumption that most API youths are not sexually active — they’re too busy studying and trying to get into a good college. That’s true to some extent. Compared to the national average, female API high school students are less likely to have had intercourse, and they lose their virginity at a later age, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. But, API youth were significantly less likely to use condoms at first intercourse than all other ethnic groups, according to a 2006 study by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (known as Add Health).

While Asian Americans may have lower rates of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases than other racial and ethnic groups, HIV infection is growing at the fastest rate among Asian Americans — 14.3 percent for women and 8.1 percent for men between 2001 and 2004, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Advocates for Youth, a national nonprofit that helps young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health, cites some cultural assets that APIs have that could set the right course for healthy, knowledgeable API youth, but those assets have to be utilized. A high level of parental involvement in their children’s lives in Asian families is a significant factor in helping youths to make the decision to not jump into sexual relationships too early. In a survey, API youth were more likely than any other youth to believe their parents would disapprove of them having sex. Fewer than 10 percent of young API women in the Add Health study who reported a high level of parental involvement reported having had intercourse.

Avoiding the subject with teens, or dropping vague but stern notions of disapproval that “boys are bad” may be as effective as stopping a moving train. But just stopping the train isn’t enough. Eventually, everyone needs to learn how to ride the train, and safely. That’s where Asian parents leave their comfort zone and leave it up to others to educate their children. Studies show that young API women have a high level of confidence about themselves, enough to refrain from sexual activity. An important step is using that self-confidence to apply it to healthy sexual behaviors, such as contraception and reproductive health care.

Thirty-three year old Anna said that situation exactly describes her sexual health experiences. “I felt comfortable enough with my own decisions that I wasn’t ready for sex in high school. But then when I was ready, I definitely could’ve been more responsible with my choices in using contraception and practicing good reproductive health,” she said. “The sex ed classes in high school didn’t make much of an impression on me — not as much as a close personal conversation with someone close to me would have.”

Economic and social barriers can have just as much impact, with parents working multiple jobs, or immigrants and refugees lacking insurance and a comprehensive support network.

Older siblings sometimes step in to fill that role of educator. “In 4th grade, my brother and sister broke into my dad’s porn stash, and they forced me to watch this movie with them so I knew,” says Justin. “I resisted and didn’t want anything to do with it, but my siblings were like, ‘this isn’t that big of a deal, so just get over it.’ They were my guides, because my parents were too busy keeping the family going.”

For more information, go to or

The original version of this story was published in the International Examiner

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Green Year of the Dragon

Lunar New Year is just around the corner--and it's the year of the dragon! This brings a special oooooh factor to the annual festivities. The dragon is the zodiac symbol of power. Most of the dragons I know have big, sparkling personalities, or convey a quiet strength that you need to respect.

In honor of Lunar New Year, I've offered some tips on how to go green with your New Year's celebration:
  • Reuse those hong bao. The little red envelopes of money you receive from your parents and relatives shouldn't be thrown out--they're too pretty to not reuse. As a general safe rule, if you're a married adult, you should give out hong bao to kids at the celebration. Most adults also receive hong bao from their parents and grandparents (since we're always kids in their mind). $20-50 is considered polite if you can swing it.
  • Spend your money wisely. Lunar New Year is usually a time when younger folks find themselves flush with cash. Encourage smart spending, rather than sending it down the tubes by buying some new tops at H&M. Consider energy efficiency upgrades--they'll save you money! Start a little fund to trade in a clunker for a hybrid. And there's always the college fund.
  • Winter is the time for citrus! When giving oranges, go organic. They may be a bit more expensive but they're so much juicier and sweeter.
  • When doing your New Year's cleaning, use green cleaners wherever possible. They're easy to make, and you won't expose your guests or your family to noxious toxic fumes. Great recipes available at Women's Voices for the Earth's website.
  • If you're planning for a whole fish or seafood at your New Year's feast, find out which species aren't in danger of being overfished at the Monterey Bay Aquarium's website.
  • So you need to look spiffy and wear something new for New Year's. But do you really need another new outfit? Reach out to a friend whose style you admire (and who's the same size as you) and borrow and share clothes. Clothing swaps are a great way to refresh your wardrobe all year round!
  • Make your own New Year's cards. You'll be reviving an old world tradition, and the extra care and thought will be much appreciated.
  • Ok, I really didn't think there was such a thing as green fireworks, but there is! Check this out. I can't really vouch for how green they are, but no matter what fireworks you use, be sure to clean up wrappers so they don't get stuck in gutters and eventually get washed into storm sewers and into bodies of water. Or, opt for a quieter New Year's--the birds and your neighbors will appreciate it!

I hope these tips inspire some of you to go green with your New Year's celebration! 新年快乐!