This past week, my cohort and I traveled to the San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (SGVMWD) in Azusa, CA. We heard from three different sets of speakers, but the overarching theme of the day was the topic of communication.
The first panel, regarding community development in the San Gabriel Valley (SGV), featured the Honorable Thomas Wong (Board President of the SGVMWD), the Honorable Rachelle Arizmendi (City of Sierra Madre & Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment), and the Honorable Jeff Maloney (City of Alhambra). Their discussion on community development revolved around outreach. Councilmember Maloney explained that in his city, the majority of city meeting attendees are Caucasian. However, almost 53% of city residents identify as Asian. Therefore, city meetings are not representative of the city’s demographic. To make city meetings accessible to everyone, Councilmember Maloney worked to translate and circulate flyers in languages other than English.
Through his story, I’ve realized the importance of language in building community relations. Growing up, I rejected Mandarin tutoring classes, despite being the child of Chinese immigrants. As a young adult, I now see the results of my earlier mistakes. Communicating with my parents, who are not fluent in English, is difficult because my proficiency in Mandarin is poor. Wrestling with these realizations has led me to the following question: if communicating with my own parents is difficult, how can I communicate with the Chinese-American community? Moreover, how can I be a part of or advocate on behalf of a community that I cannot fully communicate with?
In continuing the theme of communication, the next panelist, UC Riverside Associate Dean Karthick Ramakrishnan and Founder of AAPI Data, encouraged our cohort to seek conversations with people with whom we do not share beliefs with and to “…build bridges.” He used the example of the current-day tensions between the Asian community and the Latino community over the issue of affirmative action to warn our cohort that the two communities will be divided in 20-30 years if they do not begin reconciliation now. To mitigate tension, meaningful communication [is necessary].
Lastly, Dan Schnur emphasized the importance of an audience in effective communication, because “the second most important thing in any conversation is what [you] want.” The difficult part of communication, however, is that your audience typically does not care. Mr. Schnur advised our cohort to set realistic standards of engagement. Because people do not care as much as we do, we must prioritize our message and deliver direct, easy to understand points. Most importantly, we cannot look down on the people who do not care because patronization is the worst method of inspiration.
The day’s speakers have given me a lot to think about. Communication is at the heart of everything we do, and I know that an understanding of communication will be integral to my leadership development. I’ve always been interested in political activism and civic engagement, but the day’s speakers have taught me that it is not enough to be singularly interested. You have to practice outreach and effective communication to get all the voices to the table. As the Leadership Academy shapes me into a young leader, I hope to continue exploring the topic of communication and one day communicate with those who are not always typically heard.