Same Sex Marriage as Economic Imperative

(originally published in Asian Fortune September 2012 issue,

This November, in addition to voting for the President of the United States, voters in Maryland will have an opportunity to decide whether same sex marriage, which became law in Maryland earlier this year, should remain legal.

Whichever side of the issue you are on, same sex marriage, which allows people of the same sex to enter into a legally sanctioned long-term commitment as a couple, is often framed as a moral issue by its opponents and as a human rights issue by its supporters. What’s missing in the discussion, however, is that it is also an economic imperative.

No, I am not just talking about the wedding planners and a whole host of other industries that can clearly benefit from more people getting married. I am talking about our state’s ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest—no matter who they are—to build families, careers, and businesses here, and to fuel the entrepreneurial culture that the national capital region badly needs.

In his famous book published a decade ago, “The Rise of the Creative Class,” urban studies theorist and creative class guru Richard Florida argued that a locale that attracts gays is also a community that thrives. It is no coincidence that places like California and Massachusetts, both known for breeding and attracting entrepreneurs, also happen to be gay-friendly states.

Whether a state recognizes same-sex marriage speaks volumes about that community’s level of tolerance for differences, for people who have the courage to be who they are and pursue their personal happiness. Entrepreneurs are risk-takers who don’t care to conform to the norm and who are often considered different from the rest of us. Their success requires a tolerant culture and a nurturing environment, which cannot be achieved by simply building more incubators or creating more small business mentoring programs.

Maryland is transforming itself from a small state at the backyard of Washington, DC to a destination for jobs and innovation. We need all the talent we can get, gay or not. The last thing we want is to let our ideologies get in the way of our ability to attract human capital.

Will Maryland get it right when we go to the polls on November 6? History teaches us that the majority doesn’t always get it right. Remember de-segregation of public schools in the South? Left to voters in other states, same sex marriage was voted down every single time because it only benefits a small group of people and the majority has no incentive to support something that challenges their concept of marriage and family. Social issues that protect the minorities’ basic rights should not be determined by the majority or we probably would not have advanced to this point as a society.

As marriage becomes less about reproduction and child-rearing and more about companionship, a childless marriage between a homosexual or heterosexual couple would be very similar, except in the eyes of others who choose to judge it. The fact that heterosexual marriage as an institution has failed many couples in this country has not led many people to question the sanity of marriage as an institution because the right to marry for a man and a woman has been a privilege we have taken for granted. The rest have to wait, beg, and fight.

Many in the immigrant communities have a hard time accepting gay marriage, as I did years ago. I was first exposed to homophobic issues about 15 years ago while serving as a resident director on a college campus. Since then, I have worked with bosses and colleagues, and made friends who are gays or lesbians.

Giving everyone the equal right to marry their loved ones is not just the right thing to do, but also a wise economic policy that would boost our attractiveness and competitiveness as a locale and a community, not to mention that gay Americans are among the best educated and highest income-earners of all Americans. I hope that Maryland, the state I have come to call home, can live up to its name as a “free state” where people of all faiths, ethnicities and life styles, can be free from prejudices and legal discrimination and be able to call this place home.

The Muslims Among Us

Former presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) recently took it to the Senate floor to publicly denounce accusations by five of his Republican colleagues in Congress that Ms. Huma Abedin, a Muslim American and a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has ties with the Muslim Brotherhood that is trying to infiltrate the highest level of the U.S. government. In his powerful and moving statement, Senator McCain called the allegations against Ms. Abedin “unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable citizen, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.” Such fear-invoked and ignorance-based attacks, as he eloquently put it, “defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it.”

Incidents like this remind us that mistrust of Muslims and Islam still persists and rears its ugly head all too often. This happens to be the holy month of Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims worldwide, which started July 20 this year. Throughout the capital region, Muslims in our communities are hosting numerous Iftar events to celebrate the breaking of the fast and to share their cultural heritage with the larger community and with fellow Muslims.

Because of my previous job, I have had the rare opportunity of working with many Muslim community organizations made of Pakistanis, Iranians, Turks, Egyptians, Indonesians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, Bangladeshis, and native born Americans of all ethnicities. What I have learned about Muslims in our community is truly inspiring. They strike me as one of the most highly engaged and empowered communities conscientious of contributing to and connecting with the larger community.

Since “9.11,” Muslim Americans have had a greater sense of urgency to improve the public’s perception of the community. New organizations such as the Montgomery County Muslim Council (MCMC) and its sister organization, the Montgomery County Muslim Foundation (MCMF), were born with the explicit purposes of serving the greater Montgomery County community (not just Muslims) and to encourage activism, while existing organizations have become more aware of civic and political engagement. In just a few short years, MCMC and MCMF have become highly-regarded organizations with such staple programs as the annual food drives, holiday baskets, and feed-the-hungry, in partnership with local charities and the government.

Another exemplary organization is the Muslim Community Center, which operates a health clinic that has made a name for itself in the region for offering free health care provided by volunteer doctors and staffers to the uninsured and low-income residents regardless of their faiths or ethnicities. In providing much-needed services to our community, MCC has become an integral part of our local fabric and an important partner of local government. These organizations are not alone. MARTI, the Maryland Turkish American Inhabitants, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community often host educational forums and actively reach out to the larger community for dialogues and understanding. Other active groups in our community include the Islamic Center of Maryland, the Islamic Society of Germantown, the Islamic Center of Washington Area, and the Pakistani American Association.

Such activism reflects the Muslim community’s foresight in turning individual success into community success, and their gratitude for the freedom, opportunities and respect they enjoy in this country. Since 2009, Montgomery County has been hosting public Ramadan Iftar educational programs (paid by community donations), as we have done for the Diwali tradition celebrated by Indians and other South Asians. Such community relationship building at the local level, no matter how large or small it may seem, contributes to community good will and helps ensure that the United States remains an infertile ground to those extremists who ARE trying to influence our youths and hijack a religion.

What Muslim communities are doing is what all of us ought to do—to be better informed, engaged and empowered citizens and communities. In the words of MCMC founder and community leader, Mr. Tufail Ahmad, “the white population in our community is not growing, and most of the charitable activities are done by the white community, so the minority communities need to step up. The Muslim community is doing well. We don’t need much, but we have a lot to offer.” One doesn’t have to agree with Mr. Ahmad’s assessment completely to admire his sense of duty towards the local community and fellow Americans. This is what makes us all richer as a people and a nation.


Latest Pew Research Center Survey on Asian Americans a Welcome Start

In case you missed the headlines, Asian immigrants are now the largest immigrant group in the U.S. , surpassing Hispanics. Not only that, we are “the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States,” according to the Pew Research Center’s recent study released on June 19, “The Rise of Asian Americans.”

My first reaction was pride—enormous pride for our community’s progress and accomplishments, and for our country that allows people of all backgrounds to flourish. I was also pleased to see a major research institution like Pew chose to focus on Asian Americans, a community that has long been disappointed with the lack of attention from policymakers, the media, and political campaigns, and the mainstream research institutions that yield credible data. So studies by well-established institutions like Pew are badly needed to add to the body of knowledge about modern-day Asian Americans.

Frankly, none of the key findings are really surprising. The local Asian American ethnicities in the capital region largely reinforce the study’s findings—approximately three-quarters of our community are foreign-born, three out of four Indian immigrants over the age of 25 have at least a Bachelor’s degree, and Asian Americans as a group are among the best educated of all communities, etc.

What was surprising, however, was the silence and even criticism by some Asian American organizations of the Pew study. In fact, several well-established Asian American organizations issued statements expressing both disappointments that the study reinforces the stereotypes of Asian Americans as model minorities with no struggles and issues, and concerns that such perception may have negative implications on public policies. What’s missing, according to these statements, is a more complete picture of Asian Americans who, in spite of some groups’ success and progress, still faces systemic barriers on many fronts.

I see the point. But while I applaud the established Asian American advocacy organizations for calling attention to our community’s socio-economic disparity and the need for additional studies, I wish they had also taken advantage of such findings to broaden their advocacy roles to speak on issues more relevant to our communities at large, and not just focusing on those most in need among us. Here are some examples of what could also have been said:

*The Pew study reinforces the fact that Asian Americans are an increasingly important part of America’s global competitiveness in the 21st century, contributing to the intellectual capital, cultural vitality and economic opportunities of our country. With a windfall of talents from some of the most important global markets and strategic partners, it is in our best interest as a receiving country to reexamine our immigration policies, employment practices and social integration models to optimize new immigrants’ contributions to our society.

*Local communities with large numbers of Asian immigrant populations have a historical opportunity to adapt their policies and practices to the changing communities’ needs and dynamics— especially as these relate to community engagement strategies, land use and development policies, and institutional cultural competency, particularly language access for people with limited English proficiency, access to healthcare and transit for senior services.

*While we resent the over-generalization and the model minority label, we believe our communities’ deep convictions about family cohesiveness, marriage, and hard work are tremendous assets that explained much of our community’s degree of assimilation. Systemic barriers and persistent problems that slow down our advancement does not take away the fact that this is the most open country in the world to immigrants, a place where anyone can have a shot at life’s opportunities.

Though imperfect, I found the Pew report a credible study that sheds important light on Asian Americans. Rather than focusing on “glass half empty,” we should embrace the social progress made and celebrate this great American success story. The dramatic demographic changes of our communities in the U.S. and the global dynamic demand that our communities’ leaders and advocates keep an open mind and update their agenda so the organizations that are predominantly run by native-born Asian Americans can truly represent the broad spectrum of interests and concerns of our mostly foreign-born Asian communities.

It may not be our cultural habit to do so, but let’s learn to say “thank you” when receiving a compliment rather than insisting we are still not good enough.

Lessons from Marion Barry’s Remarks

Public condemnation has been swift and abundant for former DC mayor and current Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry since his infamous remarks about dirty Asian shops that, in his opinion, “ought to go” and be replaced by African-American business people. It was a sure sign of progress to see the mainstream media turning the heat on Barry, and for groups from advocates to public intellectuals and elected officials make it clear that such divisive and racist rhetoric would not be tolerated.

It is easy to be outraged and to demand apologies. What is much harder to do—though equally necessary—is to reflect on how our community is perceived by others and how we can improve our public image and community relations.

Here is what Mr. Barry actually said at the primary election victory party in April: “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops… They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

Mr. Barry wasn’t just talking about the Asian shops being unsanitary; he saw the Asian business people and their shops as outsiders that didn’t belong in Ward 8, a predominantly black community. While his intention might be to see more black businesses in the community, his tactic of scapegoating by pitting one community against another is most unfortunate and drives a wedge in community relations.

Anyone who has been paying attention should hardly be surprised at these remarks from Marion Barry, who, in spite of his past glory as a civil rights champion in Washington, D.C., has become synonymous with reckless and shameless personal conduct by public officials. What bothered me more than his comments was the audience’s cheers and applause at his words. Right or wrong, Mr. Barry seemed to have echoed a sentiment among some residents in Ward 8 towards Asian American-owned businesses.

This should sound an alarm to the Asian business community and our community leaders about how we are perceived by other communities. The residents in Ward 8 elected Mr. Barry repeatedly to represent them because he is seen as a fighter for the underclass.

Ward 8 still feels left behind in spite of the capital city’s remarkable economic turnaround and massive revitalization since the late ‘90s. It is one thing to be poor, quite another to be “on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity,” as Dr. Martin Luther King put it in his “I have a Dream” speech. That feeling makes some residents resent “outsiders” who are seen as only interested in making money without being part of the local community.

Such a sentiment sounds all too familiar.

Asian immigrants all over the world are known to be industrious and successful in pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. But history teaches us that focusing only on making a living or a fortune may be fine for the short-term interests of individual businesses, but over time may breed resentment among locals who may perceive us as opportunists. Investing in community relations by hiring local residents, volunteering or donating to local charitable or social causes, and living where one does business are not only sound business strategies, but also economic imperatives for survival.

Wake-up Call

What happened in Indonesia during the mid to late ‘90s, when Chinese immigrants were targeted and had their properties and lives violated, should serve as a wake-up call to Asian immigrant communities everywhere. Economic success without community involvement or political empowerment can be a lethal combination that isolates us from the larger society and deepens mistrust between newcomers and the local communities.

I was impressed by a poignant commentary in the Washington Post (April 27), “Still the Same Marion Barry,” by Colby King, a Pulitzer Prize- winning Post columnist who happens to be African American, condemning Mr. Barry’s remarks while putting his life and popularity with some blacks in perspective. It is important that leaders and pundits in the black community speak out on such issues to advance other minorities’ rights and well-being. While we shouldn’t cut slacks for anyone, especially elected leaders, we should also rise above outrage and use each incident as a teachable moment to advance the bigger purpose of social integration.

Global Perspective on Regional Collaboration

On any given weekend, there are countless community events throughout the Greater Washington region, many in ethnically diverse immigrant communities. A Korean church service, an Indian American business conference, a Chinese choral concert and an Iranian Nowruz celebration, whether held in Maryland or Virginia, all draw crowds from the Region’s many counties and cities on both sides of the Potomac River. These “new communities,” as we are often called, frequently travel across county and state lines to be connected with our own communities to worship, to learn, and to have a good time. These activities and events add much vitality to local living.

The Washington Metropolitan area is one of the most transient metropolises in the country, with transplants and migrants defining and redefining much of the local demographic landscape. In fact, in Montgomery County, where I live and work, one in three residents are from other countries and three out of four are from other states. What attracted many of us from other states or countries to this region was economic and career opportunities and a good quality of life afforded by a metropolitan area. Immigrants like me have no roots in this country and will pursue opportunities wherever they are.

Since 1990, the Washington region’s immigrant population has doubled to about one million people, earning us the name “Edge Gateway”—a phrase used by the Brookings Institution to refer to a region relatively new to immigration but now has a sizable immigrant population. The area’s industry make-up means much of the immigrant workforce is made of high-skilled professionals critical to this region’s economic vitality and our country’s leadership in information technology, life sciences, healthcare, as well as defense, homeland security and other industries where large numbers of talents in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are needed and advanced degrees are commonplace.

It is no secret that the Asian community, which is three quarters foreign-born, is among the best educated of all communities. For example, according to the American Community Survey 2006-2008, over 63 percent of the Asian population over the age of 25 in Montgomery County has at least a bachelor’s degree and one in three has an advanced degree, exceeding the already high educational levels of the County’s general population (56 percent with bachelor’s degrees and 29 percent with advanced degrees). Their intellectual capital and entrepreneurial spirit are tremendous assets to our knowledge-based industries, and their emphasis on education has contributed to the reputation of our school districts, which are directly tied to our property values!

We are being perceived as a whole region no matter how we see ourselves. The local jurisdictional lines mean nothing to global partners and talents who are here to study, work, invest, and do business. For long-term economic prosperity, we must be open-minded about regional collaboration across jurisdictions, sectors and industries because we all benefit from a thriving region with many thriving communities clustered within close proximity to one another. A vibrant employment base in a neighboring jurisdiction means greater opportunities for our residents, while an excellent school district in our community benefits not just Maryland but also Virginia and beyond, especially when our kids come back after college to settle in the region.

In fact, Maryland is the 5th state or jurisdiction I have lived in, after Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Washington, DC. I didn’t settle in Montgomery County because it’s Montgomery, which I had never heard of before, but because it is next to Washington, DC, an international city where I found a job and a lifestyle, and has an excellent school district and beautiful neighborhoods. You can say the same about people choosing Fairfax County, where every one in five of its residents is now Asian.

The fact that Washington, DC has attracted many empty nesters and adults with no children in recent years while families with school-age children have gravitated toward suburbs shows the interdependent nature of the capital region in the life cycles of many individuals and families. Serious regional collaboration on affordable housing, transit, and workforce development is imperative to ensuring that this region does not become a victim of its own success when people cannot afford to live near where they work and have to be stuck in traffic. We all want to remain a magnet to the young people who favor urban living and the best and the brightest from all around the world who will only add to the prosperity of the region. And if we are to solve these issues, we must learn how to effectively engage the immigrant and ethnic minority communities that are becoming the backbone of our economy, whether knowledge-based or service-based.

Elections and Asian Americans

If you live in Maryland, you probably know that our primary election is on April 3, much earlier than previous years. Chances are, you have received multiple mailings from both your local Board of Elections and from candidates, especially if you live in the new Congressional District 6, where it’s a serious contest in both the primary and general elections.

Local elections can be confusing as relatively few people pay attention to local politics, especially for the largely-immigrant Asian community, which does not have deep local ties to really know the issues or the candidates. In spite of greater efforts by the party establishments and campaigns to reach out to our community and greater overall participation from our community in recent years as voters, donors, volunteers or organizers, or even candidates, a host of challenges remain in our election participation.

In Maryland, most of the elections are decided by the primary race, especially in the heavily minority jurisdictions where Asians congregate, such as Montgomery, Howard, Prince George’s and Baltimore city.

Since many Asian American voters are not registered with any parties, they cannot vote for most of the candidates in the primary election, and by the time they cast their votes in the general election, the results are so predictable that their votes don’t really matter much. The reluctance among Asians to be associated with any
parties means this phenomenon is unlikely to change in the near future – unless we change the policy to allow independents to vote for party candidates.

The small number of active participants in election activities leads to over-taxing of community leaders and connectors, who are being asked by a growing number of organizations and campaigns to open our wallets and rolodexes to support various candidates and party campaigns. It can be exhausting and expensive for a very frugal community that still brings lunch to work to save money and does not always understand why so much money is needed for elections.

It is one thing to reach out for money and votes; quite another for advice and understanding. So far, we have been mostly playing a cheerleading or supporting role. Very rarely do campaigns or parties take the time to learn about our communities’ dynamics, interests and priorities, or to get our advice on critical issues.

So we mostly cast our votes based on name recognition, campaign rhetoric or personal relationship rather than real issues that matter to us. Until the parties and the campaigns learn to engage our communities on a continuous basis and better yet, to cultivate true leadership in the Asian community, we will continue to see what I call the “eagle effect”—organizations or individuals swooping down to seek our support when needed then disappearing into thin air.

Finally, the national debate on illegal immigration has made Latinos synonymous with immigration. Often times, it is assumed that all immigrants support pro-immigrant legislations such as the Dream Act, which would allow those who were brought to this country illegally as children enjoy in-state college tuition if they graduate from Maryland’s high schools.

The fact is, the Asian community is highly divided on this issue as they were in 2009 when Montgomery County started reporting individuals charged with violent crimes to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after a couple of high profile killings committed by undocumented residents.

A community made of largely swing voters is fair game for any party wanting to earn our trust and votes. The fact that most Asians vote for Democrats has more to do with the lack of serious outreach from the Republican Party and the perception that Democrats are more minority-friendly, than with where the parties stand on issues.

With immigrants and our families, including our American-born children, making up an increasingly larger share of almost every community in the region, it is time the political parties integrate multicultural (and multilingual if necessary) outreach into their psyche and strategy for their own long-term benefits. No matter who we support, our core values of family cohesiveness (lowest divorce rate among all racial groups), education (highest educational attainment), and personal responsibility (highest savings rate) don’t change.

The fact that Maryland is the only state in the country with three Indian Americans in its state legislature, in addition to a Chinese American and a Filipino American, is sure progress. True social integration can take generations, but let’s not waste any generation, foreign-or American- born.

The article was originally published in Asian Fortune’s April edition.

Lily Qi Named A Finalist in Washington Chinese Post’s “2011 Person of the Year”

I am honored to have been nominated by the community as one of the five finalists of the Washington Chinese Post’s “2011 Person of the Year.”  The Chinese community in the Greater Washington region is about a quarter million strong.  This nomination is very humbling. To see all candidates and to vote, please visit The voting ends in just one week, by the end of March.

Lily Qi

The Art of Cultural Celebrations

Published in Asian Fortune ( February, 2012 edition.

At a Lunar New Year celebration event a couple of years ago, a local elected
official asked me if the movie clip on the big screen was showing the red
guards, a symbol of destruction and terror during the Cultural Revolution in
China. All she could see were images of young people carrying guns marching
since the Chinese language subtitle meant nothing to her. I assured her that
those were not red guards and that showing the old movie was simply an
expression of nostalgia, a way of having a good time during the Lunar New Year
because many people like me grew up listening to the movie’s popular theme song.
In spite of my explanation, she was not quite convinced that it was appropriate
for a public celebration. That experience speaks to the complex and fluid nature
of cultural heritage. Like many of my peers, I grew up during a politically
tumultuous era (60’s and 70’s) in China. The cultural heritage we are familiar
with are not the lion or dragon dances, which ironically I had never seen until
coming to this country, but rather songs and movies that inevitably reflect the
life and politics of that time. We resonate with them in spite of their often
ridiculous and laughable lyrics or meaning because they are part of our shared
history and identity. It is no different from a generation of Americans who will
always identify with the Woodstock culture no matter how they think about that

However, as our cultural celebrations become increasingly public events, what
we celebrate and how we celebrate can be a real challenge. For community leaders
and event organizers, the art is in balancing between meeting the expectations
of our own community members and introducing the larger community to the essence
of our heritage that we consider worthy of preserving and promoting.

After attending hundreds of community events hosted by mostly immigrant
communities in the past few years, I have some observations and tips that can be
helpful to those who have to make such delicate decisions. After all, public
events should enhance, not diminish, your public image as a leader, organization
and community. These cultural matters can be broadly applied to many communities
that are mostly foreign-born and relatively new to this country or region.

First off, I am often struck by the lack of English-language program copies
at many community-based events, especially cultural performances. Having the
programs and event signs in English is not only a basic courtesy but would also
alleviate potential misinterpretation and make the events much more meaningful
to all attendees, including those from our own ethnic communities who are native
English speakers.

The singing of the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance can be
awkward moments for many in our communities who only sing to their home
countries’ national anthems while standing silent at the tune of the American
anthem. Whatever the reason, singing only to another country’s national anthem
reinforces our community’s “foreigner” image when these events should instead
enhance community relations and social integration. For organizers, it would be
wise to print the lyrics or text in the programs.

Finally, it is a very common occurrence that the event hosts cannot properly
pronounce the names of the special guests they want to recognize, such as some
elected officials they invited. A little preparation goes a long way. In
addition, all special guests should be treated with equal respect, whether they
are diplomats from embassies representing an entire country or local elected
officials representing a local jurisdiction. As the event host, you are the
diplomat-in- chief to make sure everyone feels welcomed and respected.

Events are made of a million details and a successful cultural celebration is
as much defined by the lack of glitches and gaffes as by memorable moments for
the right reasons. The added cultural dimensions certainly complicate matters.
But as what used to be considered purely “ethnic” holidays like Lunar New Year,
which is shared by the Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese, become increasingly
mainstream, so should our practice of celebrating them.

As we begin the Year of the Dragon, the most auspicious symbol that is sure
to bring us many reasons for celebration, let us celebrate in great style and
with added awareness.


New Year’s Resolution: Give Where You Live

This article was originally published in Asian Fortune January, 2012 edition,

During the holiday season, you must have received countless mailings and calls from around the country asking for your donations to charitable causes. It can be overwhelming. After all, how do you choose among feeding the hungry, curing diseases, helping wounded veterans, educating at-risk youth, and protecting the environment? While you may already have your favorite charities, including some halfway around the country or around the world in your home countries where you came from, I am urging you to give locally, where you and your family and community now call home. There are many great reasons to give where you live, but here are a few that have compelled me to give locally each year.

  • Investing in the well-being of the community at large helps build strong communities that benefit all of us. A report on the Greater Washington, DC charities a few years ago showed that for every dollar invested in local charities, we get an average of five dollars of return in economic benefits in reduced need for government services or avoidance of greater crisis down the road that could be far more costly to all of us as taxpayers and members of the society.
  • Giving locally helps us pay attention to local affairs and gets us connected at a deeper level. Many important policy decisions were made without our communities’ direct input because we did not bother to read about them in local papers or show up at town halls or find some other ways to shape the outcomes. Giving makes us focus on who we give to and why. It also helps us exercise our influence and exert our voices.
  • Giving locally enhances our communities’ image and relationships with the larger communities, especially when you do that in an organized fashion. If we are perceived as only interested in economic opportunities, we cannot enjoy the true benefits of social integration at the local level. The Muslim community in Montgomery County has been a great model among new communities in that regard. For example, the Montgomery County Muslim Council ( was founded with the dual mission of serving the larger community and increasing Muslim community’s activism and visibility. In the words of its visionary founder, Mr. Tufail Ahmad, the Muslim community doesn’t need much but has much to give. In just a few years since its founding, MCMC and its affiliate MCMF have made a great name for themselves through their range of charitable activities. Another one, the Muslim Community Center (, runs a highly successful health clinic for the uninsured and low-income, by using the wealth of medical expertise within the Muslim community to serve the larger community while building good will.

Many of us came from countries with no tradition of an independent nonprofit sector, so charitable giving, especially giving to those we don’t feel connected to, is not deeply rooted in our cultural psyche. In this country, nonprofits, especially charitable organizations, are an American beauty. They are critical partners of the public and the private sectors doing what neither one of them can do alone or cost effectively. They are a measure of a society’s civility and collective conscience.

As we become more established both individually and as a community, we are in a much better position to give. At the risk of playing favoritism, I am recommending a few local Asian American charitable organizations that provide vital services to the most vulnerable among us so they may lead a dignified life.  Due to space limits, I am only offering links so you may check them out online.

For a list of local charities, visit the Nonprofit Roundtable of Greater Washington ( or the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region (
This New Year, let’s put “give where you live” on our New Year’s resolutions list. Let’s pay it forward–it’s the American way.

“Excellence, not white students, should be education benchmark”

(This letter to the editor was published in The Gazette newspaper on Aug. 3, 2011.)

The June 29 front page article, “Then & Now,” highlighted retiring Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jerry Weast’s determination to close the achievement gap between white students and “traditional minorities.” As a member of the Asian-American community and a parent of a MCPS graduate under Weast, I am disappointed that your list of “traditional minorities” was limited to just black and Hispanic students. While I can understand MCPS’ focus as a strategy for gap closing, your paper should have included Asian-American students in your overall comparison and reporting because the data were readily available.

While at the national level, Asian-Americans are still a relatively small population compared to the black and Hispanic populations, in today’s Montgomery County, the three communities are comparable in size: 17 percent Hispanic, 16.6 percent black and 14 percent Asian. What’s more, the omission of Asian-American student data negates the fact Asian-American students are an integral part of our school community and have helped raise the bar for academic excellence in MCPS.

According to MCPS reports, Asian-American students outperformed all groups in a five-year comparison in percentage of graduates who earned one or more Advanced Placement scores of 3 or higher, and Asian-American and white students are very close to one another in their mean SAT combined scores over a five-year period. MCPS reports repeatedly mentioned white and Asian-American students together when comparing data.

As our county becomes dramatically more diverse than it was just a generation ago and a majority-minority community, we need to re-examine our institutionalized practices of collecting data and telling stories, including who we use as a default benchmark of excellence. Excellence, not white students, should be the benchmark of excellence, no matter who represents that. Raising the bar should not mean raising it up to the white standard, nor should closing the achievement gap mean putting everybody at the level of white students.

Whether Asian-American students should be considered part of the “traditional minorities” or as a group with whom the “traditional minorities” need to close the achievement gaps with, they deserve to be listed to reflect a more complete picture of our community and the school system.

Lily Qi, North Potomac
The writer is vice chairwoman of the Governor’s Commission on Asian-American Affairs.

© 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./Gazette.Net