Dad, thank you for coming to America
Here’s that answer to your Father’s Day question (sorry so belated!)
One week ago, you sent us the following text via our family iMessage:
“…Father’s Day is coming up. We’re all so busy. Instead of meeting now, I suggest we meet later, maybe in July when things are a little more settled. Meantime, do NOT give me any material gifts. I want ONLY a few sentences of heart-felt opinion from each of you about the current political situation and what you feel we should do. It does not have to be a long and it is not a dissertation but just your honest ‘gut’ feeling. Thanks!
— Dad, in Copenhagen Airport”
Sorry for the delay in providing my answer. Remember how I was an English major at Yale? Longwinded musings are my specialty, as is mulling over every word choice and pausing to hunt for tasty snacks mid-paragraph.
Before I provide my answer, I wanted to first thank you, Dad (and Mom, rest in peace), for immigrating to America.
Forty four years ago, you were a newly minted medical school graduate from Hong Kong University, where you and Mom met. You had several choices for residency and chose Washington University in St. Louis because of its fine reputation in Cardiology, receptiveness to your intelligence, abilities, and goals, and the friendly and welcoming tone of the letters that arrived to Grandpa and Grandma’s modest basement level flat on High Street.
With 1997 and the return of Hong Kong to China around the corner, the unknowns of Communist rule sparked immigration conversations all over the island. While some of your friends, siblings, and in-laws moved to Toronto, Vancouver, Sydney, Perth, London, and beyond, you and Mom picked St. Louis, Missouri, in the heartland of the United States. Equipped with a suitcase and about $500, you and Mom left everyone you knew behind and moved to create a better life for your future family elsewhere.
The guts that took is not lost on me, and the many sacrifices you made. Thank you for all your hard work, day to night, including the moonlighting you would do at other area hospitals, to ensure your young family had enough to eat in the first nests you and Mom built. Thank you both for all the striving and saving you did, to create a stable home life. Thank you for your bravery at moving to a foreign place and adjusting to dramatically different conditions from the concrete streets of Hong Kong.
You must have encountered so many people with limited exposure to non-white or non-black faces, much less Chinese eyes and features. I imagine you being the first Chinese people local residents met and got to know. I picture you and Mom as suddenly thrust onto the scene as local ambassadors of the Far East, charged with representing well. You and Mom instantly formed cross-cultural relationships, and no doubt dispelled racist notions while navigating your new surroundings, adulthood, and parenthood on your own without family support.
This was only a decade after the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. took a stand. There was no Internet, no social media, no fax machines, home computers, or dot matrix printers. When you arrived, Richard Nixon hadn’t yet faced Watergate, and by the time Edward was born, Gerald Ford had taken over and was halfway through his term.
Mom stood by your side as a homemaker, making meatloaf and clipping coupons when not juggling two squalling boys and stretching the frozen orange juice concentrate into several gallons instead of one (there was too much sugar in the recommended proportions anyway).
Five years after you first immigrated to St. Louis, you made your way west to Camarillo, California, where I was born. The town hospital raised money for your equipment so you could establish an office as its first cardiologist. You and Mom worked and saved, and gave the three of us the most beautiful childhood. When we moved into our new home in Somis, the agricultural mecca with ten thousand people and one street light, we finally had the big blue skies and open playground of a space you had dreamed for us, where we could play in the dirt, raise koi fish, and plant and harvest quite the array of fruits, vegetables, and flowers on our few acres of earth.
Though we lived next door to commercial nurseries and farms, we were never without new technology thanks to your curiosity and love of learning. Our satellite dish beamed in the news, MTV, and Jeopardy! while the bright yellow bindings of National Geographic magazines crowded our bookshelves. When home computing began, we were one of the first families I knew to have a Macintosh. We watched movies on giant laser discs, and actually used the Prodigy CDs to access information and play games. We all shared a desktop Mac with a dot matrix printer that spit out homework assignments and print invitations to our pool parties. When audio CD’s came out, you, Elliot, and Edward, gave me my first boombox for my birthday, proudly watching as I screamed with joy at the Mariah Carey, Al b Sure, and Ice Cube albums I would soon blast all day and all night.
As a child, I rarely suffered for anything besides Guess Jeans instead of Palmettos, and for a long while, ear-piercing. You and Mom taught us how to be frugal and enjoy the thrills of the hunt at Ross Dress for Less and TJ Maxx, as well as the American Cancer Society Discovery Shop where she and I used to volunteer as a mother-daughter duo in National Charity League. We kids enjoyed piano, art, soccer, volleyball, kung fu, lion dance, Chinese dance, and our local Chinese Club in addition to Indian Guides, Indian Maidens, Gifted and Talented Education, Creative Arts Workshop, Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Boys State, Girls State, and so many other academic, leadership, and sports camps that greatly supplemented our public school educations.
If the monthly China town trip to get more exotic groceries wasn’t happening, we’d go for a big Sunday grocery shop at Price Club or Costco, eating all the samples before gobbling up $1.50 hot dogs and loading the Volkswagen Vanagon or the Honda Previa, or the Honda Odyssey with our haul. We had minivan after minivan, and dog after dog, learning life lessons from merciless coyotes.
Even when I went through those awkward years of braces, pimples, bad perms, and hormonal swings that drove everyone crazy, you and Mom patiently endured my tantrums and brattiness. You let me drive your champagne gold Mercedes Benz 200 Turbo Diesel until I whined enough and got my own 1998 Honda Accord (you even made sure it was stick shift so I was always prepared).
I don’t believe I expressed enough appreciation back then, and certainly want to now as I finally reach adulthood and see what it takes to create a life like that for my future family. (And while I continue to procrastinate, thankful for egg freezing as a late-bloomer — I am grateful!)
So thank you, Dad — for all you and Mom did for us, for your courage and conviction, for creating the best conditions a kid could want to grow and develop and learn. Through your work ethic and passion for serving your patients, your continued curiosity and habits as a life-long learner, you have always been a role model and hero to me. I am grateful for the experiences and opportunities you gave us, and how you equipped us to be self-sufficient, self-reliant, and able to embrace different cultures and new technologies. Thanks to the ways you cultivated us, we always had the means and exposure to learn and develop as people, with the optimism and confidence we to could pursue our dreams here in America and beyond.
Thank you for choosing a country that celebrates and rewards the pioneers, the innovators, and the immigrants who make a better life here than from whence they came. Thank you for choosing small towns that molded our character and fostered creativity, and for teaching us to balance academic achievement with sports, music, arts, culture, community, philanthropy, and friendships. We studied hard and knew college was a must — and yet we got to go to Homecoming, prom, and all the dances as well as sleepaway nerd camp in Los Angeles, where Mom would pick me up when I was homesick to get a bowl of noodles and visit a museum or catch a show. We grew up happy and self-assured, thanks to the community of friends and neighbors around us — the many uncles and aunties and cousins of no blood relation who felt like family just the same.
You worked and saved and put us all through college, and let us find our own paths after that, pursuing greatness however we defined it. You didn’t pressure us to be doctors, lawyers, bankers, or any professional occupations that connoted job security. As a result, we’ve been able to take non traditional paths and embrace personal, not socially prescribed goals.
Dad, I could keep going but let me finally answer your original question which is about what I am now doing in this current geopolitical climate:
- I am doing whatever I can to cultivate entrepreneurship and economic self-sufficiency across diverse communities and groups. My platform of startups is a one-woman incubator / accelerator partnering with a host of incredible education and community development organizations that prioritize people and the planet over profit. My goal is to document, productize, and “normalize” the foundation and essentials of starting up so that entrepreneurship does not seem so incredibly daunting. I also have multiple initiatives running to connect talent with resources so that dedicated operators and builders can create their own businesses and companies. They can start small and build, forming confidence and amassing resources with each entity they create.
- I am actively mentoring startup founders and future founders, including young prodigies who exhibit a rare gift or passionate interest in something outside themselves. I am opening up my network, revising business plans and decks, crashing conferences with extra guests, sharing links and examples, indulging in long conversations that may prevaricate or meander because with startups, the initial path is not always linear and requires an effusive brainstorm or six dozen to reach a direction sometimes. tapping into my former training as a peer counselor, freshman counselor, course instructor, teaching assistant, and marketer to contribute my education, experience, expertise and life learnings to others. This is in part so that they can avoid my mistakes!
- I am learning as much as I can about how entrepreneurship and innovation positively affect global society and the economy, and am continuing to examine history as to what has led to civil unrest and war. I have always loved reading, and my appetite has expanded. I now spend most days reading newspapers and books about the economy and US and international history to understand what happened in previous times of socio economic turmoil that usually resulted in war. I purposely consume content from diverse publishers and experts, including the University of Chicago Press, Bloomberg, Bloomberg Radio, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Guardian, USA Today, and the various programs that comprise our beloved NPR. While traveling for work, I supplement current news and world reports with the historical by visiting various national and international monuments and institutions, from Capitol Hill to the Tate Modern, the World War II Museum to the Imperial War Museum, the International Spy Museum to SF MOMA, Westpoint Academy and Union League Club in New York to independent art galleries along stretches of desert roads across California and Arizona.
- I am living frugally while canvassing my network and actively working to direct capital and resources to founders and teams that support human-centric approaches and long term sustainable good. I have made only a few modest angel investments with what I have, and hope to do more once a few of my domains and long term bets start paying off. In the meantime, I am making strategic introductions to help funds and founders raise resources to grow companies. This is why I haven’t purchased property or fully joined the ranks of adulthood; I would rather invest in the teams and multipliers that will make more impact versus owning physical property that would subject me to mortgage payments and obligate me to take a particular job with a sensible wage. Thanks to rent control and our rent system in general, I have the flexibility to take risks and form and back the entities I believe in. It is not the cookie cutter condo or family home with the picket fence, and I love it. Though I really want a dog.
- I am finding ways to actively cultivate international trade and diplomacy in addition to supporting entrepreneurship and social enterprise. Thanks to our family and friends, fancy degrees and random jobs, I am gifted with an extensive network of operators, builders, and financiers who care about the economy and global trade. This is why I have been on such a traveling tear, traveling all over to understand who in the world is most effective at value creation in building the cities and companies of the future. In the past sixty days as part of forming my startup and initiating partnerships, I have visited Austin, Berlin, Boston, Flagstaff, Frankfurt, Ft. Lauderdale, Joshua Tree, London, Los Angeles Metro, New Haven (twice), New Orleans, New York, Newport Beach, parts of New Hampshire, Phoenix, Portland (Maine), Plymouth, Seattle, Westpoint Academy, and Washington DC (twice). I have driven up and down the I-5 in California as well as I-95 along the Eastern seaboard. I have had the honor of judging Silicon Harlem’s #HarlemtoHaarlem international pitchfest competition featuring Dutch vs. US companies, and participated in conferences with leading innovators and captains of the tech industry, including the Collision Conference in NOLA, Domaining Europe in Berlin, Techonomy New York, the CVC Summit in San Francisco, and Digital Town’s Smart.London during London Tech Week.
- I am learning about the financial vehicles, foundations, and entities the wealthy create to preserve their legacy and resources, so that I may emulate their practices while helping others start companies and amass wealth to do the same. Rather than protest Trump who does not share my values towards healthcare, education, immigration, women’s rights, international trade, taxes, the role of the FBI, defense, and military, the need to strengthen our judiciary, congressional, and local and federal entities to better protect people here and abroad as global citizens, and etc…I am trying to learn first hand how to create ethical and civilly responsible foundations, holdings companies, and whatever entities are required to maximize the power of my platform to further educate and enable the public to participate in the economy and grow individual wealth. After that will come the deep dive into how our government works, so that I may work with former classmates and friends new and old who have dedicated their careers to public, civil, and military service to influence the future of this country. I realize my network is rich with experienced, capable leaders across industries and generations. These are the professors, economists, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, generals, admirals, pilots, navigators, business owners, financiers, artists, innovators, humanitarians, and diplomats who should be steering America forward.
- I am developing my skills and abilities as a philanthropist by trying to cultivate giving and contributing more myself — to the foundations and nonprofits that are doing frontline work. For my birthday this year, I organized that charity friendraiser called Shout.Club. It was a rather tight timeline but it was something. In addition to running that event, I also contributed charity baskets to fundraising galas for Asian Law Caucus and Public Advocates, and spent way too much at both the Saint Francis Foundation’s Wine, Women and Shoes event as well as Hospitality House’s annual art auction and fundraiser.
- I am maintaining and creating friendships and professional relationships with diverse communities and people across ages and cultures who regularly support and challenge my thinking and embrace our differences as well as intellectual freedom. Diversity does not mean siloing yourself into a private Facebook group where the same people post the same topics all day long. It does not mean sequestering yourself to your country club, to insulate your thinking and order minorities and women to chase down your Tom Collins. It does not mean relaxing in the VIP lounges at airports or staring down the women in hijabs who took at “wrong turn” onto Park Avenue. Diversity means reading the Koran, supporting independent artists and designers, going to the Confederate Museum to understand why the Civil War happened, and calling out when someone of another race is threatened on the subway. It means taking a pause in the middle of hectic work trips to understand history and why this country was once so divided by race and class and seems to have recently regressed.
- I am continuing to recycle, compost, upcycle, and reuse whatever I can with the goal of a living as close to zero waste as I can even though I am hardly a monk or minimalist. You know I can’t resist shoes, clothes, jewelry, good food, good wine, art, music, and books. I offset my own consumption by using reusable bags, donating whatever doesn’t suit to friends or strangers in need, only buying bargains, and sharing books and wine with others.
In closing, I am with you in that I do not agree with the protectionist mindset and departure from strategic alliances designed to promote peace, advance human progress, and preserve the environment for future generations. I believe that liberty and economic prosperity go hand in hand, and that both are threatened right now because of the income gap and divisiveness across the country. Sadly right now, people look around and only see differences instead of commonalities. The concept of common ground has been lost due to economic strife and fears over public safety. It is hard to work together and give back to your community, when you can’t afford healthcare, tuition, or your weekly gas and grocery bills.
I am your only daughter and the third Loh kid who has been gallivanting around the world in search of her destiny — and while my journey towards self-actualization is finally close to an end, I remain thankful that you and Mom instilled in me the values and grounded sense of self that has made me who I am and continue to try to be.
So on this Father’s Day 2017, I thank you Dr. Christopher Loh, for choosing America. For giving up the safety and comfort of the known, and having the guts to dive into the unknown. I try with my thoughts and actions to emulate your good deeds in my own ways, and in doing so realize that as I move out of my modest little apartment in San Francisco, I am also channeling the entrepreneurial ways and strength of conviction of your father, who founded that linen and embroidery business so many decades ago and was himself an employer and leader who lived a humble, simple life of morning and evening constitutionals with the same toast and tea for breakfast and neighborly social conversations in between.
I am also tapping into the spirit of your mother, and of Mom’s mother and father — and of the many members of both families who lived for what they believed in. This includes Uncle Lawrence, Uncle David, Sylvia, and of course Rae.
It is through a combination of their and your words and deeds, and the other life experiences I have had that my character has been fortified. You and Mom gave me the foundation, encouraged me to learn, and enabled me to access the big wide world outside Camarillo, California while still carrying its small town values with me wherever I go. And for all of that, I am eternally grateful.