7.10.2008

BRITS AND AMERICANS

I'm happy to announce that I've been recently named one of 20 Americans to participate in a US-England leadership exchange program called the British American Project. There are 20 British counterparts who will be flying with us to Los Angeles later this year to dialogue on this year's topic, pop culture; and next year, we'll all go to England and come around another topic.

Special thanks to my boss, who is an alum, who encouraged me to apply, and who filled out my nomination form. Below are the four essays I wrote for my submission. I'm looking forward to meeting the other fellows and seeing what interesting exchanges result from these gatherings.



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The mission of the British-American Project is to promote cross-cultural understanding. How does this interest you?

My whole life has been about crossing cultures. As a Taiwanese-American growing up in suburban San Jose, I very much lived the hyphenated life: one language and culture at home, and another at school and on the playground. Not having been raised in the church, my formative years in the Christian faith were in my teens, and were heavily flavored by the trans-ethnic nature of the gospel: I volunteered in poor urban neighborhoods among mostly blacks and Hispanics; I worshipped with Asian, black, and white congregations; and I spend one summer doing missions work in four different Eastern European countries. My wife is Caucasian, my kids are adopted from China and Taiwan, we live in a diverse neighborhood and attend a multicultural congregation, and our kids go to a day care where all the other kids and all the workers are black.

Yet all of that just means that I've crossed cultures; it doesn't necessarily mean that I know or care a lick about cross-cultural understanding. But I do. Sometimes, all this mixing just makes me all the more confused about my own heritage, or all the more hardened in harboring negative stereotypes and false prejudices. But sometimes, it means that I actually take the time to listen and learn; to get out of my comfort zone long enough to truly understand and appreciate someone else who is different from me; and to be secure enough in who I am to faithfully represent the various elements of my identity to others who may have not previously had any such meaningful contact. Those are the times when I am reminded that, however hard it is to take the extra effort to not just cross cultures but respect and embrace them, that is the very thing that makes life rich.



What is the most interesting thing about you?

I keep a very busy schedule: a demanding job, two small children, elder at my church, two boards, and numerous side pursuits. My free time is measured in minutes, I wake up at 4 every morning just to get a moment to myself, and I now follow sports by fast-forwarding through games while running on my treadmill. And yet, in the midst of all of that, I make the time to maintain two personal blogs: "Huang Kid Khronicles" and "Musings of an Urban Christian."

"Khronicles" is the more trivial of the two sites, filled with the sort of drivel about kids that only matters if you actually know the kids. But it's important for my friends and family, many of whom are far from Philly, to see how our kids are progressing; I want my kids to someday read what I've written, so they can see what they were like when they were little; and I use the site to explore deeper issues, like culture and adoption and faith.

While I'm fortunate to have a day job and side gigs that allow me to pursue things of personal and intellectual interest, "Musings" is the outlet for my true voice. Here I can explore the intersection between cut-throat capitalism and social do-gooding, argue that gas prices are too low, and exposit on the implications of the Bible on 21st century urban America. I'd like to say that what I write is interesting to others, and to the extent that those writings reflect who I truly am and what I'm truly about, I'd like to say that what that means is that I'm interesting.



Describe a specific instance in which our popular culture has impacted you, either for the better or for the worse. Let us understand how your anecdote bears on the conference topic.

Early in Ken Burns' documentary on baseball, author Gerald Early says, "The three things the historians will remember America for a thousand years from now are the Constitution, jazz music, and baseball." I would be inclined to agree with him, and if you think about, all three get at what America is. Our nation, after all, was instituted as a place where the pursuit of happiness, not the happiness itself, was perceived to be a God-given right; in other words, we are a country in journey, never arriving, ever debating and innovating. And so the Constitution has survived over two centuries, at once rigid and fluid; jazz is beautiful because it is wild and improvisational and yet rhythmic and basic; and baseball is a kid's game, and yet fans appreciate that there are infinite nuances and permutations to enjoy.

Ah, baseball. My childhood love, I lost track of it in college because I didn't have a TV, the Internet didn't really exist yet, and, well, the whole industry went on strike in 1994. Some five years after that, I still wasn't really following; but I lived with a bunch of guys who were, and they convinced me to watch the 1999 All-Star Game with them. If you're a follower of the game, you know that was the magical night in Boston that Ted Williams threw out the first pitch, and then all of the all-stars crowded around him, wanting to talk to him, not wanting him to leave the field and him not wanting to leave the field. It was as if a bunch of grown men, multimillionaire professional athletes at that, had been reduced to innocent little kids, star-struck by the chance to share a moment with the greatest hitter who ever lived.

And as I watched, my childlike innocence was also kindled, as was my love for the game and my love for my country. Professional baseball has become much more global in the decade that has followed; but I maintain it is inextricably American, in that one cannot understand what it means to be American without understanding baseball. Or, to put it another way, if you want to have a debate about all that is right and wrong about America, just talk baseball, whose highs and lows parallel America's best (players in the prime of their careers serving in World War II, stars making a whole town feel good about itself again) and worst (owners opposing racial integration, athletes taking steroids). In fact, a traveling exhibit of the Baseball Hall of Fame that is running right now at the National Constitution Center in town is called, "Baseball is America." I played hooky from work last month to check it out, and scribbled on my ticket the following quote from Robert Frost that was found on one of the displays: "I never feel more at home in America than at a ballgame." Amen.



Please write a lively bio describing yourself beyond the usual list of degrees, titles, credits and citations (this will be used in the conference book if you are selected).

Lee Huang is a quintessential "INTJ" on the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. One of the defining characteristics about INTJs is they approach reality as they would a giant chessboard, always seeking strategies that have a high payoff. The Wharton School of Business, The Enterprise Center, the Fels Institute of Government, and Econsult Corporation have been four big chess boards on which Lee has explored the integration of spiritual and secular; business and government; and cut-throat capitalism and social do-gooding. Whether it is living, working, or worshipping, Lee spends his time at the intersection of worlds: black, white and Asian; rich and poor; and for-profit, non-profit, and public sector. As a result, Lee communicates interesting insights: he has written a number of articles, studies, and publications, and has spoken extensively at conferences, churches, and schools, on a broad range of topics such as economic development, minority entrepreneurship, and faith in the city. Ever the documentarian, he posts many of these insights on his family blog (Huang Kid Khronicles) or his professional blog (Musings of An Urban Christian).
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