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NIEHS Observes Asian Pacific Islander Month

By Eddy Ball
June 2007

Eusabio 'Bing' Inocencio
Inocencio used the image of an iceberg as he moved from his discussion of the obvious signs of Asian identity to an account of the culture's deeply ingrained basic values. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Eusabio 'Bing' Inocencio
Inocencio illustrated the Asian cultural emphasis on harmony with an incident from his own life. Asked by tall colleague how he felt about being so short, instead of reacting angrily, the speaker relied on his wit and good sense of timing when he replied, "Like a dime among nickels." (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A small, but enthusiastic group of employees and contractors attended a presentation on May 22 in Rodbell Auditorium to recognize the contributions of Asians and Pacific Islanders to American culture.

The NIEHS Diversity Council-sponsored event featured a talk by Eusabio "Bing" Inocencio, Ph.D., followed by Asian food and music in the NIEHS cafeteria.

A Philippine-born economist, human relations specialist and former university president, Inocencio is founder and president of SpeakersOnAsianTopics.Org. His talk was hosted by Alyce Bradbury and titled "As American as Apple Pie, Adobo, Chapti, Dim Sum, Kim Chee, Pho and Sushi; Or, Working through the Smorgasbord of Prejudice and Discrimination." Inocencio used the "smorgasbord" metaphor throughout his presentation to illustrate the way that America has evolved from being a "melting pot" to a truly multicultural society.

Observing that "the past is persistent," Inocencio began his presentation with an historical review of the Asian experience in the United States beginning with the massive immigration of Chinese laborers during the California Gold Rush - and America's shifting attitudes towards the new residents.

Inocencio then moved on to the prejudice, ignorance and often hate that persist to this day among many non-Asians. Citing a 2001 Yankelovich poll, he noted that 24% of respondents considered Asian-Americans an economic threat, and one-third of respondents questioned their loyalty.

On the upside, Inocencio noted, are several positive beliefs about Asians that in fact coincide with some of the strong currents common in Asian cultural values, such as strong family values and the high value placed on education and enlightenment. Asians have also maintained their deep respect for elders, "face" and honor, and harmony. Increasingly, Inocencio added, today's Asians have come to consider themselves "Americans by choice, and Asians by culture."

Among the many positive things other Americans can learn from their brothers and sisters of Asian descent, Inocencio concluded, is the culture's perspective about time. Traditionally, as illustrated by a quote from the Taoist philosopher Lao Tsu, Asians have seen themselves as a part of history and understood their responsibility to future generations.

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