By Rawlein G. Soberano, Ph.D
Washington, D.C. (June 3, 2010) – Our Eurocentric orientation and focus in looking at world events and conditioned preference of WASPs in positions of management and decision-making should be reexamined in view of the election of the first African-American president in American history.
One of our national flaws in foreign affairs is the lack of recruitment and cultivation of our minority population to enter the Foreign Service, with their desirable cultural and/or linguistic skills, developed and cultivated at home during their formative years. Many years were wasted after World War II from developing this American potential, which is the envy of the West and every European, Latin American, Asian, African Middle Eastern country. We talk about our diversity but fall short in seeing it put to good use in the interest of the country.
No one doubts that one of our major strengths in this country is our diversity. This is the most opportune time to exploit by expanding our foreign service through active recruitment of these groups. What a great opportunity and a productive challenge to spread our system of government abroad, focusing the emphasis on individual merit and excellence instead of birth status, inheritance and/or religion which is the measuring yard in many countries of the world.
It will also be a call to all Americans who are stationed and work overseas to get their act together and treat the “natives” with respect even though the latter look up to them with colonial subservience and inferiority complex. Their reaction to the natives’ almost worshipful conduct created the image of the “Ugly American” because of the way we acted towards and dealt with them. We have lost billions of dollars from potential businessmen, tourists and students from visiting this country because they resented their treatment from the hands of our consular and embassy personnel. How were they selected for overseas assignment in the first place anyway?
We will continue to have mediocre results from our personnel abroad if the participation of Americans of color in the Foreign Service and global affairs is limited and continues to stay the same. Some of their actions are even exploitative of the local population. For a minute- or 2-minute interview as to why “these visitors” would want to go to the US, they are charged a stiff $100 per person and in many cases decisions are made capriciously. There is no empathy or warmth from these “Anglo” personnel when they interview these “natives.” There is no consistency in the message that is sent out. One answer can get you the green light to come to America, while a similar one can get you denied. That is a lot of money to demand of people whose income is penurious at best. Do these personnel understand the role education, geography, economics, culture and international relations play in human behavior and social interaction?
We sometimes forget that the majority of the world’s population is people of color. We have an advantage over other countries in this area because of our heterogeneous population. What a position to take advantage of when we use African-Americans in Africa, Afro-Latinos in North Africa; Hispanics in Spain, Mexico, South and Central America; and Asian-Americans in Asia which is more complex because it is more diverse linguistically and in religious terms, e.g., East Asia: China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore; Southeast Asia: Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Burma, E. Timor, Brunei; South Asia: India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan. The understanding among people builds a stronger foundation; is more rewarding to the human well being; is much cheaper than going to war which causes destruction and death, sowing hatred and vengeance, and alienating so many people.
The same can be said of the Peace Corps. Once again the world is aware that America is the land of opportunity; it is for real, where one’s race and ethnicity is not a liability (and can even be an asset) in this land of meritocracy, where one can aspire to the highest opportunities of the land and tackle the toughest challenges on the basis of talent and hard work. It will take some time before Americans of color will be convinced race is not going to be a barrier to federal employment and appointment, if they have the proper schooling and viable work experience to be competitive in the job market with the federal government and the private sector.
From the economic angle, globalization has a different face. The US has suffered the most job losses in 25 years. It’s not just factory workers getting laid off or losing their health insurance. Americans who never imagined themselves vulnerable, e.g., professionals, journalists, etc. are losing their jobs and healthcare at unprecedented rates. If the American people knew in 1989 that this is what globalization would look like in 2010, would they have not signed up for it then?
The worst recession after the Great Depression triggered more than 8.4 million job losses. Some may argue it’s the recession that caused the job losses, and nothing else. Many of these jobs are not coming back due to globalization. It’s time to adjust our strategy to changes in world affairs.
Rawlein G. Soberano, Ph.D. is the President of the Asian American Business Roundtable. www.aabronline.org