Names: A Stranger in My Own Land

In three weeks with three weeks of lead time, I’m holding five events in cities across North America. First night was in Seattle where Red Russak and Brett Greene the organizers of Seattle Tech Meetup generously let me turn their February meetup into a Python night for PyCon Startup Row. Then was our event in San Francisco, where Yannick, Sylvain of developer relations at Twitter, and I put on PyCon Startup Row Night at Twitter HQ. Notable tech journalists Robert Scoble and Alex Wilhelm appearing.

As the events unfold, each one is unique. With mounting success I’m building confidence to assert more of my personality in my PyCon Startup Row events. For Chicago, I’ve been emboldened enough to try something different. I’m holding a form of a switch pitch where I’m asking for women and minority entrepreneurs who’ve had a hard time connecting with resources to launch come and pitch the audience and the Chicago tech community for help.

Of the three teams who present, I want them to build teams with resources they source through my event at Braintree. Those teams will be tasked with building a Minimum Viable Product by March 20th. I will then tweet each team’s product to the audience for retweets. Retweets will count as a vote. The winning Minimum Viable Product will get a spot at PyCon on Startup Row and exhibit in the same expo hall as Google, Heroku, Facebook, Twitter, and the list continues.

I’ve been searching for an entry to create this blog post so I may explain to attendees why this format is precious to me personally. I struggled as I often do when it comes to writing then I received inspiration in the news. After a twelve year review by the Pentagon, President Obama announced on February 21st that 24 overlooked military veterans would be awarded Medals of Honor including 19 who were denied because of their racial or ethnic backgrounds. What struck me was how many of the veterans had changed their names to hide their backgrounds. 

This particularly resonated for me because of my Chinese name. My first startup was psychotherapy delivered online. My cofounder Gunny is a very smart guy who often reminded everybody he’d scored perfectly on the quantitative section of the SAT. Despite this gauche habit, he was indisputably smart. Besides his bilingual fluency in Korean and English, he spoke passable German learned at Exeter and Princeton. Gunny also had taught himself Chinese.

My family is part of the now extinct community of Chinese in Korea. Whilst we were in Korea there was no attempt at passing. We stuck out, as it was considered a refuge of temporary resort till we could return to China. But the years wore on till those of our community completed their entire life cycle in Korea.

Koreans use a lot of Chinese loan words, and particularly Korean names are built using Chinese characters. Gunny once asked me what my Chinese name is, when he pronounced it in Korean, he said, “wow you father didn’t care about fitting in.” He was referencing how harsh my name sounds in Korean. 

Though Chinese and Korean can use the same characters, pronunciation varies widely. My name Xu Jia Hao (许家豪)sounds fine in Chinese and means literally tycoon. But in the Korean pronunciation Huh Gah-Ho would stimulate lot of quizzical looks and many jokes. But this contrast of the veterans changing their names to pass and my father’s determination to assert my Chinese identity in a Korean country helps me understand how to explain why it’s important to me to have this event in Chicago highlight women and minority entrepreneurs. 

When my family first arrived in Seattle, we lived in the Yesler projects located over the crest from Seattle’s original skid row. My row of apartment buildings was recently demolished with a big construction crane parked over it. I can only assume it’s going to be some form of condominium development or a building for nearby Seattle University. My uncle Ching Fang-hsu who founded Seattle’s first non-Cantonese Chinese restaurant and Mandarin speaking Christian church also lived here when he first arrived in the US in the late 1950s. One of his sons came in second place on the Amazing Race, and a daughter went on to become a dean of Yale College. 

The Asian immigrants moved out and often up. My black friends remained for generations. They couldn’t change their names to pass. 

Python has perhaps a better record than most tech communities when it comes to gender inclusion. Though admittedly PyLadies was formed by women for women. It was a case of the door was open. Far as I know there wasn’t a mainstream push to actively create an organization to make women feel comfortable and included in the wider Python community. But I think it’s fair to say in the Python community the door is open for all. However an open door isn’t enough. Sometimes we need to put a hand through the door and pull people through. 

We have large populations of our fellow Americans made to feel like strangers in our own land. The slights may be subtle, but the very apparent message is you’re not a part of this American experience. 

Dear reader, I tell you, straight looking into your eyes, nothing feels more lonely than feeling like a stranger in my own land. This feeling conjures a pain that those reading this and have felt it know that it’s a special deep cut that produces no tears. We can’t cry because it hurts so much, and if we allowed ourselves to cry over this persistent repeated insult to our psyches our bodies would drain of every drop of water till we were human jerky. It hurts so much when somebody makes me feel like a stranger in my own land. Those who know this pain suffer it mutely. Because when we cry out it’s a whisper that our fellow Americans ignore easily. Be kind to your fellow Americans, of every kind. Put a hand through the doorway, help pull somebody through into the American room.

My Take on Voice and Exit: Part One of Two

I made a comment on a Twitter exchange between Vivek Wadhwa and Naveen Jain, that I interpreted as touching on the current lack of privacy afforded us by proliferation of technology.

To this I interjected that this is a Brave New World where a feudal peasant was far freer than any modern professional graduated from an elite school.

I referenced in the tweet Aldous Huxley’s novel, and in my mind was thinking of Balaji Srinivasan’s masterful presentation at Startup School organized around the tropes of Voice and Exit.

This touched off the most interactive exchange I’ve ever participated on Twitter. A lot of the comments were referencing literal conditions of life during feudal times, though I was referencing more state of mind and options to choose a new system or state, as Vivek Wadhwa correctly interpreted my original intent.

Most folks didn’t understand my point. Though I’m not a medievalist, I’m going to delve into this topic. After all Malcolm Gladwell has a great career talking about topics he has no basis in the knowledge. Why don’t I give it a college try. I got by pretty well at Columbia turning in pure dada for my assignments.

Here’s the exchange following. I promised an essay explaining myself that would include mentions of the the French Revolution, Chinese dynastic declines, the US conscript and volunteer Army, and Jeff Skilling. This is my first post on my blog. My second will be this essay I promised with all the mentions I just promised.

I hope you’ll find my blog entertaining. Hello world!

Vivek Wadhwa ‏@wadhwa 14 Dec
Self driving cars will be recording everhting around them, delivery drones will be watching from above. micro sats from sky. #EndofPrivacy

Naveen Jain ‏@Naveen_Jain_CEO 14 Dec
@wadhwa are you worried about #EndofPrivacy or more worried about those 1% who are sucking blood from 99% of the society ;-)

Vivek Wadhwa ‏@wadhwa 14 Dec
@Naveen_Jain_CEO I am worried that the 1% forget it was the rest of society that helped them become 1%. Believe they are superior, entitled

Don Sheu 許家豪 ‏@ulysseas 15 Dec
@wadhwa @Naveen_Jain_CEO it’s a Brave New World where a feudal peasant was far freer than any professional graduated an elite school

Vivek Wadhwa ‏@wadhwa 15 Dec
Very interesting point by @ulysseas: Peasents were freer than professionals are today. He’s right, we’ve become slaves of work, technology.

Scott Zachary ‏@szwrites 15 Dec
.@wadhwa Totally, because I can’t quit my job whenever I want and move to a new city like the medieval serfs could. @CrazyIdealist @ulysseas

Charlotte Ashlock ‏@CrazyIdealist 15 Dec
@szwrites @wadhwa @ulysseas Let’s get out a time machine and fetch a medieval serf to settle this debate!

Scott Zachary ‏@szwrites 15 Dec
@CrazyIdealist I have an espresso machine and indoor plumbing, so I’ll win. @wadhwa @ulysseas

Charlotte Ashlock ‏@CrazyIdealist 15 Dec
@szwrites @wadhwa @ulysseas I would argue that expresso machines & indoor plumbing are aspects of HAPPINESS, not freedom

Charlotte Ashlock ‏@CrazyIdealist 15 Dec
@szwrites @wadhwa @ulysseas The definition of freedom is problematic. Free time? Freedom from convention? Freedom to make life decisions?

Don Sheu 許家豪 ‏@ulysseas 15 Dec
@CrazyIdealist @szwrites @wadhwa a Buddhist would say those accoutrements represent burden not freedom or happiness

@CrazyIdealist @szwrites @wadhwa my point was riffing from @balajis talk for Startup School on Voice and Exit and I have opinions about NSA

@sarahokeefe @wadhwa see mention of @balajis Talk, think I’ll attempt an essay with French Revolution, Chinese dynastic declines to explain

@sarahokeefe @wadhwa and US conscription army and modern volunteer army and extended no limit war on terrorism pt 2/2

Scott Zachary ‏@szwrites 15 Dec
.@ulysseas Any religion that says my toilet is a burden is stupid. @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa

Quip Slinger ‏@CairnRodrigues 15 Dec
@szwrites @ulysseas @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa I have to agree strongly with that. Proper sanitation is the road to clarity of mind.

Don Sheu 許家豪 ‏@ulysseas 15 Dec
@CairnRodrigues @szwrites @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa I’ve stayed at temples, very clean, here’s an apropos piece

Quip Slinger ‏@CairnRodrigues 15 Dec
@ulysseas @szwrites @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa A plea to end home ownership is appropriate to a discussion of sanitation and religion?

Don Sheu 許家豪 ‏@ulysseas 15 Dec
@CairnRodrigues @szwrites @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa earlier mention of accoutrements and the stem point of Voice and Exit

Don Sheu 許家豪 ‏@ulysseas 15 Dec
@CairnRodrigues @szwrites @CrazyIdealist @wadhwa I don’t read as plea to end home ownership, this reminds me to add Jeff Skilling to essay

Abigail Ann Young ‏@AbigailAnnYoung 16 Dec
@wadhwa @CrazyIdealist @ulysseas Only a pers w/no undrstndng of sbsistence farmng, manual labour, or any feudalism cld come 2 tht cnclusion!