angry reader of the week: jay chen

Attention! It is time to meet another Angry Reader of the Week, spotlighting you, the very special readers of this website. Over the years, I've been able to connect with a lot of cool folks, and this is a way of showing some appreciation and attention to the people who help make this blog what it is. This week's Angry Reader is Jay Chen, member of the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Board of Education.

Who are you?
Jay Chen. I think my close friends would call me a prototypical Angry Asian Man, the kind of person who gets excited when he sees an Asian face in a commercial, and will make a point to consume that product no matter how useless it is just to convince the suits upstairs that this type of marketing WORKS!

What are you?
In escalating specificity, American, Asian American, Taiwanese American. I will not give you a death stare if you call me Chinese American, but I would be happy to explain the difference if you ask. I have also been at various points of my life a chef, travel writer, soldier, chocolate maker, consultant, translator, landlord, tile salesman, diplomat, activist, elected official, and improviser.

Where are you?
My life revolves around avoiding traffic, so that means I can usually be found in the unincorporated bedroom community of Hacienda Heights. That might have seemed depressing a few years ago, but there are now a lot of really good restaurants to keep me company (I can't wait for 85˚C to open here).

Also, where else can you walk through a 19th century Mexican adobe mansion and minutes later be lighting incense on the steps of the largest Buddhist temple in the western hemisphere? Throw in the Back to the Future mall chase scenes that were filmed here, and Hacienda Heights is as American as it gets.

Where are you from?
I was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan and during my early years my family was one of the few Asian ones in Dayton, Indianapolis, and Portland. Then to sort of balance that out we went the other extreme and lived in Singapore for several years. Sufficiently confused, we finally settled in Los Angeles County, which was just right.

I went to college in Boston, lived abroad in China and Central America, and worked in San Francisco, before returning to Hacienda Heights where I ran for school board. I try to stay true to my nomadic roots though, by visiting a new country each year. This year it will be Colombia.

What do you do?
I am the Vice-President for the Hacienda La Puente Unified school board. I was elected in 2007, 11 years after I graduated from the same district. As a board member, I set the policy for the school district and oversee the decisions made by the Superintendent. Think of it as being on the board of directors for a $300M corporation, where the Superintendent is your CEO and the voters are your shareholders. It's my job to ensure our district produces the best possible students, and my shareholders hold me accountable for it each election cycle.

Since I arrived I have helped bring edible school gardens, renewable energy projects, and free college application workshops to our campuses, as well as Mandarin language classes to our elementary and middle schools. In a remarkable twist of fate, the latter generated so much controversy that I ended up on The Daily Show, and now I am the Angry Reader of the Week. I may have peaked too soon.

What are you all about?
Justice, progress, and Asian American empowerment. When I was in college I wanted to create a website that would serve as a national clearing house for all news Asian American. It might make you proud, it might make you angry, but it definitely wouldn't make you indifferent. Then I discovered someone else was already doing that, and I've been an Angry reader ever since.

Now I am firmly entrenched in the political process and urge others to get involved as well. I have actually run in (and won) an election or caucus each year for the past four years (knock on wood). I run not just because of the larger issues that you can impact through these positions, but also because in certain cases if I didn't throw my name in the hat, there wouldn't be a single Asian American name on the ballot, and that would just be depressing.

What makes you angry?
People who refuse to evolve from prejudices of the past, and who try to drag future generations down with them in the process.

Media organizations that contribute to the dumbing down of our populace, through inane shows, sensationalized news, inflammatory sound bites, and the white-washing of Asians out of stories about Asians.

Short-sighted politicians and corporations that place profit over progress, and all of the structural issues such as gerrymandering and the 2/3rds vote that make California so ungovernable.

People who don't vote. Your right to complain about politics is forfeit when you don't participate in the electoral process. I won my last election this June by 30 votes out of nearly 60,000 cast, so I know every vote does matter. But even if I can't convince you that your vote will alter the course of history, I can say with complete certainty that your vote will at least cancel out the vote of someone you completely disagree with. Shouldn't that be motivation enough?

Finally, faulty plumbing and roof leaks. They are the bane of my existence.

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