As a first step, just reach out: Racial trailblazers offer their secrets
- As a first step, just reach out: Racial trailblazers offer their
Mark Freeman, with an African American father, a Cherokee mother and
a Japanese American stepmother, went to an activist friend for
guidance on "how to be black." He has since been honored for
mentoring African American youth.
By Stephen Magagnini
Bee Staff Writer
(Published Feb. 23, 1999)
One day a Vietnamese boy was so angry at his mother, he ran to the
top of a mountain and shouted, "I hate you!"
In the distance, a voice shouted back, "I hate you! I hate you!"
The boy was shocked, and cried out, "I love you!"
"I love you! I love you!" answered the voice.
The boy ran home into his mother's arms and told her what had
His mom hugged him and said, "that is life -- what you send out is
what you receive."
This fable has been Dominic Quy Hoang's blueprint ever since he
landed in America in 1984 after a hellish escape from Vietnam that
included 10 days at sea without food and water.
Hoang's life is a daily exercise in breaking barriers. He was one of
dozens of racial trialblazers interviewed by The Bee who shared their
secrets on how to get along with people of different races and
Make the first move.
Before they came to Sacramento, Hoang and his family ran grocery
store in Galveston, Texas in 1987.
"All of my neighbors were black," he said. "I had a really bad
impression the first day -- some of them tried to intimidate me and
steal from me."
He and his parents were particularly scared of the ringleader, a
husky 6-footer named Cowboy.
As time went on, Hoang would say, "Hey Cowboy, what's up? Give me
five!" Then one day, Hoang invited Cowboy to his family's apartment
above the grocery store for lunch. "After one cigarette, one beer and
one egg roll, we broke the ice," Hoang said.
"He said, 'I know you're nice people.'" But he confessed that he
resented some immigrants who drove new cars, and thought Vietnamese
disrepected him for his lack of education and job skills, Hoang said.
"He said, 'Dominic, you look at me differently, you look at me as a
friend.' From that day on he became a good friend of mine and
protector of my store. I gave him a part-time job a few hours a week."
Look for common ground.
Hoang, whose religious beliefs landed him in a Vietamese Communist
prison for 32 months, knows something about survival.
So when he got on the basketball court with Cowboy and his homies,
the 5-foot-6 inch refugee developed a hook shot and a three-point
bomb. "Cowboy gave me the ball all the time," he said with a
grin. "If you take the time you can see inside. They're so beautiful
In 1989, Hoang came to Folsom as a priest-in-training at St. John the
"I was lost in the crowd," he said. But he brought his friend-
catchers: his guitar, his voice, his sly sense of humor and his love
"I showed them I'm a good bowler, I'm a good ping-pong player, I have
a heart and I'm capable," he said.
He spent a summer learning Spanish so he could better communicate
with his Mexican congregants.
When he meets new people, "I smile and laugh with them -- I'm open
with them first," Hoang said. So are his parents. "They don't speak
much English, but they bring their heart. My dad always waves at
American people, and my mom makes people egg rolls."
And Hoang always has his eye out for children: "Even if the parents
are prejudiced, after you play with their kids they will make time
This approach works for Scott Syphax, an African American
lobbyist. "When I meet a guy at the bus stop, I find out if he has
small children just like I do," he said. "As fathers, we
automatically can establish a rapport on which we can build and move
Syphax realizes some people may have preconceived notions they're not
even aware of, so he'll mention that he listens to country music as
well as rap and R&B.
"My father taught me, don't assume that because a person has not said
anything to you that they dislike you. They may be just as afraid of
you as you are of them," Syphax said. "You're never going to find out
unless you take the risk."
Don't buy into stereotypes.
In 1992, Hoang left the priesthood to devote himself full-time to
inner-city youth. He's mentored hundreds of refugee teenagers, using
the basketball court as his classroom.
About a year ago, his Vietnamese American basketball team -- a short
in height but supremely talented bunch -- knocked off two much taller
African American teams in a pick-up tournament in south Sacramento.
Finally, after the Vietnamese squad lost a close game to a team of
African-American All-Stars, one of the opposing players came up to
them and said, with a tone of surprise and admiration, "I never knew
that before, but you guys can BALL!"
Be aware of others' experiences.
Lorraine McCall, who is white, got a glimpse of what it's like to be
a person of color when on a trip to Alaska with a friend Yvette
Jones, who is African American.
McCall whipped out her checkbook to pay for a gift. "I said they're
not going to take a check from out of state," Jones said, adding that
she's never been able to use a California check in Texas, her home
"That really blew my socks off," said McCall, who had no trouble with
the check. "It was just the way they talked to her. She's one of my
dearest friends. We think alike on almost everything -- and yet I do
not for one minute think I understand what it's like to be a
Don't condemn other races based on history.
Barbara Lehman, executive director of the Sacramento Human
Rights/Fair Housing Commission, said some people of color consider
whites guilty until proven innocent. "(But) there were whites who
marched with Martin Luther King, whites who died for the civil rights
movement, whites who are executives and managers who promote
minorities because they are qualified," she said. "Take 10 seconds to
get to know a person before you cast that prejudice on them that
could ruin very valuable relationships down the road."
A little knowledge is dangerous.
Hoang used to have a thing about Japanese Americans. He deplored what
the Japanese army did in China and Korea and had his negative
feelings reinforced by some of the Japanese Americans he'd met.
"At first I thought they were really cold," he said.
Then he met a Japanese American import-export businessman in Folsom.
He discovered the man had married a Korean woman. They shot hoops,
went to church and dined together.
Don't base your attitudes on the media.
In the wake of the 1992 L.A. riots, Sacramento native James Woolfolk -
- an African American who's now an executive for a construction
supply company -- fumed when television cameras depicted African
Americans saying, "these are our issues."
"I wanted to write a book entitled, 'I Won't Speak for You, So Don't
Speak for Me,'" he said.
Hoang noted that that Sacramento's 30,000-member Vietnamese community
suffered for years after four Vietnamese youths held 41 people
hostage at a Good Guys store on Stockton Boulevard in 1991.
Don't ignore racism.
Dr. Lisa Merritt, a Sacramento MD and an African American, was at a
party when the subject of Indian gaming came up. "A woman made a very
derogatory statement about Native Americans being lazy and stupid and
unable to manage their own affairs and not being able to handle
casinos anyway," Merritt said.
Merritt confronted the woman and she backed down.
It turned out that the woman based her generalizations about
California's 325,000 Indians on a summer she spent giving out
government cheese at a small northern California reservation, Merritt
Do the right thing.
When Sacramento Superior Court Judge James L. Long, an African
American, was breaking in at Christian Brothers High School, he and
three of his white friends on the baseball team applied for jobs as
ice cream scoopers.
Long was the only one who wasn't hired. "It still hurts me," said
But one of the owners of a large clothing store gave Long a job as a
stockboy, and later promoted him to salesperson. "He appreciated me,"
Long said. "He did it because it was the right thing to do."
Don't accept racist comments, even masked as humor.
If more people challenged racist humor, "there wouldn't be many
people making snide remarks behind closed doors and the status of
race relations would be completely different," said Arnoldo Torres, a