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The Wonder of Diversity in Human Nature

Ann Hsu is an entrepreneur and immigrant rights advocate. In March 2022, after voters recalled three members of the San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education, she was appointed by Mayor London Breed to fill one of the vacated seats. In November 2022, Hsu narrowly lost her bid to win election to the Board in her own right following accusations that she had made racist statements on a candidate questionnaire form. 

I was born and raised in Beijing, China until age 11, when I immigrated to Erie, Pennsylvania, over 40 years ago. I’ve spent about half my life in China and half in the United States. Over the years, I’ve had the good fortune to observe, digest, and internalize the many differences and similarities of these two cultures. It is with this experience of living, working, and raising my children in both Chinese and American cultures that I share my perspective on diversity and my belief that an overemphasis on racial diversity in the United States today obscures and depreciates the value of other dimensions of diversity in human nature.

When I arrived in the late 1970s, Erie had about 250 thousand residents, of whom only 40 or so were ethnically Chinese. I was the only Chinese student in my graduating high school class of 600. When I went to Penn State for college, there were more Chinese-looking faces, but Chinese still made up less than 10 percent of the student body. It wasn’t until I came to Berkeley for graduate school that I saw many more Chinese-looking faces. Then, after graduating from Berkeley, I went to China to teach and all I saw were Chinese-looking faces!

In parallel, the range of personalities and professions among the Chinese people I encountered grew as I moved from Erie to Penn State, then Berkeley, and then China. The adult Chinese in Pennsylvania were mostly engineers and professors, while the young folks were mostly shy, academically-inclined students. There were no Chinese athletes or artists. I was the only Chinese person in my Penn State international folk dance troupe. The Chinese in Berkeley and San Francisco were more diverse; there, I saw Chinese policemen and grocery store clerks for the first time. 

When I went to China, of course, everybody was Chinese. But, among my students, personalities ranged from shy to outgoing, and talents ranged from singing and dancing to martial arts and basketball. That’s when I recognized the “diversity” of the Chinese people. That’s also when I realized that diversity of talent, personality, profession, and every other dimension exists everywhere, given a sufficiently large population of any race or ethnicity.

Today, I have twin teenage sons. Ever since they were two years old, I could tell that they were very different. One was constantly moving, while the other liked to sit and observe. One wore his heart on his sleeve, while the other kept his feelings to himself. This diversity amazed me and enriched my life and the lives of my family and friends.

Parents who have kids sequentially may wonder if the differences among their children are due to differences in the environment or parenting experience. In the case of my twins, they grew up in the same environment with the same parenting, yet each developed a unique character and disposition.

I used to believe that one’s personality, interests, and talents were 20 percent due to nature and 80 percent to nurture, but raising my twins changed my mind completely. I have come to believe the opposite. My kids are teenagers now; one is a “nerd” and the other a “jock.” I have diversity in a population of two! This reinforced my belief that true diversity has very little to do with race and very much to do with fundamental human nature.

When I lived in Pennsylvania in the 1980s, I never felt that people treated me as a “Chinese person.” Now, though, in San Francisco, I’m always labeled as Chinese or “belonging to the Chinese community.” Why do I have to be labeled, at all? Why can’t I just be an American like everyone else? 

Why is it that in America today when we refer to “diversity,” we almost always mean diversity of race, when there’s so much more to be appreciated in the diversity of personality, interests, talents, and every other physical, mental, and emotional attribute we possess? I lament the fact that we have become so fixated on one dimension and I wish we could look beyond it to celebrate something greater: the wonder of diversity in human nature.

BHA Founder Ann Hsu's article was originally published by the Briones Society of San Francisco. See the original article here.

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