Moving from Small to Big without Losing the Small
A common theme throughout the interviews in which Elaine and Angela Chao reflect upon their childhoods, is the lesson of remaining humble within, yet not being afraid to step out into the larger world. Speaking to WorldJournal.com, Elaine Chao shared the story of her parents’ arrival to America. When she and her parents arrived, their operating world was very small, and America was an enormous unknown place. Her parents taught her and her siblings the importance of observation: watching, listening and learning from everyone around you.
Angela spoke of her father’s humility—that his motivation to found his own company was not to become the largest corporation in the world, but merely to provide for his family’s needs. He originally arrived in America without his wife, children, or connections—none of the support tools that one ordinarily needs to be successful. But her father’s core values of sincerity and integrity enabled him to succeed even though all the traditional doors were closed to him. He entered a big playing field in his newly adopted country, but never forgot his Chinese heritage.
Elaine tells the story of how, as children, they would take turns helping their father do projects around the house. But they did not just help carry things, or hand the necessary tool at the appropriate time. As their father made his repairs, he would constantly tell stories of his life in China, the history of China, and stories of his family—all of which would in later years be a wellspring of inspiration from which to draw strength. In 1979, Elaine visited the small farming village in China where her parents were born and raised, and took photos which she keeps in her possession to this day. She said that during those times when things were difficult, challenging or she was treated unfairly, she would pull out the photo and reflect upon the Chinese people’s 5,000 year history, on the tumultuous times her grandparents faced, their strength in overcoming these adversities, and this would give her the sustenance with which to overcome whatever stood before her.
Succeeding as Chinese Americans
A strong ethical foundation was passed on to the Chao children, and it formed the cornerstone of Elaine and Angela’s successful careers in government and international shipping respectively. For Angela Chao, the good family name that her father built up is the daily priority in her life—all her actions each day in all spheres of life, are guided by her desire to protect and continue the reputation that her parents established. Dr. and Mrs. Chao believed strongly in the good that would come from developing and strengthening ties between East and West, and this is a legacy that Angela has been able to continue through the work of her family’s shipping business—as Deputy Chairman of the Foremost Group.
Elaine Chao was happy that she was able to open doors to the ‘big world’ for Asian Americans. She noted that many were not engaged with government because they did not understand it. One of her goals during her tenure as Secretary of Labor was to intensify outreach to Asian Americans, a traditionally underserved community, to ensure that they understood how to enter the federal government, the labor regulations and laws, the process of government contracting, for example, and to remove the intimidation factor so Asian Americans could expand their world and enter mainstream America.
The WorldJournal.com interview with Elaine and Angela Chao is filled with golden nuggets of inspiration and guidance for Chinese Americans, no matter where they are in life.