By Michael Chen, Sodexo

You can’t really
believe in diversity unless you are proud of your roots and where you came
from. My parents taught me everything I needed to know about diversity.

My father was born in
Beijing and my mother was born in Fujian, and grew up in Shanghai. Although
they both grew up relatively well off, when the Communists took over, they were
not welcome to stay. 

They had to leave everything behind, including their families,
and had very little money, but believed in the importance of education. Both my
dad and my mom arrived in America in 1954. They met at the International House
in NYC, soon after were married, and gave birth to my sister and me a few years
later.   

My father was lucky
and was hired at IBM where he worked for 28 years, and my mother worked in
administration at Columbia University. We lived in a rent subsidized 2-bedroom apartment in NYC for 41 years, and every penny my parents earned; they
saved to provide a great education for my sister and me. 

They never complained
about how they had to start from scratch again in America, or that we could not
afford to buy our own house or go on vacation. They just made the best of
everyday, and did everything in the hopes of giving a better life to their
future generations. I promise you that I wouldn’t be where I am today without
the sacrifices that my parents made.

Inclusion of People

Growing up, my
grandmother lived with us. She was a third parent to me and I loved her dearly.
She was in Taiwan with my mom when the Communists took over, and she had to
make a choice – leave the rest of her family behind in China, or go back to
China under a different regime.  In the
end, she chose to come to America. Unfortunately, and sadly, she had to leave
the rest of her family behind, including her 9-year-old daughter.

She lost touch with
her family for many years, only reconnecting in the early 1980’s. She went back
to China to see the rest of the family for the first time in 1985, and had a
heart wrenching experience seeing her 9-year-old daughter for the first time
in over 35 years. When her daughter, who now was 45 years old, asked my
grandmother the question, “Mom, why did you leave me behind?” my grandmother
broke down and asked for forgiveness. 

After spending 2 weeks reconnecting with the youngest daughter and the rest of her family, my
grandmother headed back to the U.S. The last words her youngest daughter would
say to her were: “Mom, I understand. I forgive you.” 

My grandmother had made
peace with the family she left behind, but more importantly, she had made peace
with herself. One week after she came back to America, she had a major stroke. Bedridden
and unable to speak or eat by herself, my mom took care of her every day for 3 years.

My mom would go to the
nursing home 7 days a week to help feed my grandmother, turn her on her bed
to prevent bedsores, and most importantly to keep her company in her last days
of her life. My mom loved her mom dearly, and after seeing what she did for my
grandmother, and what my grandmother did for my mother, I finally understood to
what great lengths our ancestors were willing to sacrifice for their families —
and never ever complained about the hand they were dealt.

Watching what my
mother did for my grandmother taught me to respect and care for my parents when
they could not take care of themselves. I moved them in with my wife and 4
boys 9 years ago. Although my mom passed away 5 years ago, my dad lived
with us for another 4 years, and he was able to spend the last years of his
life with his children and his grandchildren. He died in peace in March 2011,
57 years after making the journey to America seeking a better life for generations
to come.

Diversity of Thought

Watching what my
parents and my grandmother had gone through taught me 1 key lesson – and that
is “life isn’t fair.” However, life wasn’t meant to be fair – not to you, to
me, or to your neighbor. I have been
asked if there is a glass ceiling. I don’t believe so, but I do believe there
are barriers in life – barriers whether you are an Asian American, African
American, Hispanic, Caucasian, a Woman, Veteran, Disabled, Tall, Short, Heavy,
Skinny, Young, Old, Rich, Poor…everyone has their unique challenges, and their
unique barriers they have to overcome.

I tell my kids that I
equate life to the video game “Asteroids.”  When you come across an obstacle, find a way
to knock it off its path. It’s what you do when faced with adversity in your
life that will define your legacy.

What Do Diversity and Inclusion Mean?

So what do diversity and inclusion mean at the end of the day? To me, they mean diversity
of thought and inclusion of people. Let’s find the uniqueness and special
qualities of each and every one of us, and include one another in the journey
of life together. 

Michael Chen is a
Sodexo Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board Member. He is
also CEO of DSS Star, LLC.