Sunday, November 9, 2008

NYT Magazine article on Check Cashing Industry in LA

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Three hilarious quotes from my mother....

I had a quick convo with my mom this morning that demonstrates both the significant age gap, as well as the lifestyle gap. They are kinda hilarious, and kinda sad.

1. On the subject of my wine tasting trip with colleagues yesterday.
Mom: I don't understand--whats the point.
Me: What do you mean? It's pretty clear, you get to try different types of wine, and see which you like best.
Mom: But all of it tastes the same. It's all bad.
Me: How much and what kind of wine have you ever tried?
Mom: Well, we used to have a lot of Boone's* wine, it was popular when I was in high school.
Me: Exactly.

(*Super cheap discount brand, comparable to Carlos Rossi, Franzia in a box or like Natty Ice of beer).

2. On the subject of finding pictures from my recent trips.
Mom: I wanna see pictures from your trips.
Me: Sorry Mom, I dont take many, and the few are online on facebook.
Mom: How do I get to this facebook? Can I get to it from The Google?
Me: You are like John McCain, but a lot younger.

3. On the subject of important upcoming events.
Mom: I'm so excited, you know what's happening next week? It's really important.
Me: Oh yes, the election?
Mom: No, the release of the new Toby Keith album!
Me. Oh Lord, but Mom, aren't you going to vote?
Mom: Oh no, it's too confusing. I can't tell the difference between them--they all sound the same.

The election is less than two weeks away, and where is my absentee ballot?!?!?!?!?!?!?

As election day comes closer, I'm scared! Really scared!

Yes, the poll numbers look great for our man Obama, the number 270 is seeming more certain than just HOPEful, but I wanna vote, too!

I wanna be in on the victory party! Yes, I have phone banked, I'll probably spend next weekend canvassing in NOVA, and I have spent an immeasureable number of hours engaging in political education and conversation, friendly office banter, defending my candidates (first and always HRC, but now Obama), watching the punditry and press (first with beloved Tim Russert every Sunday am, and now with Brokaw, and other NBC and CNN regulars), but I will feel like a hypocrite, an illegitimate and unpatriotic American if I don't physically cast my own vote in this historic election. And yet, my freakin' CA absentee ballot is still M.I.A.!

If it comes down to it, I will seriously just make my own effing ballot, and send it to the CA election commitee in Sacramento. Ok, it might not be official and it probably won't count (just like our old friends in Florida in 2000), but it will make me feel better.

Hmm, instead of just lamenting this issue, let me get off my blog, and call the 1-800 number. Gtg....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Talking with my Abuelito about Obama

Last week I had a great conversation with my Abuelito (grandpa), that I think was the most inspiring conversation I have had about politics in awhile. And also, it was such a special interaction, even by phone, that I will always remember about him.

My abuelito is my only remaining grandparent still alive. His physical health is failing. He just turned 83 (0r 84? or 85? I forget, my bad), and his body is just getting weaker with old age. His lungs are weak, his kidneys are failing, he's always had a bad pancreas, and other stuff. Nevertheless, he is a fighter, and remains the strong patriarch of our family. To give some context, he and my Abuelita (who passed away ~5 years ago), brought my family over to the U.S. from their pueblito of Jalpa, Zacatecas, in Central Mexico. From the dirt road shack in their small town, my grandparents worked as carpenters and a seamstress in a LA clothing factory to raise the money to legally bring their children to the US. And from first settling in a small place in East LA, then to buying a modest but beautiful home in San Gabriel, they realized the American dream. My abuelito has worked so hard to create a higher quality life for his family, and has instilled values of hard work, faith, and responsibility that have been passed down throughout my family, particularly visible in my own dad, who is the most hard working, humble, respectful, decent, and loveable guy I know.

Anyway, back to my grandfather. Although his body is weak in old age, his mind, heart, and soul are still strong, as evidenced by this great conversation I'm about to write about. (Note, the whole conversation occured in spanish. He's hard of hearing, and though my spanish isn't super on-point, it's slightly better than his english. We've always had a language communication barrier, but still built a strong connection regardless.)

I called him to wish him a happy birthday, and ask him how he was doing. He couldn't hear me, because he has the TV so loud watching the evening noticias on Telemundo, ch 28. He then turned it down, and was glad to get the call.

I asked him what's up, and he said that he was just hanging in there, still having a hard time breathing, and just trying to take it easy. He was looking forward to having a bunch of the family come over the next day. However, despite all the physical pain he's going under, he made a point to mention that he was busy reading up on all the propositions that are on the California ballot for the November election.

I laughed, and asked him, "so are you decided yet?" And he was like, "well, there a bunch of different propositions that I need to learn about before I make a decision. however, of course I know I'm voting for Obama. Although we don't have Hillary, we need to support Obama".

I loved it! Both of us were formerly Hillary people! As a true blue Democrat, he's very loyal to the good years he experienced under the Clintons, and appreciated the Clinton pair that spoke to him and our community in a way that most other national politicians have not. Of course, I loved Hillary also because of her deep substantive knowledge and experience in public policy, her proven position on issues of healthcare and the economy, and the courage and strength she exuded as a positive role model of a public servant, and a woman.

Regardless, I was struck by his enthusiasm for supporting Obama--someone whose experience could not differ any more than that of my grandfathers. I don't know if my grandpa had ever really interacted or personally knew a black man in his life, much less a Harvard educated lawyer, with such a fancy vocab. My grandpa barely understands English, let alone the SAT words that Obama uses with great facility. But again, as a true blue Democrat, he's 100% behind him!

Anyway, my abuelito clearly cannot work anymore, so he has a lot of free time, but still chooses to exert the little energy he has on reading the different position statements on the tons of propositions of our populist California electoral system. Albeit, there are really important props coming up, its still a lot for even an able bodied, college educated, civicly-minded adult to parse through. Yet, I'm persuming he's getting his extra strengths glasses on to read the fine print of the props, the different state and local candidates, and of course, excited to keep informed about Obama's campaign, and the different poll numbers.

So I was amazed by him talking about all the issues, and realized just how much civic responsibility he has, and realized that might have been a source of my own excitement about the process. In that moment, I found more energy and optimism about it then all of the day-to-day punditry and press I hear on mass media, or even from my convos with most of my Ivy educated friends and colleagues. (Refer to my previous posting on leadership, and inspiration coming from talking with everyday Americans).

But at the same time, I was concerned, because I realized that I hadn't re-registered for this election yet, because of the difficulty of still using a California address, but not wanting to switch to DC (because I dont consider myself a long term resident, and dont want to be a part of a disenfranchised psuedo-semi-state entity), and yet also cannot quite vote at my dad's address in Nevada (a much more important swing state, but also where I dont have full time residence, nor a drivers license). And because I'm still a Californian through and through, I want to vote on the issues there, keep my Driver's license, and count in the state that I love so much. (Refer to my previous posting in California).

Anyway, I explained the situation to my grandpa, and told him to look out for my registration and absentee form that I'll go to the Post office for and send to his address. And he was like, 'Ok sure, because we gotta make sure you vote! We all have to vote'. I mean, the irony of the fact that I studied Political Science in college, am passionate and vocal about so many issues, have contributed and done minor volunteering for the Obama campaign, and consider politics to be one of my passions, yet would not vote in this election because of small logistical issues around location of registration, would be highly hypocritical.

And so I laughed, and I told him, indeed, and that I'll be voting, and he should remind all the others in the family to vote too!

In sum, this brief conversation help instilled in me the appreciate of the right to vote, which has not always existed for people of my background and gender in America, and still doesn't truly exist for many folks in the world. So it's not just my right, but my responsibility to vote, as opposed to just talking about politics, watching CNN in disgust, and bitching about how this country needs to turn around. Voting is the most basic, fundamental way to do something about it, and as that last Presidential debate moderator mentioned of his mother's saying, it will 'make you feel big and strong.'

So I look forward, like my grandfather, so submitting my CA absentee ballot, and casting a historic vote for Obama. Although he sadly won't be around much longer to see what the future will bring, he knows he's voting for a better future for his children and grandchildren, including me. And for that, I'm appreciate and proud that my grandpa is such an informed and active participant in the voting process, even into his 80s! sweet the sound. (And the question of leadership).

Disclosure: This entry, like my others, lacks a discrete organization, structure, and logical flow (things that govern how I operate at work). Rather, this is just a stream of consciousness, that starts in talking about California, then goes onto the question of Leadership.

Do you know the feeling of having a great love in life, but thinking that now is not the right place and time? But that for some reason, whether of professional opportunity, personal growth, or mere circumstance, you must be separated? Yet regardless, you miss it's warm embrace, the longing, and pure joy you have in that individual's company?

Well, that's really how I feel about California, and all the loved ones I have there, familia and friends.

I ask my other California natives that are spread out on the L-EAST Coast, and many of them have a similar feeling that is frighteningly similar. It's not homesickness, where we simply miss the familiarity of their stomping ground. Rather, its quite a confident feeling of BELONGING somewhere, where our passion, commitment, and purpose are tied to a physical space and community. I just appreciate and connect with the atmosphere: the year-around 70 degree weather; the reliable sunshine and blue skies (above the LA smog); the green rolling hills and majestic mountains; the never-ending deserts; vibrant cities; diverse communities; relaxed pace; the peaceful line where the ocean and blue sky become one far in the distance; the really good taquerias and boba shops; driving down the 101 with the window down. All of these things I love. Not to mention my dear family in So Cal (and Vegas, which is practically LA), and my support network of high school friends who mostly stayed home, and my college friends, of which probably 75% stayed in the Bay and LA.

And my love for the area was rekindled in the last two weeks, where I made to separate trips to the Bay Area, one 36 hour trip for recruiting, and then two days later, returned for Stanford Homecoming weekend. And despite the exhausting 5-hour flights (including two red-eyes) and the 4 hours of sleep that I averaged during my trip, it was so very energizing. I loved walking around campus as I did for four years, and the passion and purpose I cultivated during those years was rekindled. I remembered how bold and ambitious I used the think about things, with a pie in the sky perspective, as opposed to the overly pragmatic, incremental, day-to-day thoughts I have today, related to daily meetings, project delverables and deadlines.

Back at Stanford homecoming, a highlight was attending a roundtable with a star-studded cast of alumas and affiliates. Moderated by Tom Brokaw, on the panel was Professor David Kennedy (revered history expert and my frosh advisor), Jeff Raikes of the Gates Foundation, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavita Ramdas of the Global Women's Fund, Congressman Xavier Becerra, and (UGH!) Carly Fiorina (former HP CEO, but now a thoughtless airhead advisor to the McCain campaign. I think Sarah Palin's depth of thinking has got to her!).

Anyway, after some superficial banter among the panel about the crises of our day, in terms of financial meltdown, war and international conflict, climate change, poverty and social inequality, political polarizations, etc., the panel then dug deeper on the question of leadership in facing these challenges and opportunities. Here are a random collection of points that really resonated with me, and my stream of consciousness reflection on them. (and if there are any colleagues in the audience, NO, this list is NOT MECE!).
  • We need to think about leadership not just as the individual, but as the collective, brought up by Kavita. Indeed, I agree that we put too much faith in singular men and women, be in Obama or McCain the men, or the head of a church or CEO of a company, when these folks are just symbols and figureheads of the organizations full of people and talent that really drive the whole ship forward. And when we put all faith in one imperfect human being, it can all crumble down. I personally have seen this very issue particularly acute in the public sector, while makes it very hard to sustain positive change across elections and administrations. Leadership is not a knight and shining armor, but it's from the guy in the back room, with his sleaves rolled up, getting the job done.
  • Our investment priorities. We need to reallocate our priorities. Xavier spoke of comparison in that for every 100 bucks we spend on weapons, if we spend only 1 buck on education, every child in the world would have access to a decent education. (I forget the exact stat/comparison). But just went to show that we spend so much money and effort on conflict, militarization, prisons, etc. when would could be preventing a lot of these issues on the front end by helping to create a better baseline access to education, in America and abroad. And the fact that we have to use so many weapons and coercive means reflects the hypocrisy of participatory democracy, as stated by Kavita. As a taxpayer, I agree that our electeds need to be aware of ROI on their spending.
  • Overcoming cynicism by talking to real people. Actually one of the few good ideas brought up by Carly, but that of most folks being jaded and overwhelmed by the BS of politicians, pundits, the media, and the political machine. However, when you talk to normal blue collar working folks, you'll find a common sense perspective and also critical state of need that is very inspiring. I too especially living in DC have become jaded about the system, but when I think about my purpose and work, I am reminded of the people, issues, communities that are so inspirational and motivating.
  • Leadership beyond the title and corner office. Restating and interpreting what several panelists mentioned, but leadership is not just the BS power status and paygrade of individuals. But rather, its an ability that is demonstrated through perspective, work ethic, commitment to others, strength, courage. And we can find single mothers, international aid workers, city teachers, and other everyday folks who demonstrate greater leadership some of our corporate executives and elected officials. And I sometimes lack respect for many of the well-paid, tenured folks I've encountered in the working world, who despite their deep 6 and 7 figure salaries make me realize that I never want to become like them when I grow up. I'm disappointed when I see a lack of inspirational leadership, vision, and passion by those individuals who are running society's most influential organizations.
  • "You know it when you see it." as DMK said, like Justice Powell's description of pornography. You can write about it, lecture about it, debate it, but at end of day, its an indescribable intrinsic quality hard to quantify and analyze.
  • To be believed, not just heard. America is often the loudest among the pack, so its often heard, but with out demaged credibility, we are much less often heard.
  • See challenges as opportunities. As stated by Jeff of Gates, you can't be confined by the seemingly impossible. Indeed, I think that conventional wisdom is not only the most boring source of authority, but also the most dangerous. Only with greenfield, open/crazy thinking does a better way emerge. Innovation.
  • The press sucks. Yes, the media is the easy scapegoat. I mean, we need the free press to inform the masses, but when commercial pressures prohibit it from giving due care and process to the complexity of issues, its hard for average folks to see beyond the simple black and white of things. Its not just good and evil, black and white, Obama and McCain. The dumbing of America is a large result of 15 second soundbytes, but hopefully the net will help improve people's literacy and critical thinking ability.
  • The personal is political. Kavita reminded us that this came as part of the pro-choice campaign and civil and women's rights in the 70s. It still rings true, when it comes to questions of rights, responsibilities, and privileges that we have as indvidual Americans that make us concerned and involved in the political process. For me, a lot of it is the state of urban and minority America. For others, it's the quality of air they breathe, the right to marry who they want, the crime in their backyard, etc.
Either way, all of these points and messages were very thought provoking, and gave me a bunch of questions. Am I cultivating my own leadership ability? Am I improving my vision, credibility, conviction to passion, courage, pragmatism, empathy, team building commraderie, coaching of others, saying the right message, strategy, ability to reduce things to bare essence, usage of humor and light-heartedness to connect with folks, my humility, ability to take risks/make the bet/hit the card? Am I making decisions based on the impact and meaning for myself and others, or are finances having too much consideration? I must continue to ask whether my work, my personal life, my activities are advancing these abilities and priorities.

I am always fulfilled when I leave an experience, and have more questions than answers.

However, to return to the point on which I begun this entry, there is the question of returning to my motherland, California, which I love so much. The question is not if, but when.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Three tickets in two months....fueling Detroit's failing economy one ticket at a time. (My thoughts on my speeding addiction).

Dear Blogger,

I am ashamed to admit that this past week, on the day before my birthday, I got ANOTHER speeding ticket, and it is the third ticket I got in two months!

The first I got while in Santa Cruz at my cousin's fabulous graduaton weekend from UCSC. I was going just slightly over the speed limit, and without realizing it, cut off a cop. Strike one.

The second occurred in Okemos, Michigan two weeks ago, when I was driving over to my friend Nell's family's beautiful country home for a nice dinner, before I had to head over to my client site in Lansing. The cop appeared out of nowhere in a blue truck, and also said that I had passed him on the highway speeding. Not cute. Strike two.

And then this past Monday, only a day before my bday, I was pulled over by another cop who was hiding behind some trees on the 275N just next to Detroit Metro Airport. And this time, like the last ticket, I had a red rental car with out of state plates. Definitely a bullseye for highway patrol. Strike three.

I know my tickets will help balance these states' budgets and fuel the economy, especially in struggling Michigan.

But at the same time, I probably should reflect on the fact that I might have a speeding problem. Ok, I have a 'lead foot' as my mother says, who also emailed me when she heard about all this saying "Some people buy souveneirs when they visit places. You tend to pick up speeding tickets." But it is a dangerous addiction, a need for speed. And previously, I have probably gotten over 5 or 6 speeding tickets in my life, along with DOZENS of parking tickets, particularly at Stanford campus.

What does this say about my personality? I am very impatient, very true. I do feel entitled, maybe above the speeding restrictions? But I still get shot down every time. I must be also very stupid/forgetful with a short term memory. But where am I rushing to? Maybe its this fear that I'm missing out on something, but I'm going nowhere fast. I have always been like a Tazmanian devil, rushing rushing without taking time to smell the flowers. And I should enjoy driving, when its arguably the only time in my intense job where I cant be expected to be cranking on my laptop. But who knows. I think my hustling throughout life has been what's gotten me this far, but at the same time, is probably was has attributed to my sporadic (anxiety-related?) chest pains, and my tendency to stress the little things, which really aren't worth it. I remember 8 years ago my Freshman theology teacher said that for all my gifts, that I didnt take time to smell the roses and appreciate the beauty and joy of each moment, which he admonished could be a tragic flaw.

And its true. And just this month, my Aunt sent me this great bday card note.

"Celebrate Yourself Today"

Today, in the midst of your busy life, may you have at least one moment to sit back and relax--when you don't have to do anything or be anywhere in particular...

May you have a moment to reflect on the past year and all you've accomplished and to look forward to all that may be waiting for you in the year ahead...

But mostly, in that moment, may you realize here and now what a gift your life is--not just to you but to everyone who knows you."

Not just a typical Hallmark Card, because it really spoke to me. Maybe its cliche and I'm just a sap, but it really did speak to me. My life is a gift, and I put that gift in danger every time I decide to become a reckless driver. And I dont take enough time to just sit back, and just reflect, and appreciate how fortunate and blessed I've been, but also the fact, that I'm really small relative to a much greater being (society, God, etc.), so that I shouldn't take myself, my job, or God forbid, my client demands so seriously. Time will pass and life will go on regardless, and I might as well just enjoy it for what it is. Clearly I am hopeful and ambitious for the future, and expect good things to come next year and the years that follow because of my hard work, my drive, and passion to make a difference, but that I wont be able to realize all that if I dont maintain balance, health, and sanity.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Dear Blogger,

Sorry its been so long since I've posted--I haven't been as disciplined as I intended to be, but I do happen to be inspired at the moment.

So I'm turning 23 tomorrow, but am now in National Reagan airport waiting for my flight to leave to Detroit/Lansing, where I'll be at the client site until Thursday. Therefore, I'll be ringing in the birthday in dear Sheraton Lansing, though hopefully have some good local Cantina fun with my McK teammates tomorrow evening. Anyway, in advance of being out of town, I had a few friends from McK, Stanford, and random Hill folks over to my pad for a nice Sunday afternoon kickback on my rooftop pool. Was a great turnout, a beautiful day, and GREAT people watching of the other owners/tenants in my bougie highrise. A lot of 'g-muppies with puppies' as I started calling them (gay middle-aged urban professionals with dogs). Anyway, good people.

But this slight tangent of a story is intended to introduce the subject of my bday. I dont really have a strong feeling about 23. I feel that 21 was clearly fab (esp spending in it NYC with my sigmas and Kory). And it was, well, 21, and I could finally legally gamble in casinos. And 22 was close enough to 21, and I spent it in Mexico, D.F. so was fine. Now 23 is really a grown up bday, my first in my 'adult life' where the world doesn't stop, and I could just chill on my day. Its always been in the summer so dont have to go to class, and quite honestly, could flake at an internship.

But as I sit in the airport, I am inspired on the topic of aging. Across from me sits this very beautiful young woman--pretty blond hair, very carefully dont make-up (even though its only 7 am), dressed all teenage trendy straight outta Forever 21.. She can't be more than 18. A very American girl look. She has US Weekly in one hand, but with her other she is holding her dad's arm. He's pretty old, at least 55. (I HOPE its her dad). But regardless, they are just sitting there, then her presumed mother steps. About 55 too, but looks like its been a rough 55 years. Sorry, dont wanna be mean, but she looks quite frumpy and haggard. Yet, at the same time, she is the splitting image of her daughter--same facial structure, same mannerisms, same look. Quite surreal bc I'm sure she looked just like her daughter--only 40 years ago.

It's just crazy to see such a severe example of how beauty is fleeting, or at least, dynamic/evolving. The conventional defining features of beauty dont last forever. Damn, and as I get older, scary to think about my turning into my mother. And the last time I saw her, I noticed she gets more gray hair, her skin gets more wrinkled, etc. I'm sure I will freak out when one day I look in the mirror, and it really hits me when I see an image of my mother staring back at me.

Anyway, until then, I will enjoy my babyface, and super youthful look of being mistaken for 15 years old, always getting carded (probably until I'm 40), and being confused for a college intern by the old frumpy executives at my client sites. But I should be careful in my judgment--after all, that can/will be me one day, God willing.

(P.S. Obama's birthday is today I think. Yay Leos! Roarrrrr! BTW, next time I'll have to write about Obama vs. dinosaur McCain in my next posting. But for now must go, plane taking off!!!)