There are thousands of stories about immigrants who have come to the U.S. in search of the American Dream. Some of those stories end happily; some do not. For Giovanna Pang Garcia of Oceanside, the story was something of a fairy tale. Inspired by the opportunities she created for herself and motivated by a desire to help others achieve their own definition of success, Garcia has recently released a book that explores how Chinese-American women combine traditional values with American freedom and innovation to move past economic, ethnic, gender and educational obstacles.
"Why Chinese Women Are Not Broke" is based on interviews with 100 influential Chinese women, including many from San Diego. They represent all areas of industry and business, including politics, medicine, broadcasting, retail sales, banking and others. In sharing her own story and those of other accomplished Asian women, Garcia hopes to remind her audience of seven core values that have allowed generations of immigrants — from all backgrounds — to succeed in America.
"These are universal truths for anyone to get to success in whatever success is for them," Garcia said. "If you want to be healthier, if you want to be more wealthy, if you want to be happier, you apply the same seven keys."
At age 16, Garcia emigrated from Hong Kong to the U.S. by herself. Married and divorced by 20, she found herself undaunted by an uncertain future. From early childhood, Garcia had worked in her parents' toy shop, learning the ins and outs of buying and selling. She built on that entrepreneurial experience to launch a computer company with just $300, making 100 cold calls every day. In six months, the venture had outgrown her tiny Orange County condo. Twelve years later when she sold the company, Garcia's $300 investment had multiplied into millions of dollars.
"I later learned only 10 percent of businesses make it the first two years," Garcia said, "and then 90 percent of those fold in five years."
Happily remarried with a toddler to raise, Garcia planned to retire on the fortune she had built. But after just four months, a nagging sensation left her feeling unfulfilled.
She said she found purpose after being invited to give an inspirational speech to a group of business professionals. Many times after speaking to a group, individuals would contact Garcia, confiding that while she had motivated them to make a change in life, after just a couple of weeks they found themselves back in the same rut.
"I felt if I could put it down on paper, then people could find their way," Garcia said. "Perhaps if they made it over the two-week hump, if they saw some results, they could make it two months."
As she compiled notes for a book, Garcia recognized that many of her driving principles stemmed from her upbringing. That realization made her wonder if the same thing was true for other Asian women.
Exploring the myth of Asian success
Describing herself as "not a potato but not a rocket scientist either," Garcia felt her concept would have more merit if it was backed up by similar tales of success among Asian women. She tried to locate such individuals via the Internet but found very little information. That convinced her there was an even greater need to explore her idea.
Garcia reached out to Chinese organizations across the country and eventually identified 100 talented, accomplished, educated, well-respected Chinese-American women to interview. She includes anecdotes, advice and stories from these women in her book to illustrate common cultural ideals, as well as how their upbringing shaped them for success.
"There (were) a lot of stories that they shared with me that were much broader and bigger than my own experience," Garcia said.
One of the key differences Garcia found between immigrants and Americans is work ethic. Individuals raised in a culture of convenience — seven-minute abs, lose weight by swallowing a pill, buy a house with no money down — seem to have a kind of "drive-through" mentality about success.
"Successful people know how to be a farmer," Garcia said. "It's about knowing what kind of crop you want at the end of harvest time and being able to work toward that every single day, not worrying about not getting that harvest today, but what you will get at the end. All successful people know that and understand that."
An example of this philosophy is a Chinese-American woman from San Diego who initially found work as a housekeeper in Rancho Santa Fe. She cleaned for other clients on her days off and attended night school to obtain a financial management degree. After completing her education, she returned to the people whose toilets she had cleaned and asked for their business, saying, "They know my work ethic." That woman is now considered one of the elite businesswomen in the wealth management industry.
"It seems simplistic to answer with the cliche, hard work, but it's true," said Anne Chao, a senior planner for Qualcomm. "In China, by virtue of the huge numbers of people competing for everything, one must work very hard to succeed. My father emphasized being smart — going to school, getting good grades, becoming well educated — equals success. My mother taught by example: ignore hardship, overcome challenges, sacrifice, do whatever you must to succeed. I continue to use these lessons in my daily life."
Besides "working the right way," Garcia's seven core values include harnessing your passion, creating a mind-set for success, connecting and communicating, understanding money, living with integrity and continual growth.
"What I realized is not so much the difference in the culture that makes the Chinese women more successful, but we tend to be more connected to what we've been taught," Garcia said. "We tend to hang on to those core values much longer."
Maybe surprising, maybe not, a common challenge for many Chinese immigrants is overcoming the need to "Americanize" themselves. Garcia battled ethnic and gender discrimination, and one of Chao's top bits of advice to peers addresses self-worth: "Don't be intimidated by tall, blond, blue-eyed men or women. Petite, dark-haired Chinese women have the same intrinsic value as anyone on Earth.
"My message is so important, not just for Chinese, not just for women, but for everyone. America is still the best place for anyone with a vision and the willingness to work for it."
Meet the author
- Book signing: 7:30 p.m. May 12, Warwick's, 7812 Girard Ave., La Jolla;
- Reception: 5:45 p.m. May 13, Art Expressions Gallery, 2645 Financial Court, Suite C, San Diego;