The bridge between authority and leadership

by SHAANTAI LEARY

Linda Oda, director of  Asian Affairs, is a petite Japanese-American woman who feels strongly about authority. As a sign of respect she has a sense to bow every time she meets someone older than she. (Oda did not want to disclose her age, but said she is “29 and holding.”) Bowing has been instilled within her as part of her culture. Custom also dictates that one’s elders should be respected; the phrase “children should be seen and not heard,” is a sign of this.

In addition to her role in the Utah State Office of Ethnic Affairs, she served as a moderator for the “Day of Remembrance,” which was held on Ogden’s 25th Street, also known as Japantown, Feb. 16-18, 2007.

She was raised on Ogden’s 25th Street. Oda’s first job was at the age of 3. Her family lived above the grocery store they owned and operated; her job in the store was to watch for “dorobo,” or shoplifters. She recalled a man asking her if she thought he was going to steal. As she described this confrontation, she put her hands on her hips just as she did when she was a child, and looked up. In a very stern voice she said, “yes.”

When Oda was about 10, her job in the small store was to trim the lettuce and pull off outer leaves so the greens displayed well. One day, a man walked into the store, pressed a knife to her stomach and said, “I could kill you.” Oda did not flinch. She took the knife she had been using on the heads of lettuce, placed it against the man’s stomach, and said, “I could kill you, too.”

She was raised to fight for her life; every day was a battle for her and her family. In fact, her father was murdered on 25th Street for less than $100.

Despite her difficult childhood, Oda went on to become a principal at Taylor Elementary School in Ogden. There, she worked to break the cycle of bullying by attempting to instill respect within her students.

Chase Dunn, 21, is majoring in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Utah. He is well-versed in his studies of culture and religions ranging from Islam to Catholicism. “Bowing is a sign of cultural respect,” he said in a text message. “Bow back. When it comes to authority I tend to think everyone should be met with skepticism. Sure they are older, but they are humans and humans make mistakes and have their own interests [in mind].”

Dunn, who is white, is currently working in Washington, D.C., as an intern for Frances D. Cook, the former ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman. Dunn also has completed study-abroad classes in Cairo and Beirut over the past few years.

”Power and authority should be challenged and unless they can justify themselves, then they should be dismantled,” Dunn wrote. “Remember authority figures and institutions are humans and human built and therefore can be changed.”

For Oda, authority is a compicated issue. She said that one’s “authority, stature and expertise can be diminished” simply because one is “an ethnic minority.” So, people feel as if they have to prove themselves. Oda said she is assertive, not aggressive. “I win and you win, both of us win. To me, that’s an Asian way.”