CHAN: Diversity in Grand Haven: There’s still work to do

As a transplant to Los Angeles, I often have to answer the question, “So, what was it like growing up in Michigan?”
Apr 29, 2014


After I go through how there was never any traffic and how we’d sometimes get freak snowstorms that would result in snow days, I eventually have to decide whether to tackle the inherent quasi-white elephant in the question: growing up Asian-American in Michigan.

Although my memories in the Tri-Cities are generally positive, I also experienced heavy feelings of marginalization. It’s true that almost everyone confronts that period in middle school of desperately wanting to fit in, but this is something different from wearing the latest pair of stylish jeans or feeling popular. 

There was that time when a classmate in sixth grade told me during a lesson on ancient civilizations that I must be related to Mayans, because they used stones to flatten their babies’ faces, and I had such a flat face. A year later, a classmate during a lunchtime dispute called me “a good-for-nothing Chinese boy” and told me to “go back to China.” 

Kids can say mean things about anything, but perhaps the worst part in those character-defining moments of middle school was looking around and finding nothing in my surroundings that could comfort me. 

In hindsight, what the seventh-grade version of me would have appreciated the most was a sense of belonging. The sense of belonging is created with an active awareness that not everyone’s experiences — even in a community as small as ours — are the same as yours. 

Creating and supporting programs that promote diversity in our schools, a place where kids spend a significant amount of time, further cultivates this sense of belonging.

The responsibility, however, does not remain solely in our schools. It extends to other areas of our everyday life, like places of worship and local businesses. Even grocery store greeters can do their part. 

I wish I could say that, in 2014, West Michigan has changed dramatically. Unfortunately, events in Grand Haven in the past several years show that there remains tremendous work to do.

Let’s start by building a community that appreciates and supports difference.

— By Denny Chan, who grew up in Grand Haven and graduated from Grand Haven High School in 2004. He is also a graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of California, Irvine School of Law. He is writing on behalf of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance.




thanks for your liberal input. Please feel free to move back to california where your need for diversity is rampant along with crime. I see how you got into UM, did they give out pink stuffed animals during orientation?


What a juvenile post. Ignorance is revealed when the ignorant talk.


You are the problem. Thank you for demonstrating the truth of Chan's words.

Beach Gal

What is wrong with you? What kind of a hateful person are you, anyway?


Looks like someone really wanted a pink stuffed animal and didn't get one.

Vast Right Wing...

Yea, and I got teased because I have red hair. Face it, kids (and adults) say mean things. If you are so little that it bother's you, you need to grow up.


Yes, kids tease anyone different. The question is, what do adults do about it when specific kids are singled out for that sort of treatment? Chan is correct that we need to work hard to make our communities welcoming to everybody.


I am deeply disappointed in the responses to this article. West Michigan is known to be one of the most polarized and racially segregated areas in the United States. In 2000 an African American family that was an embraced part of the community had a crossed burned on their lawn. This was a mere 14 years ago. I would hope that the citizens of West Michigan would learn from this and take strong actions to address this, as Denny has. West Michigan needs to educate its citizens, to eliminate this form of hate, stereotyping, and ignorance. Overall, these comments leave my hope deflated. When did it become okay to make a child feel out of place based on the color of their skin? Or the origin of their family? This is not about bullying, it is about breaking down the barriers and stigmas that this community embraces. This community has a great deal of work to do and I cannot say enough of how much I personally admire Denny for addressing these issues and the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance. Denny, I personally wish you would move back to the Grand Haven community and be a leader in this work. You are truly an inspiration.


I found this area very very unfriendly. I went to the welcoming group when I first arrived and the " welcomers" all sat together and didnt give us the time of day.
It seems to me that your income is pretty much how you are judged
At least I feel safe to walk the steets,but otherwise it seems clanish and dismissive.
Your Asian identity did not dismiss you anymore than the rest of us, outsiders.
It is unfriendly here. I would suggest, that while you are young move to another area, and leave this area behind. Its cold here 12 months a year!


Nope, I'm rich and it hasn't helped me.... you're right though about this area being generally unfriendly. And I've lived in many places...


Grand Haven has a welcoming group? Count your blessings sister.


I find your comment very interesting. I moved from Grand Haven after living there for 55 years. I didn't realize just how 'clannish and dismissive' the Tri-Cities area is until moving away a few years ago. When telling others where I lived all my life, I get many negative comments about Grand Haven...'snobby, clicky', etc. and I totally agree with them. There was a day when Grand Haven was a great, quiet little neighborhood town, the Coast Guard Festival was for the home town folks, and the beach was a great place to go. Now everything is geared toward tourists. Once in awhile I go shopping in the area and observe the unfriendliness of people, comparing them to where I now live...friendly people, always willing to share a 'hello' and a smile. are so right...'it's cold in Grand Haven 12 months a year', and also regarding income is how you're judged. It comes right down to 'who you are'!!! Needless to say, I have no desire to move back. I'm sure I'll get plenty of flak for my comment, but it is what it is!


Oh the ironing!

Grand Haven Community Columnist David Chan, apparently writing from Los Angeles "on behalf of Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance" - no conflict of interest here, bemoans lack of diversity in Grand Haven compared to California;

Days earlier. California Democrat Latino legislator excluded Asians from description of "People of Color"

Meanwhile, Black and Latino California legislators attempted to reverse Prop 209 requiring non-discrimination in public employment, public contracting, and public education; Asian legislators killed the effort fearing Asian youth would suffer. Diversity for me but not for thee.

Hey Denny - maybe you better work on the wounds your precious diversity has caused in California before taking the time to criticize the alleged lack of it in your former hometown, which despite all of your travails managed to educate you well enough to graduate from U of M and U.C. Irvine School of Law. Ever wonder if the Diversity Discrimination Divas had their way prior to Prop 209 your space at the law school might have been awarded to someone less qualified on the basis of "diversity?"


Clearly, Vladtheimp doesn't know the difference between irony and ironing. OH THE IRONING.

Earlier, he even called Denny "Davey." Looks like he's since edited his posting.

The article did not purport to have no conflict of interest. This is the OPINION section after all. I also think the author was speaking about a sense of belonging and not diversity, two very different topics.


Oh, he knows the difference....just being cute and charming.


Glad you're back, I was getting worried. Maybe you can help with the ironing.


I'm actually not back. Just checking in for one brief shining moment. Don't worry - I'm just moving heaven and earth over here. The irony? Doing everything but ironing! But seeing you rile up the readership gives me strength not unlike an infusion of....iron?


Ha ha ha! The is the best, most amusing comment in the thread. Vlad's use of humor is unparalleled. His wit is demonstrated by his repeated and purposeful misspelling of the author's name. It is funny because even though Denny, Davey, and David all start with the letter "D," they are actually different names! Brilliant!

Take that, Mr. Chan! You are clearly outmatched by Vladtheimps's superior intellect.


Ha! How much did he have to pay you to say that "Mom"?


Chan was discussing intelligent dialogue to improve the community. Many of the posts in this thread made his point very clear. GH is a great community, but still has a way to go regarding diversity- and this includes diverse ideas. This is GH weakest length.

Here's some more interesting data for you and the bashers.

Say no to new taxes

There are ignorant people in all races, not just the white one. Don't believe me? Move into an all black area and see if you're not subjected to the same type of treatment you condemn here.


So let's just keep it up! That's a silly reasoning....


Do two wrongs make a right?


I like how this guy is advocating segregation. We need more forward thinkers like him.


Two names: Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling.


Several more: Al Sharpton, Reverend Wright; Jesse Jackson; Louis Farrakhan;

And, of course, Donald Sterling has received several awards from the NAACP who knew he is a racist but who he bought off with big money donations and grants, and has only donated to democrat politicians. Want more? I'm here!


Availability heuristic. People think of the most egregious examples that come to mind and use those examples to support their beliefs.

Donald Sterling is an anomaly in California but could likely be the norm (simple majority of these comments suggests so) in Grand Haven. I do hope I am wrong.


Wait.. so when a Democrat uses poor words, it's called an anomaly but when a Republican does it's the entire GOP?


History tell us that this is correct.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..



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