In their J. Crew-esque coats, and cell phones and/or PDAs in hand, they very much embody the stereotypical young Asian American professional image. They gather around each other, joking and laughing, as good friends do. But there is more to this group of friendly yuppies than meets the eye-they are active members of a small but growing organization known as Third Thursdays.
Third Thursdays "serves young Asian and Pacific Islanders interested in supporting community activities and organizations throughout the San Francisco Bay Area." The organization meets every third Thursday for dinner and discussion and is comprised of Asian and Pacific Islanders working in the non-profit, for-profit, and government sectors. Third Thursdays, which has been around since July of 2000, was the brainchild of several Asian and Pacific Islanders. "We saw what groups like API [Asian Pacific Islander] Circles were doing, and we started organizing brunches to talk about things," says Gavin Fumagiki, one of the co-founders. "Ideas came out of those times, good ideas, and Third Thursdays was born."
A typical Third Thursday would work like this: Third Thursdays comes up with a theme, they invite a speaker or two (or three or four) to either speak or help moderate the discussion, discussion ensues, and then they eat. Some of their recent meetings have included themes like "What's Next? Asian American Civil Rights post 9/11", "The Pursuit of Happiness: finding the path to creative fulfillment", "How do culture and ethnicity affect the way we date and mate in the API community?" and tonight's field trip to watch Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine."
The San Franciscan air is mild and cool this evening; 63 degrees according to a nearby bank sign. Nonetheless, the group of fifteen or so Third Thursday members waits inside the theater, where the air is far from cool (warm and reeking of fake buttery goodness is a better way to describe it.) As they wait for others to arrive, they do what good friends do best: that is, give each other a hard time.
"Eric, you look like an usher. Why don't you get in the theater and make yourself useful (that is, pretend to be an usher and save some seats)," says one member to a guy presumably named Eric. Like most of the men in the room, he has spiky black hair and indeed, he does look like an usher in his gray pants and navy blue jacket. Eric (whose last name is Chang) works in real estate, and has been an organizer for Third Thursdays for a couple years now. He felt that "Third Thursdays was one of the few outlets with such a purpose around in the Bay Area…one that really aims to, not only educate ourselves, but educate the community as well." "It's important for us to do this," he adds. "Apathy and ignorance is always gonna be out there, but we can at least try to help."
Another member, Erick Young, a senior I/T specialist at "a pretty darn huge technology company," also regularly attends Third Thursday events, and does not look like an usher. (Banana Republic poster boy is more like it.) Although he is not an organizer or a founder, it doesn't change the fact that he values what Third Thursdays offers. "I guess the beauty of Third Thursdays is that its format makes it open and accessible for all groups, yet is focused enough so that substantive discussion and interchange can take place," he says. "There's definitely value in an event that allows one to engage a diverse group of young professional Asian Americans in face-to-face conversations that go beyond 'Hey, whatcha drinking there?' Third Thursdays …helps fill a void in our community."
As the members of Third Thursdays file out of the theater and reach in their pockets to turn their cell phones back on, it's easy to forget that these people are superheroes of their own kind. "We just want people in the API community to become more aware and involved," says Gavin. "It's not easy [to do what they do], but someone's gotta do it!"