"don't be direct. my aunt and uncle are from an older generation that does not repond well to up front, blunt and confrontational requests." says my friend who is guiding me through the mysterious subradar indian culture of jackson heights. luckily for me, also an american born child of immigrants, i understand the un-understandableness of these conversations and i instinctively know how to not speak of what needs to be spoken.
how does one do this?
you thank them for their hospitality, their largesse, their contributions to the community, to the people, their generosity, their inspiring achievements.
you bring them an appropriate gift. in my case, a wonderful picture book by yours truly that i signed and dedicated to their grandchildren.
you present the opportunity - not ask - for them to support you in improving the quality of life for society at large, for artists in jackson heights and beyond.
you always have an ally or friend with you to speak well of you after you leave.
this elderly indian couple, shuffling around the cold factory office, hardly look like the founders of a multimillion dollar candy empire and more significantly, don't appear to be a visible part of the physical neighborhood they occupy. queens has many such off-the-radar immigrant businesses and communities that constantly challenge me to not only discover them, but to earn their trust in order to build lasting relationships.
so, after we did not speak about being an honoree at our spring benefit, after i did not ask for their support, after they did not request time to consider my offer, i once again thanked them for taking the time from their busy day to talk to me and to accept my gift. the aunt left the room to take a phone call and the uncle shook my hand firmly and said, "you talk to my nephew."
was i successful? did they understand what i was talking about? would they be an honoree and support my spring fundraiser?
i walked to my car unsure of what to do next in following up, or not following up, when i heard my name. my friend was waving me to come back. his aunt came out of the factory and kissed me on both cheeks. "whatever you do, we will be there."
i smiled and said, "thank you." for this gift of the first step in creating trust, one nonconversation at a time.