Each year, those of us in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities spend the month of May celebrating our heritage. And this year, we have a lot to celebrate. The lives of Asians and Pacific Islanders have become more prominent as our stories have had more visibility. In turn, more communities outside of our own have listened and supported us and there are more and more historic figures advocating for us every single day.
However, a lot of these stories are stories of struggle and pain: the rise of anti-Asian hate crimes around the world, exacerbated from the pandemic, and the lives of Asian and Pacific Islander women being even greater targets of these crimes.
Yes, these stories are horrific and painful to remember, but we are more than just these stories and narratives of suffering.
Instead, we have risen up. We have joined together to spark greater movement and voice within our communities. More members of our communities have become “the first” to accomplish historic milestones, and we have overcome some of the greatest challenges that our communities have ever faced.
Yet, within the Asian and Pacific Islander community, it’s very difficult to speak about our mental health and our feelings about how certain events may affect our everyday lives. We’ve been taught for so long to keep our heads down and be quiet, but there have been so many voices that have continued to advocate for our communities for decades.
Thank you to all the Asian and Pacific Islander leaders who continue to pave the way for the visibility of our communities in your workplaces, local communities, online and in-person events, and everywhere in between.
We have a unique situation in that Asian and Pacific Islanders are over 50+ ethnic groups that span 100+ different languages and dialects. We are extremely diverse within our own community and have the power, both individually and collectively, to make a difference in our ever-changing world.
So, I thought one of the best ways we could celebrate Asian Pacific Heritage Month was to invite our Asian colleagues and allies to discuss their perspectives on Asian Heritage Month, the importance of the Asian identity and what we can all do to support this community. Here’s what they had to say…
Rachel: What is the significance of Asian Heritage Month from your perspective?
Heng (Jade) Zhang, Director, Mechanical Engineering Data Capture Solutions: It is a month of celebrating and recognizing Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. and Canada. Since the first large-scale immigration of Asians in the mid-19th century, Asians have played a key role in building a modern U.S. and Canada and brought vibrant cultures from different parts of Asia. It is also a unique opportunity for all Asian Zebras and allies to connect, learn, and celebrate the diverse Asian Pacific Heritage together.
Tilak Kesavapillai, Director Eng., Enterprise Mobile Computing, Zebra: It's celebrated to signify paying tribute to generations of Asian and Pacific Islanders who enriched America's success through their hard work. At Zebra, it represents the company's commitment to inclusion and diversity and to embracing Asian communities at all levels inside Zebra.
Rachel: Can you talk about the myth of the model minority, a stereotype often applied to people of Asian descent? Why is it a harmful concept?
Jade: Model minority, as I learned, is a term mostly used in the U.S. to refer to a group of people who are perceived as achieving a higher degree of success than the population average, and its often measured by education and income. A couple of examples of this stereotype include "Asians are good STEM professionals but not natural leaders,” “Asian children are math whizzes but not good at sports,” or “Asians are hardworking and never complain.” Like all stereotypes, the model minority myth ignores the diversity of Asian cultures, erases the differences among individuals, and sets unspoken expectations. A recent study shows that less inclusive leaders are less able to recognize employees’ unique strengths, which is often coined “talent blindness.” At Zebra, we encourage individual voices and stories to be heard in many ways including participation in our inclusion networks. Our goal is to combat the model minority myth and other harmful stereotypes.
Tilak: The model minority myth is a perception set by the majority that each minority can only do a certain type of work well. There are occasions when the majority doubted whether Asians could be leaders for certain functions or people. Buying into this myth would be harmful to companies like Zebra, as we would miss enabling such leadership opportunities for people who would have brought in their expertise and inclusion to allow many more minority leaders. (Fortunately, Zebra embraces a culture of diversity and equality.)
Rachel: How do you make the Asian identity your own?
Jaime Weidler, Sr. Director, Sourcing and Procurement: I hope to see the community continue to grow and share its history, traditions, and view of the future. I have spent so much time in Asia in my professional career and have some amazing friends both here in North America and overseas. I want to see more people continue to be curious about the history and traditions.
For example, on one trip to Asia, I learned how to play Mahjong over the weekend and learned how many Asian families get together at Chinese New Year and stay up all night long to play together as a family. I love to learn about the history and hear stories about friends who have grown up in Asia and migrated to the United States or Canada. I think the best thing that everyone can do is to actively listen, seek to understand, and then reflect on someone else’s story and find commonality to their own story. I love when I find similarities that we can talk about, as it brings people closer together, and that helps you affiliate your identity with another culture.
This may sound cliché, but in my own family, we celebrate different holidays by making different ethnical food dishes so that my children can be exposed to and identify with other cultures. This is not how my parents raised me, and it is an absolute “do differently” that my wife and I are committed to as we raise our children.
Todd Boone, Director, Product Management, Automation: I’d suggest that the best way to make Asian identity your own is to get involved in the Asian community, and perhaps if given the opportunity, spend some time in Asia. What you will find is a mix of fantastic cultures and people that, if approached with a curious mindset, can quickly become interesting and immersive. I had the opportunity to live in Asia and it was hugely impactful in terms of how deep the Asian culture resonates with me personally.
Rachel: What do you hope to see for the Asian community in the coming years?
Mark Fullarton, Senior Manager, Sourcing and Procurement: While it may seem like high-minded idealism, ultimately, I hope to see a momentum shift in public sentiment toward the global unity of the human race. I believe that when Nationalistic tendencies and language grow in the public and political discourse, individuals and groups will psychologically distance themselves from any form of “other.” And this distancing, or separation, can easily lead down a path toward overt racism. My hope for the Asian community is to remain steadfast in honoring its long and storied history and the profound wisdom earned through generations of lived experience. My hope is that the Asian community will be safe (not only feel safe) to celebrate and share the beauty and depth of its varied cultures, and in doing so, act as an example for our collective community in the United States and across the globe that we need not isolate or hate each other. That no matter our differences, we can choose to come together in respect and wonder to learn from each other and grow together.
Tilak: Encouraging diversity and inclusion at leadership levels across every organization will help bring forth the perceptional challenges that Asian communities suffer at the workplace. Give opportunities for Asian communities at all functions and all leadership levels. That would be the only way to break the stereotype.
Rachel: How can we all support and show solidarity to employees and people of Asian descent?
Jaime: I believe in a world where everyone is treated equally regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything that can be viewed as an attribute to discriminate against. I have two small boys in my home (ages 6 and 11), and my wife and I have always parented them to treat everyone with dignity and respect. We also teach them to be curious and ask questions, and we absolutely cast this shadow, as we have friends of all different races, religions and sexual orientations. We answer their questions with authenticity to promote an inclusive environment in the hopes the next generation of children will grow up to be understanding and respectful of anyone’s history or traditions. I believe that everyone has this opportunity to advocate for unconditional respect and equality, and I only wish that we could all have this perspective – allowing everyone to feel included and not discriminated against.
Mark: The best way to support your colleagues is to form and/or join inclusion networks, such as Zebra’s A2Z inclusion network. We must acknowledge the reality of the discrimination and injustice that people of Asian descent have suffered and continue to face in our local communities and the workplace. We could all make a little extra effort to learn more about our Asian colleagues as individuals and their culture, and if they are willing to share, about the challenges they have faced with discrimination or hate in their own lives. Perhaps most of all, we can work to develop self-awareness around our own biases (conscious or unconscious), how they drive our thoughts and behaviors and challenge them every day with the intention that we are the change we know is right.