Community Spotlight: Asian American and Pacific Islander Hearts
Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world, and here at Hearts, we use stories to build community.
This is one of many posts in our Community Spotlight Series, where we feature Hearts who identify with a group and have important conversations about how we can support one another.
Throughout the series, we will work closely with these individuals to create an experience where they can share their culture with fellow Hearts. We’ll hear directly from them about their lives, the safe spaces they’ve created to live their truth and how we can be better allies.
And then we listen.
Because more than ever, stories that celebrate our differences need to be heard.
Recognizing the scope of cultures included in Asian American and Pacific Islander Month
Asian American and Pacific Islander Month (AAPIM) encompasses so many different backgrounds and cultures that it’s challenging to learn about all of them in such a short time. On top of recognizing that there are a variety of heritages to educate ourselves on, we also need to understand that an individual’s experiences within their own culture can be widely varied. While we highlight AAPIM, remember that educating ourselves about diverse cultures and engaging with perspectives different from our own can be embraced all year long.
Events coming up at Hearts:
- The Tenement Museum: The Wong Family Story – May 17, 2022, 4 pm EDT
The Tenement Museum provides an immersive look at the experiences of immigrants and migrants living in New York. The Wong Family Story explores what it was like to be a Chinese American family in the late ‘60s, including a glimpse into the realities of working in the garment industry and how the Wong family made New York their new home.
- Yoga Class – May 10, 2022, 4 pm EDT
Join us for this one-hour YogaFit class set to BTS piano/orchestra covers! Jessica (@jessdoeswellness) has led yoga classes across NYC and will guide us through this calming flow.In YogaFit vinyasa yoga, modern exercise science is applied to yoga’s ancient mind/body practice. YogaFit classes provide students maximum physical readiness and benefits, encouraging focus on working into the poses in a way that maximizes feeling while also providing the space for mental and emotional transformation.
Safe spaces to share
How Eugene stood up to Asian hate
On March 16, 2021, a white gunman entered an Atlanta, Georgia, massage parlor and killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent. Hearts & Science Marketing Science Team Supervisor Eugene Kang first heard about the shooting via a breaking news alert on his phone. As he watched the situation unfold on the news, the video and photos began to look eerily familiar. He soon realized that his home was only a five-minute walk from the site of the attack. Having immigrated to the U.S. from Korea in 2017, it was shocking for him to be so close to such violent hatred.
“That was heartbreaking because a lot of the team were also Korean, Asian but also Korean and women; that really broke my heart a lot.”
Deeply impacted by the shooting, he felt compelled to participate in a “Stop Asian Hate” march. While the reason for the gathering was incredibly sad, it did provide Eugene with some comfort at an extremely difficult time. Being there to speak out against the violence and honor the lives of those who were taken with so many other people, Asian and non-Asian, helped him see he wasn’t alone in his pain, grief and desire to stand against hate.
“It felt really nice to know that there are a lot of people who support [Stop Asian Hate] and who are angry for what happened, together.”
At work, Eugene is grateful for all of the support he receives from his team and the company’s overall commitment to diversity. He doesn’t feel like an outsider, and he feels good working for an agency that’s going above and beyond to become more and more inclusive. “I think they’re doing more than I expected to be honest.”
Pro tip: When you’re feeling homesick, try cooking food from your home country and enjoy it with others. The nostalgia of eating your favorite foods combined with the experience of sharing them with people who may not have had it before can be a powerful way to connect and overcome any loneliness you may feel.
How a childhood focused on belonging shaped Laksh
Laksh Byagari had a unique upbringing as the child of an Indian immigrant father and white Brooklynite mother. He was born in Queens, and then his parents made the intentional choice to move the family out to Long Island when Laksh was very young. They wanted to ensure Laskh and his siblings felt that they belonged, so they chose to raise them in a predominantly Asian American community.
He reflects, “It’s definitely interesting, I think, definitely something that was positive in my perspective.”
While he grew up as a Catholic on Long Island, he remained connected to Queens and attended a Hindu temple there once or twice a month to build his understanding of his dad’s background and culture. Next door to the temple was one of Laksh’s favorite places — the hugely popular, no-frills Temple Canteen that features extraordinary vegetarian food from his dad’s part of India.
“That was kind of always one of those places where I remember like, this is just me. It’s just nice to be here. Everything collides in New York — food, culture, backgrounds. And so anyone can go there. Everyone’s welcome. Where else would you want to be?”
That sense of belonging and inclusion has continued into Laksh’s career with Hearts & Science. He felt welcome right from his first interview and was impressed by the availability of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Business Resource Groups (BRGs) available for team members to connect with each other. It’s a way for both in-office and remote team members to have an ongoing conversation and share events that others might be interested in attending together.
Pro tip: Laksh loves developing movie campaigns at work and spends much of his non-work time watching movies and writing screenplays. Creativity can be a powerful tool to stay positive during tough times, whether you choose to create something yourself or enjoy an existing movie, book or other art form.
How Rowena pushed back against the pressure
Asian American and Pacific Islander Month can be a confusing but entertaining celebration for Senior Negotiator Rowena Abuan. “I qualify for both because I’m Filipino, and I always question if I’m Asian or I question if I’m Pacific Islander. Some people say, ‘You are Asian,’ and then other people say, ‘You are a Pacific Islander.’ So I don’t know what I am. And I think it’s hysterical.”
For Rowena, honoring the lives and experiences of Asian Americans goes beyond celebrating culture. It’s about understanding and supporting the realities of the roles that can be a part of these cultures.
“This is very broad strokes, very stereotypical Asian — we’ve grown up with a lot of pressure. And then we also put a lot of pressure on ourselves.”
For Rowena, this pressure to excel at all of the roles in her life took the form of raising her kids as a single co-parent while also being the primary caregiver for her parents and knocking it out of the park at work. She was trying to do it all, all at the same time, with a work commute of 2.5 to 3 hours — in each direction. Something had to give to make it work, and Rowena is extremely grateful to have a boss who recognized how full her plate was and enabled her to switch to a flexible work schedule, saving her hours a day of travel time.
“I love that because it’s one less thing to worry about. I know my job. I know my responsibilities. I don’t want to let you, my boss, you, my client, you, my agency, down. Because it’s not in my nature to let anybody down. I appreciate the flexibility.”
With so much to do in her life, Rowena’s safe space is a walk outside in her neighborhood. It helps her slow her mind, calm down and just focus on breathing.
Rowena’s pro tip: “Don’t try to do it all yourself. Don’t struggle in silence. Hearts & Science is walking the walk of supporting balance in our lives and mental well-being. We need to speak up when we need help and know that they care.”
Work should be a safe space too
Hearts & Science is dedicated to building a space where its employees are recognized and feel seen. There are many ways we are supporting inclusion efforts.
Here are some initiatives that we’re supporting:
- Participate in a network. Hearts & Science invites employees to access the Asian Leadership Network and have a voice in how the company supports Asian employees and allies. Don’t have one at your company? Contact your human resources department and be the force for change that starts one.
- Learn to stand up against hate. Using resources like https://righttobe.org/, we can take free training or read articles and tips on standing up against hate, taking action and showing support. Knowing how to handle tough situations can make all the difference.
- Attend upcoming company events. Attend every company event that you can. Learn, enjoy, represent your perspective and share feedback on how your company can create truly inclusive programming. If you don’t have any events, start one.
- Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom email signatures celebrating and supporting causes and heritage months throughout the year, and they are now available to all employees. It’s one small gesture you can make to colleagues and partners to show your support for the Asian and Jewish communities.
What individuals can do:
- Own up to mistakes. If you do or say something offside and someone calls you on it, your first instinct might be to go on the defensive. Instead, thank the person who provided the correction, learn from it and move on.
- Share your platform. If you have a social media following and want to make a positive difference, consider sharing content from underrepresented voices. Amplifying the perspectives of others can help create empathy and understanding while also inspiring action.
- Explore new food together. Attend events and activities that are new to you with an open mind — and an open stomach. Experiencing food together can be a powerful way to build connections. Be sure to ask questions, as many dishes are connected to family history, traditions and more that can help you gain even greater insight into cultures that are different from your own.
Andriena Coleman, associate director of DE&I at Hearts & Science, shares, “Hearts is a workplace where new ideas can flourish. Together, this community of amazing individuals changes and grows through unique experiences and perspectives. Our differences are celebrated and truly invaluable to our organization.”
We all need to be engaged in ending Asian hate and creating emotional and physical safety with and for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. As we begin AAIPM, remember that this celebration includes a wide array of backgrounds, cultures and lived experiences.
Explore all that this month’s activities have to offer and consider how you can take this learning and connection into your life all year round.