Community Spotlight: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Your stories have power. They bring ideas to life and can shape how others see the world. 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.

Cultural pride and positive change

The contributions and accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to American history, culture, and society are far-reaching and incredibly diverse. 

With over 50 distinct ethnic groups encompassed by this group and countless individual differences within those cultures, there is so much to learn from and celebrate throughout the year. 

Here’s what we’re doing to recognize Asian American and Pacific Islander Month at Hearts & Science:

  • Identity Through Chinese Calligraphy (Wednesday, May 17, 2023, at 4 p.m. ET)
    We are hosting an Identity through Chinese Calligraphy workshop in honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month! Explore the transformative power of Chinese calligraphy in shaping our identities and reflecting on the influence of our names. From drawings to modern characters, discover the innovative and resilient evolution of the Chinese language. Share the meaning of your name and create Chinese names that resonate with your identity.
  • Personal Finance Workshop with Lissa Prudencio (Tuesday, May 16, 2023, at 2 p.m. ET)
    In honor of Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Hearts and the ALN are hosting a Personal Finance Workshop led by Lissa Prudenico of Wealth for Women of Color. Learn how to recession-proof your finances, budgeting do’s and don’ts, cash flow assessment, and quick money tips. It is a great opportunity to gain valuable insights on managing your personal finances from an expert with 13 years of experience at Google, YouTube, and Fox Sports.

Safe spaces to share

Jema’s belief in food as a connector

Jema was born a world traveler. Her family immigrated from South Korea to Australia when she was a baby. She moved to the United States with a one-way ticket when she was in her early 20s and currently works as an Executive Director of Strategy at Hearts & Science in New York City. Jema appreciates how moving to another city and away from her family has been a catalyst for her to learn and experience many cultures, including her own Korean heritage.

“I would still consider myself Australian but am much more conscious of my Korean heritage than I’ve ever been before.”

The difference between diversity in Australia and the United States was surprising to Jema. Diversity was a fact of life in Sydney but never discussed. The diversity that surrounded her in Sydney was represented on television and reflected with diverse news anchors and actors. When Jema first moved to the States, she didn’t see that same representation. She noticed that the media was much more homogenous. 

However, in the past few years, Korean culture has become more mainstream in American culture with the rise of K-Pop and K-Dramas. She has thoroughly enjoyed seeing the increase in representation of Asian cultures in everyday media.

Jema with her mom on Wedding day

Jema’s family still lives in Australia. Having been away from them for so long, she has grown more intentional about connecting with the things she took for granted growing up. That includes the home-cooked Korean meals her mom prepared every year, including a traditional birthday dish and special recipes for other holidays like the Lunar New Year. 

While Jema is an avid cook herself, she never learned to make Korean food since she could always satisfy cravings with a quick drive to see her parents. With that connection now almost 10,000 miles away, Jema asked her mom to teach her how to recreate Korean dishes in New York. Through cooking she has been able to appreciate and learn more about her own heritage.

One way New York City reflects its diversity is through its vast variety of restaurants from global cultures. Jema often tries new restaurants and cuisines. She also expands her cooking skills by trying recipes from other countries. She has fun using new cooking techniques, flavors, and textures. Jema believes in embracing and learning about our differences.

Pro Tip: As explained by Jema’s mom when she asked for recipes: Look up new recipes on YouTube; there’s so much good content to learn from!

How Eugene embraces being Korean in America

Though he was born in Missouri, Eugene Kang moved with his family back to Korea when he was 4 years old, leaving all memories of the US behind. From age 4 to 25, he firmly established his identity as Korean. He finished university and began working in the financial sector, which proved to be a smothering experience because of long hours and intense expectations. 

Eugene had grown up fantasizing about the US—watching TV shows like “Friends”—and imagining what it would be like to live in New York. Since he had citizenship, he decided to leave behind the busyness of Korea and go back to the US to pursue new opportunities. 

He earned a master’s degree in analytics from Georgia Tech and stayed in Atlanta as he began working for Hearts & Science. Today he is the supervisor of marketing science.

The transition between cultures was challenging for Eugene. For a while, he made every effort to fit in and become American. He’d watch football even though he had no idea what was going on. He’d attempt to take part in celebrity gossip conversations. And while he felt these little things helped him adjust to his new environment, he also knew it was an act and that he couldn’t live like that forever.

During the pandemic, however, everything changed for Eugene.

First, the rise of Korean pop culture in the US ignited curiosity amongst Eugene’s American friends. They began asking him questions about Korean culture, including how to say things in Korean because they’d been watching a Korean Netflix show. Or they wanted to cook a Korean dish and wanted to know what Asian groceries to buy. From these interactions, he realized that others definitely saw him as Korean, so maybe he didn’t need to pretend to be something he wasn’t. 

“I realized that I should be proud of my culture and share that with other people.”

However, the Korean media wave wasn’t the only thing that hit the US around the pandemic. Tragedy also struck in the form of Asian hate. 

One incident happened chillingly close to Eugene’s apartment in Atlanta, where a shooter killed five Asian people. This was the final turning point for Eugene. He decided that he had to take pride in his Asian heritage and fight against the hate.

Poster of I Live Alone

Knowing that others are enjoying Korean media and food brings him joy. And for Eugene, it’s how he finds solace and connection to his heritage. He’s particularly fond of the Korean reality show, “I Live Alone,” which follows Korean celebrities through their daily lives. He relates to their ordinary, often humorous struggles. It’s a safe space for him.

“Somehow when I watch those things, see the familiar places on the screen, and listen to Korean language… it gives me comfort.”

Pro tip: Eugene reminds us that it’s impossible to truly fit in without being your true self. “It is important to find the fine line where you embrace the new culture and, at the same time, try to not forget how you have become who you are now.”

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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 some. 
  3. Show your support. Our Hearts requested custom email signatures celebrating and supporting causes and heritage months throughout the year. 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 Pacific Islander communities.

What individuals can do:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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. 
  4. Learn to stand up against hate. Using resources like Right To Be, 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.

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.”

There is so much we can learn from the diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Attend an event or show your support as you reach out, listen, and educate yourself, this month and throughout the year.