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CultureMay 20, 2021

Credera Listens: Spotlighting the Asian American Experience

Sarah Barber

On Friday, April 8, Credera hosted the sixth installment of our Credera Listens panel series. In light of the recent rise of hateful actions and language against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities, we used this panel as a way to hear from several Asian American leaders to learn from their experiences and grow in our empathy. 

Through an open forum discussion led by Justin Mah, senior manager in Credera’s New York City office, we explored the topics of race, racism, anti-racism, allyship, intersectionality, microaggressions, and authenticity, among others, through the experiences and perspectives of these leaders.

Throughout the conversation we focused on personal stories highlighting how being an Asian American or Pacific Islander has shaped each panelist’s life and career journey. Our goal was that through this conversation, we would equip each attendee with fresh perspectives on how to be a better ally and lean into fighting the inequity we see every day. 

We hope this conversation helps to create more understanding of what it’s like to be an Asian American or a Pacific Islander and inspire others to support and uplift one another in our daily experiences.

Our esteemed panelists included:

Below are some highlights from the conversation. We hope they are as valuable to you as they were to the Credera audience.

On the Panelists’ Backgrounds 

As the discussion began, Mah asked the panelists to share their stories of where they came from and where they are now.

Cathy Chan Butler shared that she is a first generation Asian American. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, but her brother and parents immigrated from Hong Kong in 1970. She had a strong cultural upbringing and a large Asian community around her in L.A., but also shared that her mother provided her a modern experience through having ongoing discussions about how to best assimilate into American culture. This provided her a traditional and modern view of what it meant to be an Asian American. 

Ryan Chen is a first generation Taiwanese American. His parents moved to the U.S. to pursue master’s degrees and eventually landed in Dallas for work. He grew up with many Asian American peers through attending a Chinese church and Chinese school, which helped foster his identity and growth as a Chinese American, while also still having the experience of feeling like a minority in white culture. 

Lu Truong was born in Malaysia and came to America at three months old. Growing up in Oklahoma, diversity was limited, and he was one of only three Asians in his graduating high school class of 1,100 students. His experience has been mostly assimilated in America, but he shared that a major conflict he faced growing up centered around trying to bridge the mentorship and advice of his parents with what he was experiencing in real life in America. One piece of helpful advice from his father was to “take the best of both cultures,” which is something Truong still tries to live out. Instead of being insecure about the differences of his cultures, he began to appreciate them, and this practice has served him well in both his personal life and career.  

John Gim shared that he is a first generation Korean American. In his experience, he felt like his parents always wanted him to be “Korean American”—Korean first, American second—but he felt a pull to be “America Korean”—American first, Korean second. He shared that this is a common problem for many Asian Americans. He majored in economics at Carnegie Mellon and has worked in the field of statistics for most of his career, but also took a few years off to travel, work abroad, and play cards. 

On Their First Experience With Race 

Mah continued the conversation by asking our panelists when they first discovered race. 

For Truong, it was early in life. He recalled getting comments from kids on the playground that he looked different, which was the first time it was brought to his attention that he looked different than his peers. Even though most of those comments were benign, he explained that they made him feel different. 

Chen grew up in a school where there were many other minorities represented, but in fourth grade an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher pulled him out of class to take an English proficiency test, even though he was born in America. He shared that this experience made him realize he was different from his peers. 

For Gim, he had three different communities that allowed him to wear different hats. He went to a predominantly white school, lived in a predominantly black community in West Philadelphia, and his immediate friends at church were Korean. These different pockets made him feel like he was either a representative of his racial demographic or that he was with his peers. 

Growing up outside of L.A., Chan Butler grew up with a very homogenous group of Asian and Asian American people in her community. She explained how she didn’t feel “different” until later in life when she was a part of a majority white group. While she felt loved and accepted, she still experienced different traditions that made her feel like an outsider. 

On the Phrase “Model Minority”

Mah brought up the term “model minority” and asked the panelists to share their take on it. 

In Chen’s opinion, the term is problematic and dangerous. Being labeled a “model minority” not only is an over-generalization, he believes it’s actually a form of suppression for other minority groups and it feeds into the supremacy that’s happening in America. He called Asian Americans to say “no” to it and to combat the stereotypes in their own circles.

On How the Increase in Asian Hate Has Impacted Them Personally

Chan Butler shared the story of an Asian woman who was spit on at Penn Station at the beginning of the pandemic. Chan Butler used to go through Penn Station every day, so this story deeply impacted her and made her wonder how she would ever feel safe going back to work without constantly looking over her shoulder. 

She also shared about how the shooting in Atlanta made her worried for her family members, specifically her 13-year-old daughter and 86-year-old father, and feel anxious since she isn’t able to protect them from random acts of violence. 

Gim shared that he felt angry, protective of his parents, and that he wants to find ways to bring institutional change to really make a real difference. 

Truong said his first reaction was anger, but he had many mixed emotions as he processed the events. He had a conversation with his parents to ask how they felt, and it was alarming to hear his dad share that they need to be careful going to the grocery store. This made Truong feel helpless, out of control, and even awkward that this was happening in this country. 

On What We Can Do to Promote Allyship

The panelist agreed that empathy is the most important way to grow as an ally. Chen suggested looking inward and educating yourself. Chan Butler added that we need to talk to our kids about the Asian American experience and teach them how to be an ally. 

Several also encouraged listeners to stand up to racism, big or small, in whatever communities we are a part of. We all have a sphere of influence to impact, and if we each do our part, that could make a huge difference.

Thank you again to our panelists, Cathy Chan ButlerJohn GimLu TruongRyan Chen, and our host, Justin Mah, for being willing to share your stories. 

Join the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conversation

Credera is listening, and we hope you are as well. If you're interested in connecting on this topic, please feel free to contact us at findoutmore@credera.com and a member of Credera's Diversity & Inclusion team will connect with you.

If you'd like to learn more about the Credera Listens initiative, explore the previous sessions or navigate to the specific sessions below:

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