San Francisco Fed
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San Francisco Fed

The Asian-American Identity

The term “Asian American” encompasses a diverse and complex group of people, but what does being Asian American mean? How is the Asian-American experience different from person to person? We wanted to share the stories of our Asian-American employees to understand how their unique experiences and backgrounds shape their identity today. Here’s what they had to say.

“When you were younger, there were two different groups: There were those who were born in the Philippines and those who were born in the States. The second we left high school, we stripped ourselves of these labels. We all just became family. By the time you went to college, you joined a Filipino-American college group. It didn’t matter if you were born in the Philippines or if you were born in the U.S. — you were still family. We had that connection. We shared that culture. Now, even as the co-chair for the Filipino American Network, it doesn’t matter if you’re first, second, third, or fourth generation, we all have that same connection. I feel like as you get older, these labels mean less. They mean less in dividing us apart, and they mean more about uniting us together.

One of the things that I carry with me is a tradition of asking for a blessing from an older member, family or not. You say ‘mano po’, and you take their hand and you bring it up to your forehead. It’s a very standard greeting and a sign of respect for your elders. That’s a tradition that I’m passing onto my daughter, who’s now two years old. It’s cute. She’ll just grab your hand and say, ‘Oh, God bless you, auntie.’ I want my daughter to have as much of the same experiences that I had so she can hopefully carry that on, and feel included with the other second- and third-gen Filipino Americans.

At the Bank, I host tours and I host a lot of students. Being from the Bay Area, there are always a couple of Filipino-American students in these tour groups. It’s normal for me to be walking a group and I’ll see one of my Filipino-American coworkers like, ‘Hey, how are you?’ It’s fun because all of a sudden you can tell who’s Filipino-American in the tour groups. They all look up and they’re like, ‘Oh, how cool!’” — Jordan Villa, Filipino-American Network Co-Chair and Economic Education Project Manager

“I’m the youngest of four. My three older siblings mostly grew up in Vietnam. So when I reflect on things they remember, and how they remember their childhood versus mine, I could see how being the first generation in the U.S. comes with its pros and cons. I don’t have a lot of the hardship memories that my siblings have, but one thing we all share and that I can remember is that we spent a lot of time together as a family.

Our neighbors were mostly immigrants too, so our family didn’t speak much English and that was perfectly normal. In fact, I was in an English as a Second Language program all throughout elementary school and there was no real need to speak English. You can walk around and speak Chinese or Vietnamese all day long and that was the way life was. In hindsight, it was definitely a different environment to grow up in, but it was fun and the norm at the time.

The language connection, though, has really been a valuable piece of my heritage for me. It’s weird and hard to explain — but it helps me connect in a way. I didn’t grow up in China or Vietnam, but because my parents didn’t speak any English when I was growing up, the only language I knew of was Cantonese and Vietnamese. My parents were fluent in Cantonese and I was surrounded by Vietnamese friends in my neighborhood, so I learned Vietnamese through interacting with them. Even though I was not fluent in the language, the communication connection is a strong one that I couldn’t get through other channels.

I’m very fortunate to work with a group of peers who are very inclusive and take the time to appreciate who I am. Moreover, they respect the value my background and different experiences can bring. For instance, I talk a lot, but I’m often not the most outspoken person in the room, and a lot of times, I’m the last person to raise an opinion in a meeting. Many may think that it’s because I like to listen, which is true, but others who know me well will know that it’s also partly because I was raised to be respectful of those around me who have had more years of experience and talking over those with more seniority is not ‘the right thing to do’.

Keeping with the rules I’ve learned while growing up, like the example above, has sometimes posed challenges, though. I have had to ask myself at times whether my approach to communications is less effective because it’s perceived to be passive or not being assertive enough. I’m constantly having that Q&A with myself to make sure that I don’t come across in an unintended or less effective way because of the “principles” I learned as a kid. To help with this, I’m always looking for feedback; the feedback may not necessarily cause me to completely change my approach because I want to stay authentic to my style, but it certainly can and has helped me adjust for better results.” — Mongkha Lu Pavlick, FISC Group Vice President

“I remember when I was in college as a member of a Vietnamese student association. The majority of us are just coming to the States as refugees. We had to struggle to go through the hardship of adopting a new culture. For us, English was a new language. Some of us got trained in English back in my country, but the majority of us spoke French. That’s why we helped each other go through the hardship of adopting a new culture, and we had to support each other through everything.

Back in my country, we were taught to be polite, to be quiet in the classroom. Talking back to a teacher was considered rude. You can get in trouble for that. But here in the U.S., it’s different. We have to have your voice be heard. If you’re quiet in the classroom, they ask you, ‘Hey, are you okay? Why aren’t you participating in class?’ If you talk back to your parents we consider you impolite. But, here in U.S., they teach you to be independent. You need to talk. You need to voice your opinion.” — Tri Nguyen, Economic Research Lead Solution Architect

“I definitely would say that my childhood was a struggle because I always felt like an outsider. What I mean by that is, being an international student here in the U.S., I attended a very close knit school that started from pre-K through 12th grade. So showing up in ninth grade as an outsider, I felt like I wasn’t a part of the community because everybody’s already been here, has known each other all their lives, and here I was, new to the community.

Similarly, because I had left my home and moved here, I also lost my connection with friends and associations in Thailand. I didn’t associate myself as a Thai citizen, but I also didn’t associate myself as a full American citizen, so I always felt out of place. I feel that in hindsight it’s made me more adaptable wherever I go because I could always relate to being the minority, whichever group I’m in.

One thing that came to mind right away that we just recently celebrated is Mother and Father’s Day. In Thailand, Thai Mother’s Day and Father’s Day coincide with the King and Queen’s birthdays, and that’s always been what I had celebrated since I grew up. I went to school in Thailand, so I continued to do this even when I moved here, despite the fact that we have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day here. So I hold that tradition, and for me, it’s very important because it’s a time where I pay respect to my parents, even if we just do it virtually.

I just love that, as an organization, we want to share different backgrounds, different cultures. We certainly honor and treasure diversity to broaden our horizon. And it shows. It shows through people who are members of our Asian-American resource groups. It shows through people who are coming up with ideas of programs that we should be doing. Any one person can’t make these change; it’s the intention and mindset of a whole community, and I feel that we certainly do have this here.” — Dee Wanapun, Audit Manager

“Coming here, it’s a different environment. Everything was new to me. We spoke Tagalog back home. We also spoke English, but I was able to adapt fast because I thought I should be watching TV every day to get more familiar with how people talk and how can I listen and respond to them. I had a difficult time, but later on, I was able to adapt to the way we live here. Sometimes, there was some fear because you’re going to start working, applying to jobs, but with the support of my family, especially my husband, I was able to adjust easily.

What I instilled in my children when they were growing up is how education is the most important thing; that they can go a lot further in their life because that’s how we grew up back home. I was so blessed that my sons went in the right direction, finished college, got a good job, and they are successful in their own careers. For me, that’s a big accomplishment as a parent. I am so happy to see that the hard work that my husband and I did for them. That was the most important part of our goal, to have a good life in America.” — Violeta DelRosario, FISC Executive Assistant

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