Bringing Asian American and Pacific Islander Identity and Heritage to Work

Every May since 1992, the United States celebrates the history, present, and futures of the Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, community. The month of May commemorates May 7, 1843, when the first Japanese person immigrated to America, and May 10, 1869, when Chinese immigrants completed the first transcontinental railroad.

We’re recognizing Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month by learning more about four USDSers within the community. James Liu, Lisa Hwang, Pooja Shaw, and Ray Wang tell us what this heritage month means to them; how they bring their backgrounds to work; and what books and songs are on their AAPI Heritage Month favorites lists.

Scroll down to learn how AAPI heritage impacts their work at USDS.

A photo of a smiling Korean American woman with long hair. On the left, white text on a blue background reads “Lisa Hwang, Talent Acquisition Deputy Director, U.S. Digital Service.”

Lisa Hwang, Talent

How do you identify within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?

I identify as Korean American. My parents moved to the U.S. from Korea. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I grew up with a lot of Asians, but not a lot of Koreans, and it helped me to realize the importance of my individual Korean heritage.

Has your heritage shaped or influenced your career or your work at USDS?

It definitely influenced me to be a hardworking and analytical-focused person, even though that hasn’t always been a strength. When I first joined USDS, I noticed a lack of diversity and didn’t feel comfortable voicing my opinions at that time. Since then, I have seen a lot more diversity efforts being made and it turns out I just needed to wait for the right time and opportunity to use my experience in helping to make important decisions.

Who are your Asian American and Pacific Islander community heroes?

My hero is my grandma, who lived through the Korean War and lost her husband and her son to the war. She had to escape on foot with three small children, and in her lifetime, she lost several unborn children due to malnourishment. I admire her determination, her sacrifice, her ability to overcome these difficult circumstances, and her eventual move to the United States to provide a better future for her family.

What do you love about your work at USDS?

I love that the work that I am doing is impacting somebody in a positive way. Whether I’m helping to improve the hiring process, analyzing critical data, or helping other agencies with their hiring needs, I am empowered to work on projects that I think are important and am able to voice the importance of that work.

Does AAPI Heritage Month have significance for you?

AAPI month is a great way to acknowledge and highlight many Asian cultures, foods, and experiences. I also think it’s important to celebrate diversity every day and my hope is that it’ll become a part of our everyday lives — leaving a better future for the next generation.

What’s your go-to comfort food?

One of my favorite snacks is brown sugar Boba milk tea and egg puff waffles. Super tasty — I highly recommend!

Which authors and books are on your AAPI Heritage Month reading list?

One book I look forward to reading is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Fun fact: it took 30 years to write. It’s historical fiction where its characters face discrimination and stereotyping.

A Taiwanese American man smiles wearing a white shirt and dark blazer. On the right, white text on a blue background reads “James Liu, Product, U.S. Digital Service.”

James Liu, Product

How do you identify within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?

Second-generation Taiwanese-American

Has your heritage shaped or influenced your career or your work at USDS?

Like many immigrants, my parents were inspired by a sense of hopefulness to come to the United States. And though that hopefulness was faced with many challenges of systemic barriers that first-generation, non-English speaking immigrants face, that hope persisted in a way that is now passed down to me.

I am now, like many of my USDS colleagues, filled with a similarly complex hopefulness. We acknowledge the many ways government services are frustrating and broken, while holding onto the belief that these very same systems and services, when delivered in better and more equitable ways, can be the foundation for rebuilding trust and optimism for our nation.

Which authors and books are on your AAPI Heritage Month reading list?
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong; Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu; On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong; and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

A smiling Indian American woman with long hair wearing a red blouse. On the right white text on a blue background reads “Pooja Shaw, Product Lead, U.S. Digital Service”

Pooja Shaw, Product

How do you identify within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?

My large (loud), close-knit Indian family is core to my identity. My parents and a contingency of aunts and uncles all moved to the U.S. in the ‘80s. My cousins, sister, and I entered the picture soon after. I’m so grateful that I was surrounded by the family values that are central to Indian culture.

That said, my parents always encouraged me to think of myself as just “American” without any qualifiers. While I’m proud of my Indian heritage, the U.S. is the only country that I’ve ever considered home.

How has your heritage shaped or influenced your career or your work at USDS?

This perspective, that while a proud second-generation American, I think of myself as just “American,” has influenced my work at USDS. Every family that calls this country their home, whether first or tenth generation Americans, is entitled to the same benefits and opportunities. I recognize that we are still far from perfect in this regard, and the desire to do what I can to improve my home is what brought me to USDS.

Who are your Asian American and Pacific Islander community heroes?

This is probably not the intent of this question, but my honest answer is… Moana! I have two small kids and we constantly invoke her as a role model; she’s brave, persistent, and kind.

I was extremely nervous a few months ago about a public speaking event, and my husband sarcastically reminded me to “just be brave like Moana,” but funnily enough it worked! So, I guess she’s a hero to my kids and me alike!

What do you love about your at USDS?

The sheer scope of the work at USDS — both the challenges that come with the federal government, and the potential for impact — is humbling. At most of my prior jobs, within a few months I would find myself itching for new challenges. Not so at USDS!

Who or what songs are on your AAPI Heritage Month playlist?

“Down” by Jay Sean, always and forever.

A Chinese American man stands smiling on the beach. He’s wearing sunglasses, a dark blue T-shirt and bright blue pants. There is a large white dog in front of him and his hand rests on a trolley loaded with beach items. To the right white text on a blue background reads “Ray Wang, Product Lead, U.S. Digital Service”

Ray Wang, Product

How do you identify within the Asian American and Pacific Islander community?

Chinese American. I was born in China and came to the U.S. when I was nine. When I turned 18, I decided to become a U.S. citizen. I see myself as both Chinese and American.

Has your heritage shaped or influenced your career or your work at USDS?

The heritage that shaped my career is a strong sense of resilience in overcoming challenges. I bring the same resilience to USDS in implementing solutions to deliver better public services and create positive impacts.

Who are your Asian American and Pacific Islander community heroes?

The Chinese Culture and Community Service Center volunteers. They help under-served Chinese immigrants enhance their quality of life and incorporate them into American society through various accessible community services.

What do you love about your work at USDS?

The many opportunities where USDS can transform critical government services for the people.

Does AAPI Heritage Month have significance for you?

AAPI Heritage Month means my daughter will grow up in a country where her heritage is recognized and celebrated.

What’s your go-to comfort food?

The Durian cake is my favorite comfort food, and an excellent example of East meets West.

Who or what songs are on your AAPI Heritage Month playlist?

I would suggest the Goodbye Kiss album by Jacky Cheung. It is one of the best-selling Chinese albums of all time.

Which authors and books are on your AAPI Heritage Month reading list?

Kal Penn’s You Can’t Be Serious and Ali Wong’s Dear Girls.

We’re hiring mission-driven engineers, product managers, designers, bureaucracy hackers, procurement specialists, and operations gurus who want to make an impact on the lives of their fellow Americans. Apply here.

To learn more about our work, follow the U.S. Digital Service on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

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The United States Digital Service is a group of technologists from diverse backgrounds working across the federal government to transform critical services for the people.

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