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Celebrating Cultural Heritage: Insights from our AANHPI Workforce

Diversity & Inclusion

Celebrating Cultural Heritage: Insights from our AANHPI Workforce

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the rich cultural tapestry of AANHPI communities in the United States. In honor of this month, we spoke with three AANHPI EasyLlama team members about their experiences navigating their cultural heritage and diversity in both their personal lives and their careers. In this article, Richard Ko (pictured above left), Thomas Yu (center), and Pooja Samuel Murphy (right) share their insights on how they identify their cultural heritage and how those insights have influenced their lives today.

How do you identify your cultural heritage, and what does it mean to you?

Thomas Yu, Content Marketing Specialist: As a first-generation Korean, identifying with my cultural heritage is a way of honoring my family’s legacy and the sacrifices they’ve made for me. It represents a deep appreciation for Korean art, music, and of course, the cuisine, that shaped my upbringing. It gives me pride and serves as a link between my heritage and the diverse world around me.

Pooja Samuel Murphy, People Operations Manager: Being South Asian, specifically Indian, means paying homage to a culture that is vivid, steeped in history and generosity. Growing up, it was difficult to identify as Indian. I wasn’t American enough for the kids I went to school with, and at home, I wasn’t Indian enough for my parents. Being a child of immigrants means you are always being pulled in two different directions. It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s, that I really leaned into being Indian and honoring my roots. I chose to lean into the loud and vibrant music, the richness of the cuisine, and the luminescent and colorful clothing. As of today, I am deeply proud to be Indian, speaking freely about the joys and challenges that come with identifying as such.

Richard Ko, SMB Sales Support: Being a Korean American is learning from both cultures and taking in the positives from both! Knowing that I am both Korean and American means that I can bridge gaps rather than break them down. Bringing Korean music, food, and more is a great way to introduce others to my culture and the joy that it offers! For Koreans, sharing food is associated to memories of joy and celebration alongside even mourning together with loved ones. It is something that we can share with people in any stage of life and there is a culture and memory associated toward it. We see Korean music being put in the mainstream in recent years and now we can introduce other aspects of our culture from cinema to drinks and fashion.

Pooja AAPI.png Pooja at her recent wedding, wearing her spin on traditional Indian wedding attire.

Have you experienced any challenges or obstacles as an AANHPI person in the workplace or in your personal life? How did you overcome them?

Thomas: Navigating a dual identity as a first-generation Korean presented its share of obstacles. Balancing Korean traditions and values with Western influences required adaptation and open-mindedness. I addressed this by embracing the best of both worlds, understanding and respecting cultural nuances, and finding a personal identity that integrates both my Korean heritage and the environment I live in.

Pooja: For me, being Indian isn’t the only challenge, there is also intersectionality at play. If you’re not familiar with intersectionality, it describes the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class, and other forms of discrimination “intersect” to create unique dynamics and effects. However, the most common challenge I have come up against is the model minority myth, the idea that Asian Americans are courteous and law-abiding; attributing our remarkable accomplishments to a blend of inherent aptitude and a determined immigrant spirit of self-reliance. For me, overcoming the model minority myth means challenging the stereotypes associated, and advocating for myself and for those like me. It’s probably how I unconsciously wound up in the People Ops function.

Richard: I think my biggest obstacle was when I was younger. For example, I always heard the stereotype about the model minority and I completely disagree with it. It is a way to drive us apart and I don’t believe that stereotype to be true. I myself work hard but it’s a strange stereotype that is racism masquerading as a “compliment.” I used to get made fun of in elementary school because my lunch smelled weird but now everyone loves it. This is how I learned when I was younger that being different isn’t necessarily a bad thing and that taught me to have a lot of empathy growing up. Overcoming the macro issue of the model minority would be continuing to help Asian Americans and knowing that “the model minority” is just an excuse to not help Asians and to pit minorities against one another. Overcoming my micro issue of my food smelling weird or my culture’s music being strange has been something I overcame by realizing that I should embrace who I am and I’m proud of it. Looking at the world now, I think most people would agree with how great it actually is.

In what ways do you think your culture has influenced your work and your approach to your job?

Thomas: Korean culture places great importance on lifelong learning and continuous improvement. This has influenced my work by driving me to embrace new challenges, seek out opportunities for professional development, and stay adaptable in a rapidly evolving work environment. I actively seek to expand my skills and knowledge to stay ahead in my field.

Pooja: Strong work ethic is foundational to Indian culture. I started working when I was 14 and have always placed a high value on producing top-quality and thoughtful work. Going above and beyond comes naturally to most Indians; why do you think Bollywood produces over 1,000 films per year?

Richard: We can always improve and be better. I remember my parents jokingly mentioning how 100% is good but why not 110%? And at the time, I thought it was just them being strict which maybe it was. However, now I realize that it’s to avoid and fight against being complacent. Rest is important, no doubt, but it’s also knowing that we always have room to grow and improve, so let’s never try to be a “know-it-all.” This definitely creates a sense of humility as well. Look at Korean dramas for example. They just keep getting better.

Thomas AAPI.png Thomas with his maternal grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. in the late '70s.

What advice would you give to younger AANHPI generations navigating their identity and career paths?

Thomas: Embrace your unique cultural identity and heritage. Your AANHPI background is a source of strength and can provide a unique perspective in your career. Celebrate your roots, share your experiences, and don't be afraid to bring your authentic self to the table.

Pooja: Honor your whole self, including your heritage, in the workplace, and in life. Highlight the beautiful parts of your culture, and challenge the stereotypes and generational woes. Your unique experiences are a light in this world.

Richard: It is okay to be both Asian and American. You don’t have to choose. You can embrace both. I realized that it’s important to embrace both cultures to celebrate the good and to navigate through the bad. We can take the importance of family and pair that with being a unique individual. It is not a crutch, it is a benefit. People like to always pit anything against one another. When you embrace both, you bridge gaps and combine cultures. At the end of the day, we can all work to help each other out and bridge cultures. We’re all similar and we’re all unique individuals. I think that being an Asian American is a great example of that. Also in terms of your career, choose whichever career path you are passionate about!

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