Asian and Pacific American Heritage (APAH) Month offers an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the multitudes of Asian history and culture. According to the Library of Congress: “The month of May was chosen to commemorate the immigration of the first Japanese to the United States on May 7, 1843, and to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869. The majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.”
Dr. Joliana Yee, Assistant Dean, Yale College, and Director, Asian American Cultural Center, explains that honoring APAH Month in the workplace “is an important way of letting Asian-identifying employees know that their heritage is seen as a valuable and important part of workplace culture. It also provides an opportunity for employees who do not identify as Asian to learn more about the histories, cultures, and social experiences of their Asian-identifying colleagues, neighbors, and community members living in the U.S.”
Garnering this deeper understanding feels especially important this year. According to the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community were up nearly 150 percent across the country in 2020. The AAPI community has experienced 6,603 hate incidents against them from March 19, 2020, to March 31, 2021, according to Stop AAPI Hate’s national report. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, there has also been a 164% increase in hate crimes against the AAPI community in 2021 alone.
“In the midst of so much loss and violence against Asians, it is more necessary than ever to celebrate the rich history and cultural heritage found within the Asian diaspora because joy is resistance.” Shares Dr. Yee.
Each May, we have the opportunity to show our AAPI pride and to deepen our awareness so that we can be well-versed allies to our AAPI colleagues, friends, and family members. Here are five ways to honor APAH Month in our hearts, minds, and workplaces this May.
1. Creating workplace cultures of belonging.
Workplace culture matters. We can’t do our best work unless we feel safe, comfortable, included, and valued. Dr. Yee explains how recognizing awareness events at work enhances culture: “It allows employees to know that they can bring all aspects of their identity to the workplace and not have it be deemed ‘unprofessional.’ When employees can be more fully themselves in the workplace, they will likely be more fulfilled, build meaningful relationships with colleagues, and a sense of community.”
Inviting educational opportunities for employees makes for a dynamic culture; that’s good for employees, and it’s good for business. It gives us the chance to forge a deeper understanding of ourselves, our colleagues, and the clients and customers we serve.
Dr. Desai points out: “In professional settings, by celebrating diversity, you are sending a message that this is a value that is good for the company. Studies show that diversity of approaches and thought, coming from a diversity of backgrounds is actually beneficial both for work culture, but also for good results.”
2. Fostering belonging.
An initiative that has worked well at Glassdoor is the Glassdoor Asian Impact Network (GAIN), our newest Pan Asian Employee Resource Group (ERG). GAIN’s mission is to celebrate and support our Pan Asian multiculturalism and cultivate a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace. We aim to elevate Glassdoor’s Asian community’s voices and empower our members in business decisions, product development, recruiting, and workplace culture. Additionally, we strive to foster professional development, mentorship, and leadership opportunities for our members.
We want to create a world where everyone has an inclusive and equitable place at the table, along with employers, to develop a safe and diverse workplace for all. We know our collective voices are more influential together, so we aim to share awareness about intersectionality and allyship for all communities with our ERG program.
3. Learning to listen.
This has been a frightening, dangerous time for the AAPI community. Like their colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family members, we can help make the workplace, neighborhood, and community safer and more harmonious by listening, learning, and trying to understand what that experience feels like to be true advocates and allies.
May’s awareness events can aid us in this work. Dr. Yee points out: “It is also an opportunity to bring awareness to the fact that the violence and abuses against Asians that we are witnessing in the U.S. today is not something recent nor will it be resolved by bolstering systems of policing.”
Dr. Desai explains: “One of the biggest challenges Asian Americans face is that they are often seen as ‘Asian,’ not American enough. This year, it is proven that the violence against Asian Americans has grown by 150%, especially in big cities. This year, we need to recognize that despite the myth of a model minority, Asian Americans suffer prejudices, but often in silence. It is high time that we recognize the perception of ‘otherness’ faced by many Asian Americans of diverse backgrounds and a variety of histories in this country.”
It’s important to hear the voices from the community that we are honoring with our awareness. That is truly the purpose of any awareness event.
Dr. Desai suggests: “You can begin with one step at a time. Learning about others who are different from you and learn to see the world from their perspective. Avoid making judgments and create a sense of empathy. Hear different stories. . . Avoid keeping your circle so small that you don’t ever hear different points of view.”
4. Plan workplace events to celebrate.
Planning events to honor APAH month is worthy, important work. Finding the right team and approach is vital to the success of awareness programming. Christopher K. Lee, Founder and Career Consultant with PurposeRedeemed, advises: “Have Asian American and Pacific Islander professionals share their voices. Don’t speak on their behalf. This seems obvious but is often overlooked. Along with this, don’t make them feel tokenized like this is the one time a year your business wants to hear from them.”
Dr. Yee recommends this approach, which can safeguard staff against tokenization: “Don’t place the burden of observing heritage months on a handful of employees who identify as such. If you’re inviting employees to volunteer their time, institutionalize measures to meaningfully recognize their contributions to your organization in their annual performance review to ensure they are not doing uncompensated labor at the expense of their own wellbeing.”
Lee adds another important point to keep in mind: “Don’t treat Asian Americans or AAPI as one homogenous group. We are not. Most people see themselves first as Vietnamese or Korean or Indian or so on – not as AAPI or Asian American. The experiences each of these groups have historically faced are very different. So be cognizant of that when speaking of the Asian American experience or making blanket statements.”
Finally, use this awareness opportunity to bolster ongoing efforts rather than making it feel like an annual pop-up interest. This ongoing support stands to make employees feel recognized, included, and safe in their professional culture. Dr. Yee recommends: “Redirect resources towards, and spotlight grassroots organizations in your local communities who are doing critical work in supporting the needs of Asian communities in the U.S. Do not relegate these efforts to one month in the year and look at these issues of racial violence as interconnected so that advocacy efforts are not counterproductive to the well-being of other marginalized communities.”
5. Stand together at home.
APAH heritage month is an invitation to speak to the reality of what the AAPI community is experiencing, what our country is experiencing.
Dr. Desai shares: “Let’s recognize first and foremost that the work of building a perfect union of this country is not yet done and continues to require focused attention. This means that no matter where we are and who we are, we need to call out social injustices no matter who suffers. As we saw in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, people of all ages and all colors and ethnic backgrounds showed to protest and demand justice. This needs to be not a one-time occurrence but an ongoing effort. This is not just to fulfill the potential of America, but also to make it a beacon for others in the world. . . Let’s put this idea of global belonging in practice by starting at home.”