From Pride to Prejudice: Navigating Asian American Identity in a Changing World

By Diana Laughlin | May 17, 2023

Every year, AANHPI Heritage Month comes around, and every year, the only voices that get uplifted are the middle/upper class East Asian Americans, including those of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean descent. Sometimes lighter-skinned Southeast Asian Americans get recognition as well. Every year, Southeast, South, Southwest, Central Asian and Pacific Islanders are disappointed, but unsurprised to be reminded that we’re not thought of when people picture “AANHPI.” But this year, I, a first generation Southeast Asian American, am thrilled to share my experiences and thoughts about the celebration of this month, but also the difficulties our community regularly faces. Today, 63% of Asian American adults say violence against Asian-Americans is on the rise. 

As a child, growing up as an Asian American was naturally paired with severe moments of identity crises. Classmates would make fun of the types of food my parents would pack for me to bring to school. I felt forced to hide my lunch and purchase cafeteria food instead. I never felt comfortable telling my friends that my mom owned a hair and nail salon, because that was “stereotypical” of Vietnamese women. The feeling of embarrassment clouded my love for my culture, my heritage and my family. Now, reflecting on the choices I made to hide who I was, I have learned to be proud of who I am. I embrace my culture and background, my family and the struggles they’ve endured to give us a life we could only dream of. I am proud of my heritage, and in particular the one thing that brings everyone together, food. 

Unfortunately, despite my newfound sense of pride in being Asian American, the constant battle against xenophobia and the longstanding prejudice and discrimination toward Americans of Asian Pacific background persists. According to Stop AAPI Hate, between March 2020 and March 2022, more than 11,400 hate incidents against Asian Americans were reported across the United States, including a fatal shooting targeting Dallas’ AANHPI population. On the other hand, I see clear evidence of a renewed commitment from not only our Asian community, but our community as a whole with a set of shared values that demands fairness, equity and justice. 

The increased demand of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the workplace has opened new opportunities for people of color to pursue roles in leadership and be an active voice and change agent in the workforce. B2B buyers and sellers both demand diversity within selling organizations. Ninety-percent of B2B sellers and managers believe diverse sales teams are more successful, and 74% of B2B buyers say that sales teams need to be diverse and reflect the world around them. 1 Multiple studies have confirmed that organizations with diverse sales teams have more successful sales outcomes compared to ones that don’t. 

Creating diverse teams and organizations isn’t about the economic benefit, but about cultivating best-in-class cultures, and ensuring people are hired and promoted on merit, despite what’s often been done in the past. Diverse teams are armed with different perspectives to solve problems, and colleagues are confronted with alternative and often surprising viewpoints that need to be considered. This environment helps us understand each other and accommodate everyone’s creative ideas and contributions which can lead to increased innovation and effectiveness.

In 2021, President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, aiming to make the reporting of hate crimes more accessible at the local and state levels by boosting public outreach and ensuring reporting resources are available online in multiple languages. However, as threats and attacks on the AANHPI population continue, Asian Americans are not confident in the government’s ability to combat the hate they’re being faced with. According to a recent survey by Pew Research, “more Asian-American adults give their local officials a bad rating than a good one when it comes to addressing violence against Asian-Americans (43% vs. 19%)”. 

The B2B industry is estimated to account for $6.7 trillion in revenue in the U.S. They have immense power and platforms, and can make a real impact with the stances they take and the policies they implement. B2B organizations must condemn the increase in Asian hate, and encourage their AANHPI employees to share their culture freely. We need to amplify the AANHPI collective voice and provide support to those of us who’ve experienced the prejudice that is on the rise today. Formally setting up AANHPI employee groups within the workplace is an important step to provide support and amplify our voices.

As we pay tribute to the generations of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders who have contributed to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States, let’s also take this time to raise awareness about the ongoing hate crimes and microaggressive behavior against the AANHPI communities. We must recommit ourselves to the obligation to raise our voices and speak out against Asian hate and inequity. 

This month, support and promote Asian Pacific owned small businesses or visit a local, family-owned Indian, Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Pakistani restaurant, or any Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander cuisine of your choice! If you’re inclined to make a donation, I recommend The Asian American Foundation – their work to create a national infrastructure for Asian-Americans of all backgrounds and cultures is truly remarkable. However you’d like to commemorate this month, let us celebrate how far we’ve come together and continue to share stories of perseverance that ultimately encourage us to move forward in the face of adversity.

People Partner Diana Laughlin brings over 10 years of Human Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion experience from both the private and public sectors. Diana oversees Mediafly’s compensation philosophy, DEI&B efforts, career development opportunities, training, and employment sponsorship. Diana has a BA in Public Relations with a minor in Asian American Studies from Cal State Northridge, and earned her MBA with a concentration in Human Resources Management and Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Leadership from La Sierra University in Riverside, California where she developed a passion for DEI Advocacy. Prior to joining Mediafly, Diana was focused in the global talent acquisition space,helping  growing organizations expand their teams around the world. Outside of Mediafly, Diana is a military spouse who volunteers with her local AANHPI Chapter on Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton Roads, Virginia, along with supporting Veteran Events and Humanitarian relief with the American Red Cross. 

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