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Amplify and appreciate: The voices of Asian American and Pacific Islanders at Coalition

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Understanding is key to bridging gaps and learning about the cultural traditions that shape and define our friends, family, and coworkers. To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Coalition is spotlighting the incredible members of our team and learning more about how their lived experiences have shaped who they are at work and home.

Heritage, culture, and traditions

At Coalition we respect, value, and encourage diversity; this is a key tenent of the culture that defines our company and drives us forward. Understanding the value of culture, we wanted to understand the role cultural heritage plays in shaping our AAPI colleagues and how it influenced their view of the world. To highlight their incredible stories, we selected a few excerpts to feature below.

"I grew up in a household where my culture (Chinese) was very strong and I was expected to follow various traditions. Being from San Francisco, it was easy to meld both my Chinese background and American culture given the large Chinese population here and just general affinity for American things (music, movies, lifestyle, etc.). It was an upbringing where I embraced both cultures, creating something that isn't quite one or other." - Wilson Zhao, Special Projects

"The term fa’asamoa is used to describe the traditions and customs of the Samoan culture, or rather, the Samoan way. It is a holistic view of how Samoans should handle almost every aspect of life, but the root of the Samoan way can be attributed to the fa’aaloalo, which means respect. Respect goes a long way in all cultures, but it runs especially deep in Samoa. How you represent yourself and treat others, especially the elderly, is a direct reflection of your family’s honor. When you think of those you socialize, work, and interact with as your village, you try to find ways for everyone to exist in harmony. You think less about yourself, and more about what’s best for the family or village as a whole. When one person finds success, that honor is a reflection of their home, and their success is a celebration for the village from which they hailed from." - Jacque Jaeger, Inside Sales

"One of the traditions my kids actually appreciate today is that when we have family or friends over, the elderly eat first. Our culture has always tremendously respected the elderly, and I am grateful to have passed this cultural attribute to my children." - Shawn Ram, Insurance Lead

"Bangla new year celebration every year on April 14. It is a very colorful event with huge celebrations around the country where everybody tries to get rid of the sadness and failures of the year past and to aim for something exciting and beautiful for the new year." - Noor Zaman, Senior Software Engineer

While everyone's answer was different, we noticed themes of respect, resilience, and perseverance in our colleagues' responses. The values that Wilson, Jacque, Shawn, and Noor share are evident throughout their personal and work accomplishments. They have each contributed to Coalition's success as a rapidly growing organization navigating through a pandemic.

Celebrations of success

All cultures have different types of celebrations for different occasions. For many immigrant families who have made sacrifices and endured hardships to start a new life, supporting their children in achieving their dreams is one of the greatest celebrations. Our colleagues shared some of the significant “firsts” they have celebrated with their families.

"I was the first one in my family to get admission into the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), which is generally considered quite hard to get into. Further, I was also the first one in my extended family to come to the US for my graduate education. In both of these cases, there wasn't any big celebration per se — mostly getting blessings from elders in the family to pursue these next steps." - Ketan Nayak, Product Manager - Distribution

"In 2014, whilst living in South Africa, I was awarded a Fullbright scholarship to pursue a Masters Degree in forensic science at George Washington University, Washington DC. I was the first in my family to receive such a prestigious scholarship to study abroad. Since Chinese families deem it very important to celebrate each other's achievements, my parents immediately called my entire extended family to let them know. As with all Chinese celebrations, we commemorated the occasion as a family, with a delicious spread." - Shelley Ma, Incident Response Lead

"I was the first in my family to earn a Master's degree. I wanted to invite my parents and sisters to my graduation but due to COVID, it went virtual. So we just met over Zoom and we had a virtual party where we all brought food for ourselves and ate." - Aatish Neupane, Backend Engineer

Challenges and obstacles

Lastly, we asked our teammates to share challenges they have had to overcome due to their race, with the hope of helping others who may be going through similar experiences. The candor in their responses surprised us and we had to find the humility to acknowledge we were unaware of the full scope of struggles they faced as members of the AAPI community, some of whom are first generation immigrants.

"I think the most difficult challenge was being bullied growing up, mostly for how I look. I do sometimes feel like I am seen as an Asian before I am seen as an American and that there are unconscious perceptions or biases due to Asian representation in our society and culture." - Derek Kwok, Backend Engineer

"Even for Hawai'i, my family is really diverse. Luckily I didn't have too much of an issue while living there. While in Japan, as I don't look like any other Japanese, I had a hard time fitting in. While living in Japan, everyone thought I was Brazilian (which I thought was super cool), and they had a hard time accepting me when I first came. After we all got to know each other and they found out I was from Hawai'i, there was a big change in how they treated me. Although nothing I did was different, that was one of the first times I remember prejudices actually affecting me. I learned that unfortunately, we all grow up with prejudices that we need to not project on those that we meet. Everyone deserves a chance to be themselves, and we should do our best to accept that person." - Brian Wheeler, Customer Success

"After 9/11, my husband and I had people walk up to us and say “go back to your country.” But the beauty was, immediately someone would walk up and apologize for other's mistakes. We had a liquor store in San Francisco once, a person came and threatened me and said “go back to your country.” Within 10-15 mins the community leader and residents visited me and assured me of my safety." - Jags Shah, Lead Technical Recruiter/Team Lead

"There have been moments in my personal and professional life where I have struggled with being viewed as part of the “model minority." Asian Americans are perceived to be smart, hardworking and economically successful “enough” to not be viewed as a minority for certain affirmative action programs or corporate diversity surveys, but not assertive or strategic enough to take leadership positions. As an Asian American woman, it is disheartening at times feeling the weight of both a “glass” and “bamboo” ceiling. While there have been strides made in increasing Asian American representation in various fields, we as a society have a lot more work to do to educate ourselves on respecting and embracing cultural diversity." - Xiaolin Gong, Head of Operations

"Because of the recent Asian hate attacks, I have to be more cautious when going outside." - Jonny Chan, Growth Marketing Manager

The last year has been challenging, and it has been especially tough on our AAPI colleagues, given the rise in anti-Asian sentiment. While we know that we cannot understand these experiences, we are prepared to listen, provide support, and, where possible, learn how to be better friends and coworkers.

Everyone’s lived experiences are different. It can be challenging to share a piece of yourself. We value and respect our AAPI Coalition members for sharing their personal experiences and perspectives while promoting cultural awareness.

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