Clyde’s IDEA Panel on AAPI Heritage Discusses Definitions and Challenges for Asian Americans.
As part of Clyde Group’s observance of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, the company’s IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accountability) Working Group hosted a lunchtime panel discussion examining what it really means to be Asian American and the current challenges facing the community. This event was something of a family affair, organized by Clyde Group Vice President Jenny Wang and moderated by her father Professor Xinli Wang, who emigrated to the United States from China in 1990 and was a philosophy professor at Juniata College for decades.
One of the first points raised by Professor Wang was how large and broad the AAPI community truly is, comprising nearly 25 million people here in the U.S. (7% of the population). He also emphasized how people frequently perceive Asian Americans as one homogenous group, when in fact, the AAPI community is made up of at least 50 ethnic groups.
The diversity of the panel reflected this very fact: Gearbox Director of Online Engagement Chris Harada, who was born in Japan and now lives in Washington state; former Clyde Group employee Kate Greer, whose family emigrated from Korea to Tennessee; FSG Director Nikhil Bumb, a first-generation American born in Wyoming whose family is from India; and Wealth Management Advisor Dan Nguyen, who is also first-generation Vietnamese-American.
Professor Wang kicked off the panel discussion by recognizing how Asian Americans, while often historically labeled as a “model minority,” face a different kind of stress and discrimination.
“We are hailed on one hand as a model minority supposedly unaffected by discrimination,” he said, referencing high rates of academic and business achievement. “But we are also regarded as forever foreigners and our loyalty to this country is constantly in question.”
The situation has been exacerbated by increased incendiary and racist language against Asian Americans as well as an alarming 339% rise in hate crimes in just the last year. Greer noted that many of these incidents have been directed at women. A report from Stop AAPI Hate shows that of 11,000 hate crimes against AAPI individuals between March 2020 and December 2021, nearly 62% of them were reported by women. “It’s important to have this difficult conversation,” said Greer. “Because once we start recognizing the problem, we can start fixing it.”
Emphasizing the juxtaposition of being labeled the “model minority” while also being subject to persistent violence and discrimination across the country, Professor Wang then asked the panel to reflect on what it means to be an Asian American today and what life in America is like for Asian Americans at this moment. But Bumb felt that the term “Asian American” itself was limiting.
“I don't find any of these labels comforting. And I especially struggle with the label of Asian American,” said Bumb, who was raised in Wyoming and South Carolina by his Indian parents. “Asians represent roughly 60 percent of the world population, and to think that all of us can be lumped together in the U.S. as a monolith feels very challenging to me.”
Harada agreed, adding that Asian American is maybe too broad a term to capture the breadth and depth of the wide-ranging community.
“People might think that Korea and Japan have a lot in common because they’re so close together on the map. But they’re totally opposite,” he said. “The language sounds totally different, even how it's written. But in America, people associate them as similar.”
Greer felt that fully understanding the AAPI community depends on where you are in the U.S. For her, growing up in the South, there was a strong feeling of being a foreigner given she lived in a very predominantly white community.
“I was the entire Asian American population in Tennessee,” she joked, adding that this created a strong sense of otherness. “For example, even when looking at beauty standards and the beauty industry growing up, there was no makeup that matched my skin tone. All Barbie dolls were white, and that was the accepted norm.”
However, Harada found that his experience living on the West Coast has been very different. He has found that in the pockets of the West Coast where he’s resided, there seems to be growing knowledge of Asian American culture as well as a greater embrace of it.
“I lived in Bellingham [WA] in 2008, and no one had heard of Boba or ramen. But now there’s Boba everywhere and noodle shops too,” he said, noting there are other thriving Asian American communities in cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and LA. “Asian entertainment and culture is huge on the West Coast.”
Still, there remain challenges and feelings of being a “forever foreigner”, as Professor Wang described it, that are not going away any time soon.
“When people ask where I’m from, I say Pennsylvania,” said Professor Wang, who has lived in the U.S. for more than three decades “Then the next question is always inevitably ‘where are you really from?’“
Bumb echoed this sentiment, adding that just because of the color of his skin, he’s often seen as un-American and even dangerous.
“It was challenging enough to be a foreigner, a religious minority, and a dark-skinned man. But then 9/11 happened, and suddenly, all of that became a thousand times worse,” he said, recalling how he still gets dirty looks from people on the subway who associate his ethnicity with terrorism. “This concept of a forever foreigner feels very real. I will never be called an American, even though my passport says that. I’m always labeled South Asian or Asian American. And when I visit India, I’m always told that I’m a foreigner or American. So you feel stuck that you don’t have a real identity anywhere.”
As Professor Wang wrapped up more than an hour of lively discussion, he looked to the future with a focus on a way forward for the AAPI community.
“I would argue for integration, not assimilation,” he said, moving past the older notion of an American “melting pot” where cultural differences are lost. “That would make America truly great — and more exceptional. Clearly, Asian Americans can, should, and will make significant contributions to the making of a new American identity.”
After taking some questions from Clyde Group employees on culture and change, Nguyen noted that while the panel had covered some tough topics, it was in itself a part of the way forward towards making progress.
“I’m energized by these conservations,” he said, thanking everyone for sharing their feelings and perspectives on the topic. “And through sharing like this comes progress and the positive evolution that we are seeing now.”