Finding My Identity as a First Generation Asian American
The importance of empowerment through diversity and inclusion
Vicki Chou is an environmental consultant passionate about water resources and sustainable communities and is a member of the Greater Philadelphia Chapter of UNA.
As an Asian American woman, I have struggled with my identity and place in society. There have been moments when I have felt “too Asian” in America, despite being born here, and “too American” in Taiwan, even as the daughter of Taiwanese parents. Working in the engineering industry, I find myself surrounded mostly by men, especially white men in leadership positions, and while this situation has never stopped me from pursuing my career, it can be discouraging at times when I see the lack of diversity in leaders.
Where do I fit in if I’m always “too much” of one identity and not enough of others? How do I feel like I truly belong if I don’t see others who look like me as role models in leadership positions? Why are women and Asian Americans not rewarded and promoted at the same rate as our white counterparts? How do we change the status quo so diversity is not just a benchmark statistic but actually results in inclusion?
There have been a few select moments in my life where I have felt incredibly empowered to be a woman, like voting for Hillary Clinton for her bid to become the first female president and seeing Beyoncé perform in front of a huge jumbotron stating “FEMINIST,” but it’s rare for me to have those moments as an Asian American. The recent release of “Crazy Rich Asians” was one of the first moments where I saw others who look like me on the big screen, and in that moment, everything felt right. These events were big milestones in my life, but there is still so much progress to be made for women and Asian American representation.
At the 2018 Social Good Summit, I had another one of these emotional moments where I felt so connected to the speakers and felt so proud to be an Asian American woman. Program after program I was pleasantly surprised by the number of women speakers, in particular Asian women speakers, covering a wide array of topics from blockchain to mental health to 3D printing. As a woman I felt so empowered hearing women leaders speak about and celebrate their work to progress women’s rights among other initiatives, and as an Asian American woman I was so proud to see women who look like me achieving and leading within the space of social good. Even though I was only in the audience, I felt my voice was being heard and my identity validated as I witnessed speaker after speaker represent Asian women so positively.
In addition to the fact that there were Asian women speakers, the diversity within the Asian women speakers was inspiring. Sonita Alizadeh from Afghanistan is a young refugee who uses rap to help end child marriage. Miranda Wang is a Chinese-Canadian who has founded BioCellection, a company that is tackling the issue of recycling plastic waste. Juju Chang is a Korean-American news anchor who has reported on many important global issues. The other Asian women speakers represented even more countries, ages, backgrounds, careers, and interests. The diversity of Asian success stories freed me from the constraints of harmful stereotypes tied to my identity. I no longer feel that I’m “too Asian” or “not American enough.” Since I can’t change this identity I was born with, I have learned to embrace it, celebrate it, and continue to progress its acceptance and inclusion.
Asian Americans are the quickest growing, most educated, highest earning racial group in the US, according to Pew Research Center, yet are extremely under-represented in managerial and executive positions. We often get overlooked in media and our voices are not heard or promoted equally for fear of not being “relatable” to the majority of Americans. It was a refreshing experience to witness so many successful Asian leaders from a wide variety of fields discuss their contributions to the UN SDGs. I was inspired to see that Asians and Asian Americans can thrive and be extremely successful, pushing past societal barriers and norms. The 2018 Social Good Summit demonstrated that now more than ever before, we have the ability to change the diversity of leadership and include people of all backgrounds to the discussion. These leaders and activists are not successful despite their Asian-ness; they are accomplished because of it. They can utilize their unique perspective and worldly views to create and implement holistic solutions and bring another side of the conversation to the table.
As Padma Lakshmi said, “It is important to see people who look like you in positions of power.” The SDGs will only be met through collaboration, inclusion, and diversity, and Asian Americans must be an integral part of the process. The impressive representation of Asians and Asian Americans at the Social Good Summit is a good start and has given me the power and motivation to continue pushing for our voices and stories to be heard. Let’s continue to celebrate diversity so that everyone can feel included in the discussion and feel validated in their identities! Only then will we be able to achieve the SDGs and make sure no one is left behind.