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Celebrating Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which recognizes our AANHPI communities and celebrates their diverse cultures and contributions in the United States. The term AANHPI comprises 23 million Americans and includes roughly 50 ethnic groups with roots in more than 40 countries.

WAPA Special Emphasis Program Manager Mark Mangione presented a virtual meeting in honor of AANHPI Heritage Month and invited WAPA’s employees to join.

“The Special Emphasis Program furthers WAPA’s mission to understand our customers, and what makes our employees tick,” said Mangione. “Through the promotion of inclusivity, through awareness and education, it helps us appreciate, value, understand and celebrate our social and cultural similarities and differences.”

The May 9 meeting was the first in a series of awareness broadcasts that the Special Emphasis Program plans to deliver. The program showcased two WAPA employees and one special guest who discussed their experiences in the workforce and their homelife over the years.

WAPA Senior Contract Specialist John Pratt, from the Rocky Mountain region, is native Taiwanese with other Pacific Island ancestry. He identifies as Taiwanese and Pacific Islander.

“I often get labeled as being Chinese, but my ancestry is aboriginal Taiwanese, which is different than the Chinese that emigrated from mainland China,” said Pratt. “While we celebrate some of the same traditions, being Taiwanese has its own unique island culture, language and food. For example, native Taiwanese people speak Taiwanese Hokkien versus Mandarin.”

Before the term “Asian American” became the norm, people of Asian ancestry were often referred to as “Oriental.”

“Some of the older generations here in the U.S. still used the term, which can be misconstrued and somewhat offensive,” Pratt continued. “I’ve always been confused by that term being Taiwanese and Pacific Islander; it was hard for me to identify with that labeling, much less understand the meaning of being ‘Oriental.’”

From roots to a tapestry of cultures Pratt’s family immigrated to the United States before he entered grade school age. As a boy, he avoided associating himself primarily with Asian cultural groups.

“Most of my friends were from diverse ethnic groups, such as Mexican Americans, African Americans and Caucasians. I’ve always integrated myself with diverse ethnic groups and mainstream America,” he said. “Even going to school in Hawaii, with its vast Eastern and Western influences, I’ve always assimilated myself into the big melting pot of cultures versus limiting myself and associating with primarily the Asian community.”

Another WAPA panelist, Sierra Nevada Management and Program Analyst Zia Islam, is a Bangladeshi American who came to the United States in his early 20s to complete his graduate studies in civil engineering.

“Terms like AANHPI, I’ve only heard recently, but it’s good because it means progress,” Islam said. “There are some misconceptions out there about people from South Asia, but I’m glad that we’re heading in the right direction because of programs like this that bring attention to this group of people.”

Islam also encouraged people to find commonality, rather than differences. A sentiment shared by others on the program.

Rounding out the panel was Indra Raj, director at KGNU Radio in Boulder, Colorado, and the host of a podcast called Family Karma Kast.

“I think that sometimes there can be assumptions and comments made that can be micro-aggressions, which can be kind of difficult to deal with,” said Raj. “I’ve had them come up in general and at work.”

She used the example of a white person coming up to her and starting to speak Hindi, when she doesn’t speak Hindi.

“Or if I walk into a Yoga studio and everyone expects me to be an expert just because of the way I look,” Raj said. “These things stack up and remind me that I’m not the dominant group here, and that I stick out in ways that I don’t want to, and that’s when the microaggressions start to affect a person of color in an adverse way.”

AANHPI Heritage Month provides an opportunity to foster an inclusive work environment that appreciates and values the richness of different cultural backgrounds.

“When I was growing up, I wanted to hide the fact of where I was from,” Raj continued. “But now I want to embrace that part of my heritage, share it with other people and make them excited about it. We live in a different world now, and I feel like this conversation that we’re having today we weren’t having five years ago, and I hope we keep moving forward as a society.”

Recognizing AANHPIs with presidential support

A White House statement on AANHPI Heritage Month remarked, “There is no single story of the AANHPI experience, but rather a diversity of contributions that enrich America’s culture and society and strengthen the United States’ role as a global leader. The American story as we know it would be impossible without the strength, contributions, and legacies of AANHPIs who have helped build and unite this country in each successive generation.”

By recognizing AANHPI Heritage Month, workplaces can raise awareness about the challenges, experiences and achievements of AANHPI individuals. This promotes understanding, empathy and respect among colleagues, fostering a more inclusive and harmonious workplace.

Furthermore, recognizing heritage months can attract and retain a diverse talent pool by showcasing an organization’s commitment to inclusivity. It can create a more welcoming environment for all professionals, helping to build a diverse and multicultural workforce.

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Last modified on March 8th, 2024