In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we’re featuring the voices and perspectives of a few of our AAPI employees across the country to learn more about how their culture has shaped their identities at work and beyond.
How has your identity informed your career?
Shujia Chen, Associate: I’m from China, where architectural design has a long history. Currently, that has formed in conjunction with modern development and style to create a really interesting landscape. Since lots of our clients are also from China, I can act as a bridge between my own culture and our firm. I can be involved in the conversation from the very beginning to understand the client’s needs and how culture will affect the design process. This also allows me to practice my project management skills when I work for international projects.
Cindi Kato, Principal: When I first started my career, I believe there was a bit of a stereotype that Asian women were quieter and more subservient and didn’t really have a voice. That is totally the opposite of who I grew up as and who I am — and how my parents were and how they raised me. Because of that, throughout my career, I have ensured that I have a voice, that people listen, and that I’m respected for it. It was something that I always had to challenge myself on and to ensure equal treatment—not only as an Asian but as a woman.
Arnold Ramoso, Associate Principal: Growing up as a minority, made me more sensitive to the experiences of others and their feeling of belonging in a space, which I’ve often tapped into to inform my design work.
How are stereotypes harmful to your community?
SC: I always believe that stereotypes will increase the distance between each other, stop us from having open conversations and prevent us from learning from each other. This is harmful to the whole community’s development and growth.
CK: I grew up in inner-city Seattle — Beacon Hill — at a time where, in my school, being a minority was the majority. Yes, there were stereotypes, but to me, not overtly because we viewed each other as equals—not by race or gender. We grew up respecting one another and our differences. That is why today, seeing what is going on in the world; I feel we have gone backward. I never really felt stereotypes would come into play in our community or even in my lifetime. It makes me sad to see just how harmful these prejudices can be. Both of my parents were in Japanese internment camps, so I know firsthand how stereotypes can be detrimental to the community and people’s lives.
AR: There are differences between Filipinos born in the US and those born in the Philippines in my community. Within the Philippines, regional differences in dialect, cuisine, traditions, etc., can play a role in our American identity. So, applying stereotypes to a community could easily offend someone who identifies specifically within a subset of that community. Even well-intentioned stereotypes can be damaging because it boxes you into a predefined category.
Do you feel some countries are better represented more than others under the umbrella of “Asia and the Pacific Islands”?
SC: I do feel sometimes the larger countries in Asia are better represented than the smaller ones and thus can become a “target” for the media and prejudices.
CK: Yes, but I don’t look at it that way…we are one no matter what country you are from or represent. I am Asian American or American Japanese, and I respect how both the culture my ancestors came from and those others have come from contribute to our community.
AR: I do, many countries are far underrepresented under the AAPI umbrella – but that’s what happens when you lump 20 million people together under one category. A handful of AAPI communities get the lion’s share of attention because of their population size or economic contributions. However, they deserve proper recognition because their story is still part of the American story.
How can we go beyond representation in hiring to eliminate harmful biases?
SC: It’s important to always look only at the resume and portfolios and make data-driven decisions without biases or stereotypes. We can also tap into more communities by advertising job opening on various platforms. I was lucky to attend career fairs at universities for several years. I’ve found it helpful to have a face-to-face conversation with the candidates to learn more about them in a non-business environment.
CK: Hiring the right person for the job should be, first and foremost, based on skills, abilities and what the person will bring to the table and to the firm – nothing else. No bias, no stereotypes and no judgement on race, gender, age or other.
AR: We could do more to learn about each other by having more conversations directly with one another. Videos or articles on implicit bias are helpful, but they can’t replace the empathy gained from hearing about experiences directly from a peer and interacting with them. We also can’t expect folks from marginalized communities to bear the responsibility of informing others. Information is available to us everywhere, even in our pockets, and taking a little more initiative to learn something new about each other’s community can go a long way.