Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

by
08 May 2021

To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked two of our employees who identify within the AAPI community, Anthea Lew and Dan Fernandez, five questions about their heritage.

Anthea Lew, Supply Chain Program Manager

Q: How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?

A: The way my heritage has shaped me as a person today is really through the sense of hard work. My nationality is Chinese, and my grandparents came to America for a better life away from communism. For many immigrants, a very common response to why they choose to come to the United States is, “to make a better life for my family.” But no one really talks about the how. How exactly are you going to make a better life? It comes down to working hard and understanding how you got to where you are today. Being able to look back at what your life could have been and to seeing what it is now. Another thing that has shaped me is the sense of family. Being close and sharing in moments together. I’m very close to my cousins and we all have children who are close. Being able to see the generations come together is such a great feeling.  

Q: Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

A: We have a few traditions that are important to me. One, being able to speak in Chinese. Many people born in the United States cannot speak their families native tongue. Two, respecting elders. We practice that merely by the way you greet someone. By acknowledging them and greeting them by their relationship to you. A proper greeting goes a long way and an improper one doesn’t go unnoticed. The last thing would be the Chinese New Year. We always celebrate with family, traditional food, and festivities.

Q: What are some interesting hobbies or talents that most people may not know about you?

A: I don’t know if you would call it a hobby, but I love to eat! I travel to try new foods, take pictures, and blog about cuisine. I also love traveling to different places to run half marathons. Since 2011, I’ve run 38 half marathons and one full marathon. I don’t think I will ever do another full marathon. One and done!

Q: Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

A: This isn’t technically a historical figure but its people that don’t really exist now. It’s the geisha. Yes, there are still some now but not how they were in the past. I really like how these women were dressed so beautifully and done up. They presented themselves as soft spoken and timid, but deep down inside they were very strong women. Stronger than the men they were serving. They had to endure a lot but still survived.

Q: What does Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

A: It is a month that we acknowledge all the different people from around the world that have any sort of affiliation to Asia. I feel that everyone, not only Asian Americans, should celebrate the diversity in America. For those of us who identify as Asian Americans, it’s a reminder that we should celebrate our roots and where our families came from. This year, I think it is especially important to recognize due to all the things that have happened and are still happening. We need to celebrate with love and rid the hate!

Dan Fernandez, Senior IT Training Program Manager

Q: How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?

A: My experience growing up first generation Filipino American was interesting to say the least. Many Filipinos would say that our parents wanted better lives for us, so instead of encouraging us to be different, they encouraged us to be the same as our peers. In our household, we spoke English 99% of the time, with my parents only spoke our native tongue, Tagalog, to me when I was in trouble. I remember often being greeted with, “Hola, Señor Fernandez,” and in school I was put into programs that assumed I didn’t know how to speak English. This translated into me being left out of a lot of things with my friends. All of this to say, it was easier for me to identify as an American than as a Filipino growing up.

This idea of being “inconspicuous” always made me feel a little weird when I had to fill out whether I am Asian, Pacific Islander, or Hispanic on a form. I always just felt like me and left it at that. It wasn’t until I visited the Philippines as an adult that my view shifted. The first time I visited the Philippines, I was 14. At that age, I enjoyed the country superficially. I enjoyed the beaches, the attention that I got from girls as an American citizen, and the fact that everything seemed so inexpensive. When I went the second time at age 28, I was able to appreciate the culture. I made a point to visit relatives, learn about their colorful lives, and heard stories about my parents as little “troublemakers.” I visited museums and saw how Filipinos are not just another Asian / Pacific Islander / Hispanic culture, but rather a culture of a thousand different islands that wove together into a mosaic that was more beautiful together than apart. I started learning my native language which allowed me to speak to my older relatives and understand the stories they shared on a deeper level.

Now that I have a better understanding of where I come from, the thing that I really take away from my heritage is my strong sense of family. As a young adult, I started drifting away from my family because I didn’t really know who I was. I spent less and less time with them and became more and more isolated and unhappy without me even realizing it. It wasn’t until I had my first daughter that I realized I wanted her to have a similar childhood as me. Living in a house with way too many relatives around all the time, people always bringing food, and the typical day to day drama that family brings. Without my family, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Q: Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

A: Like most families, we visited each other during holidays and had parties for pretty much any occasion. But the most important tradition to me began when my dad started taking my family out on a charter boat every year to fish in the Chesapeake Bay. Now, as an adult, one of my favorite things to do is to get out on a boat to fish. If I get to go out miles away from everything else, that is just icing on the cake.

Q: What are some interesting hobbies or talents that most people may not know about you?

A: I like long walks on the beach… (jokes!). In addition to fishing, I love to hike with my daughter. I am also part of a board game group. We play games like Settlers of Catan, Pandemic, and Everdell to name a few. In my group they call me the “Rule Master”, mostly because I enjoy reading and explaining the rules of a game, just as much as playing. Recently, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with another group. My character is a Mountain Dwarf Blood Hunter. And even though just typing those words out made me feel super geeky, I think one of the best things about the game is the opportunity for a group of friends to build a story together. 

Q: Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

A: Growing up I was always fascinated with Thomas Edison. One of his quotes “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”, has always resonated with me. Now, with my job in IT, I can translate it into what I do. When troubleshooting an issue or designing a new solution, you often must try many different possibilities before you land on the root cause.

Q: What does Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

A: It means discovering and celebrating other Asian and Pacific Islander cultures. It means looking past the stereotypes and finding the things we have in common, but also learning what makes each of us special. This month, I will be looking for books that I can read with my daughter on our culture together. And asking my mom to teach me how to cook Pinakbet.