Reconnect, Rebuild, and Redefine: How Our Workmates Are Celebrating APIDA Heritage Month

Workmates in our Asian communities are challenging stigmas and stereotypes, and in the process, creating an empowering narrative of the Asian diaspora.

In the U.S., May is designated as Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) Heritage Month. The annual observance celebrates historical and cultural contributions of Asians. 

We asked Workmates across our Asian communities at Workday to share how they’re reconnecting, rebuilding, and redefining what it means to be Asian, both in America and other places. Asian communities are diverse, encompassing dozens of ethnicities, and are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the U.S. But in the past two years, Asian communities have been facing an alarming rise in hate crimes and rhetoric, a trend that has been spurred, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The reflections from our Workmates reveal how they’re challenging stigmas and stereotypes, and in the process, creating an empowering narrative of the Asian diaspora. 

Find Healing Through Mental Health

Brigette Juliet Jones is a senior associate at Workday in corporate sales development based in Singapore:

In addition to being APIDA Heritage Month in the U.S., May is also Mental Health Awareness Month in the U.S., and Mental Health Awareness Week is held mid-May in the U.K. Traditionally in Asian communities, there is a stigma around being mentally unwell. As someone who has benefited from a strong mental health support system, I know how challenging this journey can be, as it is not smooth or linear. So I practice empathy and kindness with others.

I strive to destigmatize mental health by educating myself about the types of mental health treatments, and guiding others who are unsure of how to seek help, which includes sharing knowledge about mental wellness resources available in our healthcare system and for Workmates at Workday. By regularly reconnecting with openness and empathy to those unsure of how to seek help, I hope that someone who has been suffering in silence can find direction or comfort in knowing they are not alone.

See Ourselves as Leaders

Paul Villacarlos is vice president of technology customer operations and based in the San Francisco Bay Area: 

Being a leader, an Asian leader, a Filipino leader is always a constant state of becoming.

I strive to be a leader who is not afraid to speak their mind, even if it means rocking the boat. 

Sorry Mom, I can’t keep my head down and do a good job in hopes of being seen. I need to make sure I’m seen. I have to redefine what it means to be a productive Asian employee. I’m still not good at it, but I’m trying.  

I strive to do things out of my comfort zone because this constant rebuilding of myself will help others after me be bold.

I strive to stay connected to my heritage and culture because what makes me different as an Asian, as a Filipino makes me unique and special as an individual.  

I strive to have my actions, and not my title, make me a leader.

“Having my own kids has made me so much more intentional about the ways that I pass along my Korean heritage to them . . .”

Tony Kim Senior Manager, Program Management in Product and Technology Workday

Challenge the Model Minority Myth With Authenticity

Drew Gatchalian is a quality assurance engineer based in the San Francisco Bay Area:

The model minority label—which refers to the stereotype that Asians are more successful than other minority groups—reduces Asians to one narrative, making harmful assumptions and trivializing the challenges that Asians face.

But I’m exposing the myth of the model minority by telling others and myself to be as honest as possible. The myth has been “hardwired” into the brains of many Asian Americans and immigrants. Untangling the myth takes pursuing what we personally want to achieve, putting up boundaries to protect our wellbeing, and prioritizing our emotions rather than life milestones that were defined by people other than us. 

Redefining this myth is difficult because it really is driven by everyone else outside of the APIDA community. It is a long road, and it sadly isn’t something that we can change overnight and have everyone instantly understand our perspective. But we can tackle it by teaching the next generation about going against the grain by doing what they personally love. 

Bring Your Difference

Sonia Wu is a senior integrated marketing project manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area: 

As an immigrant from Hong Kong, I associate myself with a weakness—a gap— because neither English nor the culture is native to me. This mindset constantly pushes me to work extra hard, spend extra time, to accelerate this learning curve in order to be assimilated and accepted.  

But growing up amid the rich diversity and culture in the Bay Area, I pivoted my mindset to acknowledge that being multilingual and multicultural is, in fact, a competitive advantage, not a disadvantage. I enjoy speaking four languages (English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Japanese) with different audiences! 

For those who feel like their immigrant background is a disadvantage, I want to empower them to embrace their unique identity and niche—this is what helps us strive for success in our careers and in the community. 

Pave Your Own Path

Gwen Lee is an experience marketing content manager based in the San Francisco Bay Area:

One way I challenge the Asian immigrant stereotype is to continue expressing myself creatively through my writing. Being an Asian author is not without its challenges. Despite having written several children’s picture books, it has been difficult for me to convince the traditional U.S. publishers to print books in non-English languages. In the end, I decided to self-publish my own bilingual picture books in three Asian languages—simplified Chinese, Korean, and Japanese. I want Asian children to know that being bilingual is something to be proud of and that it doesn’t detract from being American.

“Sorry Mom, I can’t keep my head down and do a good job in hopes of being seen. I need to make sure I’m seen.”

Paul Villacarlos Vice President of Technology Customer Operations Workday

Empower Future Generations 

Tony Kim is a senior manager, program management in product and technology, instructional design, based in the San Francisco Bay Area: 

I am a Korean American who immigrated to North Carolina with my mom when I was two years old. Today, I live in California with my wife and our two little ones. 

Having my own kids has made me so much more intentional about the ways that I pass along my Korean heritage to them, while also making sure I leave space for them to build and define their own identities as second-generation “hapa”—a Hawaiian word referring to “a person with multiracial heritage.” 

I’ve found many ways to connect with my own Korean heritage. They include:

Cooking. To me, flavors from home are a combination of the American South (Southern food) and Korean dishes. I’ve been learning how to cook all sorts of Korean cuisine and having so much fun introducing these recipes to my kids and sharing memories of eating these meals in my youth. 

Language. Our kids call me “appa,” the Korean word for “dad,” and my wife “umma,” the Korean word for “mom.” We speak a mix of Korean and English in our house, which gives our family new ways to connect with my mom, who only speaks Korean.

Reading. Growing up, I was the only Asian kid in my elementary school. I remember feeling so alone, feeling the need to suppress my identity and the desire to assimilate as much as possible. Today, I’ve found so much solidarity and connection in books and memoirs by Asian American authors. Jeff Chang’s “Who We Be,” Cathy Park Hong’s “Minor Feelings,” Eric Kim’s “Korean American,” and Wesley Yang’s “The Soul of Yellow Folk” have all eloquently expressed the same experience of feeling like an “other,” and that validation is helping me own who I am. These books are all fantastic reads and have helped me to feel seen as a Korean American and as a person of color.

“As a Sikh and Asian American, I am fortunate to have an amazing opportunity to explain to the world who I am, what I stand for, and how I live.”

Paramjot Bhatia Software Engineer Workday

Embrace Diversity Across the Asian Diaspora 

Cyrus Yuen is a senior business intelligence analyst based in Warsaw, Poland:

Having spent the first half of my life in Asia and the second half in Europe, what I have observed is that we all are more alike than we are different. And yet the differences in our experiences, upbringing, and culture are what make us unique and interesting.

So while I might share many similar experiences with other people who grew up in Asia, or specifically Hong Kong, I embrace that we are individuals who have different traits, emotions, and interests. 

Personally, to redefine what it means to be Asian in Europe is to happily share my culture, such as food, holidays, and languages, with those around me. Yet to express myself as an individual means to not let myself feel boxed in by assumptions based on my background and to bring a greater level of self-awareness. 

My advice to Workmates in our Asian communities: Be proud of what makes you different, be curious and open-minded, and most importantly, be kind!

Celebrate Belonging by Showing Up and Connecting

Paramjot Bhatia is a software engineer based in the San Francisco Bay Area: 

As a Sikh and Asian American, I am fortunate to have an amazing opportunity to explain to the world who I am, what I stand for, and how I live. I am reconnecting by giving back to others through the value of the concept of “seva” (“selfless service”). I search for innovative avenues to promote inclusivity and belonging and have a passion for organizing large volunteering events to serve people from all backgrounds. Whether helping underserved communities by feeding the hungry or serving water to runners at the San Francisco Marathon, I strive to bring small positive changes to create a bigger impact on society.

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