Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month at HBS – MBA

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The Asian Affinity Business Association (AABA), together with students and campus organizations, is proud to share and honor the stories of members of our community. We hope these stories highlight the history, richness and diversity of the AAPI experience and inspire hope for a world of empathy, compassion and courage.

Kevin Wang (MBA 2022)

October 31, 2001.

For the first time in my life, I set foot on land that I did not call mine. To give me a better education, my family immigrated from China to Canada, a country where we didn’t know anyone. I still remember the night we moved into our new house. We couldn’t understand why kids in creepy costumes were roaming the neighborhood menacingly, or worse, knocking on our door and begging for candy. We were so scared that we turned off the lights and pretended not to be home.

Twenty years later, you may be surprised when I tell you that my feeling of being a foreigner in a foreign land has become stronger than ever. Borders between nations may no longer divide us, but global battle lines are being drawn on issues such as gender, ethnicity, socio-economic and political beliefs. No matter where I go, the world I see today is barely recognizable from the one I grew up in.

Only this time, armed with an HBS education, I refuse to turn off the lights in my house. I believe our differences are too great to hide, I choose to embrace tolerance over intolerance, and I will be the change I wish to see in the world.

Ryan Yu (MBA 2022)

I came to HBS with a desire to give my Californian self an edge on the East Coast.

I would lean into whiteness, follow a traditionalist path, and fulfill the dreams of my immigrant parents: total assimilation.

Alas, the exceptionalism at HBS forced me to embrace my uniqueness—my tastes, my stubborn optimism, my Asian-American heritage—minority qualities that I viewed as a weakness.

Today, I’m the chef, creative director, and founder of Maison XO, an Asian-American sauce company inspired by world travel, Hong Kong heritage, and modern culinary fusion. Through creating XO, I learned about the incredible energy contained in our cultural stories; this legacy is not something to hide or wash away, but something to reconnect with and be proud of.

I am an ambassador for my family, my hometown and my ancestral heritage. And my responsibility is to share what I love with the world.

Justine Lee (MBA 2022)

My AAPI heritage means:
Be the first person to leave Saturday morning sleepovers to go to Chinese school,
Packing rice crackers alongside fruit by the foot in my lunch box,
Save plastic bags and yogurt containers because you never know when you might need them,
Speaking exclusively English at school and exclusively Cantonese at home,
That my friends tell me: “You are fundamentally white”,
and my Chinese peers ask me if I am “first generation or second generation”.

It also looks like:
Redefining and refining what a Chinese looks like in North America,
Have the opportunity to share my culture with others,
Being Chinese and Canadian at the same time,
and be as proud of one as I am of the other.

Vi May (MBA 2023)

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Florida. It wasn’t until college that I really discovered Asian American identity. It was liberating. For the first time, I was able to put into words what I felt and saw growing up. Minority myth model. Perpetual stereotype of the stranger. Hypersexualization of Asian women. I felt heard and seen. My Asian American identity was no longer the butt of a joke. It wasn’t something I was hiding. Rather, it was an important aspect of myself that I embraced and invested in learning more about. Being Asian American continues to be a source of pride for me today. It’s how I connect with my family and friends, it’s how I stay in touch with my Vietnamese heritage, and it’s how I live my life.

Jashin Lin (MBA 2023)

I am very proud of my Asian identity and aim to embody our culture’s values ​​of dedication, courage and collectivism. We believe that actions speak louder than words. For me, these values ​​translate to raising my younger brother in America, facilitating soft skills development for international students through my startup Growbie, and building cohesive and inclusive communities at Harvard. My Asian identity has also helped me realize that nothing is ever perfect. There are many things we can kaizen or continuously improve. For me, this means building Asian representation on a large scale by supporting each other to elevate our collective community. I urge all of us to blaze new trails and be that beacon of hope that sends the message, “You can do it, we can do it, and we’ll help others do it too.”

Revée Rapallo (MBA 2022)

“You’re not Asian. You’re Filipino.” We told me.

Distinct Filipino values ​​and commonly shared values ​​in Asia shaped my consciousness. However, living in the United States and exposing myself to how others perceive my past made me question my ethnic identity: Filipino but not Asian? Hispanic Asian? Pacific Islander?

Suddenly I felt that my claim to owning my identity had been stripped away.

Asia is not a monolithic racial entity, and we come from different geographies, languages, socio-cultural tendencies, beliefs and ways of life. We can be many things; we cannot be aggregated into one character.

I can tick multiple boxes, but don’t box me.

Filipinos in the United States may be the third largest Asian immigrant group, but our culture hasn’t spread hugely. Perhaps the Filipinos who came before me chose to remain silent instead of celebrating their identity.

I can claim my own identity. I want to wear my skin and tell you where I come from, my experiences and my perspectives. I’m here for your story; be there for mine too.

Jesse Lou (MBA 2022)

“JESSE!! WAKE UP!!”

It’s barely 7am. My eyes widen as I see the herd of second-graders who have gathered just outside my room, peering eagerly inside. Dressed in standard blue camp uniforms, they were looking forward to another day of activities at our summer camp for young Asian Americans in the Dallas area.

I was their camp counselor, and as a high school student, I wanted to be like an older brother teaching them normal things to grow up.

I then returned as a teacher after college. This time I wanted to focus on the seemingly mundane things of growing up in an American culture that I learned through trial and error. With other former counselors, we created lessons in an ambitious attempt to bridge their experiences with Asian culture at home and American culture at school:

  • Speech class: Learn how to express an opinion in front of others, like why hot dogs are the top cafeteria food in front of 30 campers.
  • Goal Setting: Take charge of your extracurricular activities. You have to decide how long the piano practice should last and if it counts.
  • Negotiations: We tried to run a simulation with BATNA and all (like we do at HBS), but unsurprisingly, it didn’t go well.

Now that I look back on my own Asian American identity, I realize that it was the mentorship and representation (in leadership, media, workplace) along the way that really made the difference, and how I hope to guide the next generation of AAPI leaders.

Sue Chuang (MBA 2022)

My mother always told me that I couldn’t escape my heritage, so instead of hiding it, I should admit it. So my parents were adamant that my brother and I learned to speak Chinese. We went to Chinese classes every Sunday for 12 years and I absolutely HATED Sunday school. I didn’t understand why “learning my heritage” was important when I was trying so hard to fit in.

But then I started to learn traditional Chinese folk dance. I was blown away by the variety of styles and the beauty of movement. I loved to dance, but I was never sure to share this passion with others. Fast forward to college when I joined a Bollywood dance team and for some reason the team decided it would be a great idea to include Chinese fans in our competition set. It was an absolute success. As I stood on that stage, flowing fans in hand, I realized that my legacy is what sets me apart and it’s a beautiful thing to celebrate and share with others.

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