In 1992 Congress designated May as National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), to celebrate the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In a time when dialog on diversity and inclusion must advance beyond holidays and heroes, this APAHM gives us all the opportunity to consider how as leaders we can become better allies to the Asian Pacific American community.
I have long advocated for policies and products that have improved the landscape for Black and Latinx business owners, as well as for female entrepreneurs. And, as a Filipino American, I am fundamentally invested in how we approach the issue of anti-Asian hate, support Asian-owned businesses, and work to be progressive allies.
Teach yourself about the history of propaganda and hate
To begin combating irrational, fear-based bigotry, start with education. Learning the historical basis for Asian hate is an essential first step.
In 1854, Horace Greeley published “Chinese Immigration to California” an op-ed that supported the popular demand to excluding Chinese workers and people from California. Although Chinese immigrants made up less than one-tenth of a percent of the population, the mining workers along the west coast who were concerned they would lose their jobs and earn lower wages spurred the creation of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. Greeley’s description of the Chinese as “uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception, without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order…” helped fuel the antagonism and violence.
This xenophobic, racist hate was then foisted onto any Asian immigrant coming to the U.S. regardless of their actual ethnicity, and persisted through WWII and Japanese Internment, to the murder of Vincent Chin, and more recently, the murder of six Asian women in Atlanta.
But, even “positive” Asian stereotypes—such as the model minority myth—are just as dangerous, as they not only pit non-white communities against each other but also endorse retaliation and scapegoat crimes.
My team created an allyship guide to help employees understand the history of different Asian communities in the U.S. It also provides resources on the model minority myth and offers actionable steps one can take to be a continuous ally to the AAPI community.
To further your exploration, I recommend these works by AAPI writers:
- Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong
- The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
- Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans by Ronald Takaki
- Asian American Dreams by Helen Zia
- Immigrant Acts by Lisa Lowe
Recognize that Asian representation at all levels of organizations is important
The blowout success of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 proved that true diversity in Hollywood was economically viable. Until then, Asians on movie and television screens were portrayed as either caricatures based on the old propaganda, or as doctors and tech geniuses. So, what changed in order to green-light a movie with an almost-all Asian cast and crew? The folks at the top. According to Andrew Chow, “Over the past decade, Asian Americans have become showrunners, studio executives, lead agents, and producers; they have formed tight-knit groups to champion one another.”
This pipeline-like framework has been used in politics via the founding of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) alongside the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). These organizations work together to promote AAPI participation and representation at all levels. In the 25 years since, we have seen AAPI representation in Washington increase to include senators and representatives, the first Asian-American Vice President, and—according to Jen Psaki, White House Press Secretary—a newly created “senior-level Asian American Pacific Islander White House liaison who will ensure the community’s voice is further represented and heard.”
The bad news, however, is that this representation does not extend to the corporate C-suite. In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Buck Gee and Denise Peck pointed out that, “Asian American white-collar professionals are the least likely group in the United States to be promoted into management.” Their assessment was that, because Asian Americans are seen as an extremely successful demographic, they are not identified as an underrepresented community.
Corporate leaders must recognize that Asian representation at all levels of their organizations is important.
AAPI employee resource groups are also vital. They provide a space for Asian employees to share stories, receive support, and find community and can also be a talent pipeline to identify current and future leaders.
Support AAPI-owned businesses and AAPI-serving organizations
According to Yelp’s Economic Impact Report on diverse businesses, it’s clear that consumers are increasingly looking to support Asian business owners. The rate of searches on Yelp for Asian-owned businesses in the U.S. increased by 3,404% in February 2021 compared to the same period the year prior.
To make it easier to find and support Asian-owned businesses, Yelp collaborated with Gold House, to introduce a new way for businesses to self-identify as Asian-owned.
Additionally, the following Asian American and Pacific Islander-serving organizations are fighting to stop Asian hate and lift up the experiences of the AAPI community.
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta
- Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
- Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)
- Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
- Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA)
- National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
- National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
- Stop AAPI Hate
In the aftermath of this year’s rise in hate crimes and xenophobic incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, communities and companies are showing their allyship and support in various ways. Many business leaders have also come together to sign this letter pledging to fight violence against Asians, support Asian employees, and ensure Asian representation.
In addition to education and advocacy, companies should consider donations to AAPI-serving organizations, reflect on possible product features that provide consumers with practical ways to support the community, and pathways to encourage the representation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders at all levels of leadership. There are many ways for leaders and companies to become better allies to the AAPI community, and this month is a great time to start.
Miriam Warren is the chief diversity officer at Yelp.