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In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re revisiting a conversation from a past event about the experiences, challenges, and accomplishments of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. Hosted by Melissa Donaldson, senior vice president and chief diversity officer at Wintrust, and moderated by Wintrust Founder & CEO Ed Wehmer, the event included the following panelists:
Ji Suk Yi | Digital Anchor and Producer, NewsNation Now
Sid Bala | President and CEO, alligatortek
Read on for some highlights from the discussion.
What does being Asian American mean to you?
Ji Suk Yi: I’m first generation, so I was born in South Korea and immigrated to North Carolina. I grew up in a very rural town. I didn't have any Asian Americans around me at all. So, being Asian American means different things in that context.
Overall, the difficulty for me as an Asian American is that the constant perception of Asian Americans being somewhat perpetually foreign. Because when you see an Asian person on the street, you automatically assume that they're from somewhere else and not from here.
Sid Bala: When I think about the two words, the Asian part to me means tradition, heritage, culture that's 5,000 years old, and all of the religious and social constructs that come with it. Then, the American means being part of the U.S. and knowing that everyone here is part of another nation originally. So, it's bringing the old and the new, and marrying the two. It’s rooted in tradition and culture of my heritage, but yet knowing that I live here and have spent my whole life here.
Asian Americans have the highest rates of entrepreneurship of all Americans. Why did you choose to start your own business, and what roadblocks have you faced along the way?
Sid Bala: Asian Americans, in my opinion, have high rates of entrepreneurship because, no different than any other marginalized segment, there is a feeling of perseverance. It’s about that opportunity to rise above, and being an entrepreneur is one way to do that and write your own rules.
My dad spent 35 years working for corporate America, as an industrial engineer in the steel mills. And, what he found was he did really well, but when he hit a glass ceiling, he really wasn't able to go any further. It was partially because of his skill set, but partly because what he believed was his skin color. He saw entrepreneurship as a way to write your own rules. And, so he wanted me to be an entrepreneur because, I think for him, it was an opportunity to break free of what he had seen.
Asian American communities are the fastest growing in the country, but there seems to be a lack of Asian Americans in government leadership. Why do you think that is?
Ji Suk Yi: I think it goes back to this whole model minority stereotype that we have. As a minority group, we tend to not mobilize and speak up with our concerns. And, a lot of times in society, we're not even viewed as a minority. I’ve worked in newsrooms where you think there'd be a lot of enlightened people, and I've had people of every shade and color on occasion slip up and call me white.
So, I think there's this issue that we have to overcome: that’s we’re not part of the whole, but we have an ability to assimilate, which makes it a lot easier for us. But at the same time, it makes it difficult to ask for representation.