Meaningful conversations highlight Asian/Pacific-American heritage month

Micron Technology | June 2021

A shared understanding, particularly of our colleagues’ culture and history, is key to creating a workplace for all. Micron celebrated Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month with panel discussions aimed at deepening team members’ understanding on issues important to this diverse community.

Panels explored important issues facing the Asian/Pacific American community

Asian and Pacific Islanders' history in the United States is long and diverse. Experts on the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities sat down with Micron hosts for engaging conversations about media stereotypes and history. One panel explored the different waves of migration and the many barriers each group has faced and continues to face. The community’s history also includes very narrow stereotypes in the media. On another panel, team members learned how the lack of representation and pervasive stereotypes affected AAPI media figures in their personal and professional lives.

The history of the AAPI community in the U.S. is rich but relatively unknown

As seen in recent media reports, violent acts against members of the AAPI community have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Stop AAPI Hate reports over 6,600 incidents of violence over the course of the past year. But experts say this hostility toward the community traces back to the mid-1800s.

Asian & Pacific American Heritage 101

On May 24, Micron team members got a history lesson with a panel on Asian & Pacific American Heritage 101. The AAPI community is diverse and so is its long, rich history in the U.S. Two Boise State University professors and the vice president of Partnerships at Asian American/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy discussed significant contributions from the AAPI community to the U.S. They also discussed the vast diversity of people and cultures included under the Asian American and Pacific Islander collective, hailing from approximately 50 ethnic groups, as well as the hostile treatment these communities have experienced.

Asian Americans are the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic group in the U.S., with more than 20 million Asians living in the U.S., according to the Pew Research Center. Almost all trace their roots to 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The term “Asian American” emerged out of political necessity. In the 1960s and 1970s, Chinese American, Japanese American, Filipino American and other organizers banded together under the umbrella term of Asian Americans to fight racism, modeling their organizational strategies after Black civil rights organizations. It was noted that, when people hear the term Asian Americans, they often think of East Asians, so members of South Asian, Southeast Asian and Pacific Islander communities sometimes feel they are missing from the conversation.

Our speakers discussed specific acts of hostility toward the AAPI community, from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II when these U.S. citizens were forced to live behind barbed wire for fear they were not loyal to U.S. interests.

They also discussed the unique experience of members of the Filipino community. The Philippines were ruled for 300 years by the Spanish before becoming a U.S. colony in 1898, so the Filipino people had been Westernized and many converted to Catholicism. Upon U.S. colonization, English was introduced. And because they were nationals, they did not experience the same immigration limitations for the U.S.

The panelists also celebrated the many contributions of the AAPI community to the U.S. from the building of the intercontinental railroad to the recent inauguration of Kamala Harris as the first Asian American vice president of the United States.

Exploring Stereotypes of Asian Americans in Media

On May 27, team members learned about harmful media stereotypes perpetuated against the AAPI community. The Exploring Stereotypes of Asian Americans in Media panel discussed ever-present stereotypes shaping how Americans view the AAPI community, from model minority (a stereotype that depicts Asian Americans as successful and diligent, yet reserved, deferential and passive) to perpetual foreigner (a stereotype that casts Asian Americans as inherently foreign and “other” no matter how long they’ve been here), as well as gaps and biases in reporting.

For example, 33% of the images used to report on COVID-19 in the U.K. were images of Asians. And according to a recent survey, 37% of white Americans say they were not aware of an increase in hate crimes and racism against Asian Americans over the past year, even after the Atlanta shooting. In the same survey, when asked to name a prominent Asian American, 42% of respondents answered, “I don't know,” followed by Jackie Chan, who is not American, and by Bruce Lee, who died 50 years ago. And in a study of 1,300 popular films, researchers found only 5.9% of speaking roles were Asian.

The panel, composed of journalists, media founders and an actress, talked about the lack of authentic representation and its harmful effects on society, from shaping biases and stereotypes against AAPI communities to detrimentally influencing their sense of self-worth as children.

Panelists explained they didn’t see people like themselves in the media. When they did see AAPI faces, they were presented in stereotypical roles. Asian Americans are often reduced to punchlines and tropes in film and TV, from socially awkward nerds to bumbling shop owners with unintelligible accents. Benny Luo, founder and CEO of NextShark, an Asian American online news platform, said that, growing up, he knew something didn’t feel right, but it wasn’t until he got to college that he was able to study the issue and understand it better.

“So I was able to learn about the emasculation of Asian men on screen or the objectification and exoticism of Asian women. I got a bird’s eye view of what I could feel growing up.”

Actress Jona Xiao most recently voiced the character of the Young Namaari in Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon. She said Lucy Liu was the only Asian American actress she could name growing up. She is starting to see creative opportunities evolving, but she still has to work closely with producers to expand her characters beyond the typical stereotypes.

“As an artist, I do feel a responsibility to be careful of furthering harmful stereotypes in the roles that I play,” she said. On her current role in a crime drama, the show runner called her to understand her specific ethnicity so it could be better represented in the show. “I play a stripper on the show and that could be an exoticized Asian female. So for me it was very important to create a three-dimensional character that on the surface seemed like a bubbly, ditzy sexualized Asian woman, but you also saw how much she cared about her daughter and how smart and resourceful and human she was.”

Harmeet Kaur is a culture writer for CNN, where she covers race, identity and social justice. She is dedicated to telling stories about minority communities with sensitivity and nuance. From covering the deadly shootings in Atlanta this spring to the mourning of a Sikh community in Indianapolis after a deadly mass shooting at a predominantly Sikh-staffed FedEx facility, she takes care to use her lived experience to breath empathy and understanding into her reporting.

“In fact I actually think that my experiences can help make the story even stronger. If you are covering the Atlanta spa shootings and you don’t point out that the majority of those killed were Korean women, you’re not doing your job as a journalist.”

Entrepreneur Bing Chen works with some of the largest media organizations in the world, including Disney and Marvel, to mitigate negative Asian stereotypes in storytelling through his organization Gold House. And he helps fund projects that depict positive and accurate portrayals through AUM Group, a fund investing in multicultural films and the next generation of storytellers.

“We actively consult culturally on most of the major studio scripts to ensure they are authentically accurate and to ensure that pernicious narratives like yellow peril, perpetual foreigners, model minority myth and physical meekness do not persist on the page.”

All of the panelists agreed changes are starting to happen in Hollywood and in newsrooms, but there is more work to be done.

Micron increases its commitment

Micron team members have started a new employee resource group (ERG) that brings together members of the AAPI community and their allies to raise awareness of the issues we discussed in May, such as stereotypes and unconscious biases, and tackle them both within and outside Micron. This ERG will join Micron’s nine others centered on shared identities or experiences. Micron’s six FY21 DEI commitments include strengthening our culture of inclusion and advocating for racial and LGBTQ+ equality. Each DEI commitment is owned and promoted by an executive. We will continue creating a workplace that invites discussion so we can create a workplace for all.