By Joshua Pei, Backend Software Engineer at DailyPay
Even before the term “Asian American” was coined by historian-activists Yuji Ichioka and Emma Gee in 1968, the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has been viewed as a monolith—a community encompassing over 70 countries of origin—but somehow reduced to one masochistic model minority.
We have seen the societal effects of this throughout America’s history, in cases such as the murder of Vincent Chin in 1982, where Chinese American Chin was brutally beaten to death by two white auto workers during a period of recession as a scapegoat for the belief that Japanese auto manufacturers were to blame for the national economic downturn.
In 2021, we saw a 339% nationwide increase in Asian American hate crimes as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. Even today, Mongolian and Burmese communities in America have a 25% poverty rate, more than twice the national average, but are largely unsupported by government initiatives.
I recount just a few AAPI events and statistics this AAPI heritage month not only as a reminder to myself of the history behind my own identity as an Asian American but also to spotlight how expansive and diverse the geographical, financial, and cultural composition of the AAPI community is. Understanding this is critical to not only celebrating and creating a more inclusive environment but also in breaking down long-standing stereotypes and pushing for systemic change across all minority communities.
I am a second-generation Taiwanese/Chinese American immigrant, the son of parents who came to America in search of a better future. I will not recount all the sacrifices my parents made in coming to this country, for they are too many and too great.
Instead, I will highlight their admittance into a society that has long subjugated POC to systemic societal and financial discrimination. From the Chinese Exclusion Act to the forced Latino repatriations of the 1920s to the Tulsa Race Massacre, we have a long history of denying financial equity and wealth building.
When I graduated from university, I knew that I needed to integrate community activism and financial empowerment into the field I would now be entering. I wanted to be in a workplace where diversity and inclusion were not only addressed but were a focal point of the business.
Now, as a young AAPI professional in the fintech industry, I work at a company that aims to bring about financial equity and empowerment, particularly for underrepresented communities. These underrepresented communities include black and brown communities, as well as AAPI communities that can only be accurately identified and supported without the misguiding model minority monolith narrative.
I am also the co-chair of DailyPay’s AAPI employee resource group—where we have the opportunity to educate and influence the entire organization on AAPI culture and representation, while also fostering a community within AAPI employees/allies. Rather than attempting to represent the entire AAPI diaspora, we focus on highlighting the various contributions across our communities and serving as a mouthpiece for our members.
Advocacy exists beyond just policy-making and institutional dismantlement, two areas that many of us will never work in during our professional careers. This advocacy exists in everyday situations—in how we take pride in our heritage at work, how we choose to work for businesses that promote diversity and inclusion, how we keep accessibility and inclusion as a factor in our work regardless of our field, how we give back to and uplift minority-owned businesses, and how we handle situations of racial or ethnic malfeasance.
To be an Asian American in the American workplace is to be a vital part of a diverse, global, and often thought-leading space needing diversity at all levels. When all parts of a whole are recognized and supported in an inclusive environment, a company is at its best. More importantly, however, is that when this diversity mindset is fielded, we take care of each other best as human beings. Unique perspectives serve other unique perspectives, leaders of unique backgrounds inspire future generations, and people ultimately learn to appreciate others for who they are.