May is Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. At AEO, we are taking this time to reflect on the significance of the AAPI community as we seek to amplify their voices, stories and contributions.
Sr. Director of Aerie Production, Lathda has been part of the AEO family for almost 15 years. As part of AEO’s AAPI Heritage Month celebration, our I&D Alliance invited Lathda to share her experience growing up as an Asian American in the US. The below is an excerpt from Lathda’s interview.
I am first generation Asian American. My family migrated here from Laos as war refugees in the 70s and eventually made their way to New York City. I was born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx and have lived in NYC my entire life. There were a lot of minorities in the south Bronx where I attended school, but even so, I always felt I stuck out as an Asian. I was from a country that most had never heard of. Oftentimes, people tend to think that if you’re Asian, you’re Chinese. I feel like I have been educating others my entire life and even in the Asian community, this is still a learning process.
Speaking about my heritage is something I’ve always struggled with, especially growing up. I always did my best to stay in the background – my family would even encourage me to do my work and not draw too much attention to myself. When I was in grade school a teacher once asked what my nickname was. I told her I didn’t have a nickname and another student asked, “well, then what’s your American name?” This exchange happened often growing up. I’d ask my parents about it and they’d say, “do you want a nickname?” I never understood why – why would I want to change my name?
As I got older, I vividly remember being in the school lunchroom eating rice and noodles and I recall the stares of others wondering what I was eating. Most of our extended family was back in Laos, but we were able to find a small community in the Bronx that had similar backgrounds and experiences and they became like family. In high school and college, I really started to see more people that looked like me.
With all the civil rights movements that have been happening over the past year, many people have checked in with me to ask how I’m doing. When the Atlanta shooting happened, I was numb to it and the significance of it didn’t really dawn on me at first. But as the incidents continued and Asian people were being attacked in the streets, it hit me. I realized this could be my family.
I have a 9-year-old son and it was and still is important to me to have these tough conversations with him that I never had with my parents. I want him to be proud of where he came from, learn the language and I really want to teach him about our culture.
AEO has encouraged associates of all levels to speak up and share their thoughts and has given them a safe space to share how they’re feeling. We made huge leaps over the past year in terms of inclusion and diversity and I hope that we continue have real and tough conversations in the future.