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News | May 2, 2022

Cheng Yen: Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Employee Spotlight

By DLA Energy Public Affairs

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is an annual celebration that recognizes the historical and cultural contributions of individuals and groups of Asian and Pacific Islander descent to the United States. The AAPI umbrella term includes cultures from the entire Asian continent – including East, Southeast and South Asia – and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

What started as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Week in 1978 expanded to a monthlong celebration in 1992. The 2022 theme is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.”

Defense Logistics Agency Energy is highlighting employees of AAPI heritage who are honoring their history and making a difference through their accomplishments both in their workplace and community.

What is your name and where is your hometown? 
My name is Cheng Yen. Where am I from? That’s always a hard question for me to answer. I was born in the Philippines, and my family is originally from Taiwan. However, I grew up in neither one of these countries. I grew up on an island in the Pacific called Saipan, which is a U.S. territory located near Guam. 

What is your ethnicity? Chinese

What is your title/department? What do you do, specifically? 
I’m a chemist with the Quality Technical team (Product Technology & Standardization) at DLA Energy. I manage and support multiple regional purchase programs involving various types of fuels and fuel-related products. 

How many years of service do you have? How many with DLA and/or DLA Energy?
I have almost five years of service currently with DLA Energy and five years previously with the FDA. 

How did you get into this career field?
Pretty much by luck. I was simply looking for GS-13 chemist positions, and I applied to this agency called DLA. I had no idea what DLA was back then. It turns out DLA is one of the best kept secrets in terms of government jobs. I’d like to thank my supervisor Dan Baniszewski for taking a chance on me, as I’m fortunate to have a great team at Quality to work with for all these years. 

What advice would you have given yourself 10 years ago? 
The same advice I was given when I first started my federal career…do your job and stay out of office politics/drama. 

What personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
Overcoming my fear of public speaking through Toastmasters. We currently have a local Toastmasters group here at DLA Headquarters on Fort Belvoir. The club is called MHQC Toastmasters, and we currently meet virtually (due to the pandemic) every Tuesday. 

Do you have a personal motto? 
Hard work beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard. My mom instilled in me the importance of hard work and education ever since I was little. My mother carried me on her back and sold candied treats to schoolchildren just so that I had the opportunity to go to a good school in the future. 

What do you think about when you hear Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month?
I don’t think most people even know this exists. If you ask most Americans to name an Asian American, they’ll probably answer: Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. Bruce Lee has been dead for almost 50 years now, and Jackie Chan is not even American. 

It wasn’t that long ago that there was an immigration law (Chinese Exclusion Act) that prohibited Chinese people from immigrating to the U.S. It wasn’t that long ago that Japanese Americans were rounded up and forced into internment camps by the U.S. Government. It wasn’t that long ago that looters and rioters targeted Korean-owned businesses during the 1992 L.A. riots. We still have a long way to go. 

How has your family’s ancestry/origins influenced your life?
Growing up Asian, I had the experience of being a perpetual foreigner. It didn’t matter which country I was in; most people assumed I was a foreigner. Most individuals don’t look at me and think, “Hey, that’s an American.” Throughout the years, I’ve reconciled with my identity as a 1.5 generation immigrant. Now, I’m thankful to be able to live in a diverse community in the DMV area. 

Are there any other ways you contribute to your community or workplace?
I’ve served as club President, Area Director, and various other leadership roles while in Toastmasters. We try to help people develop confidence not only in public speaking but also in leadership opportunities.