Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Spotlight: Jennifer Kim Deskins

By DLA Aviation Public Affairs Office

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The Federal Asian Pacific American Council national 2020 theme is “Unite Our Nation by Empowering Equality.” In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of World War II, the Defense Department theme is “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future!”

This year’s theme is the culmination of the 2017-2020 “Unite” series and focuses on diversity, inclusion and leadership to advance the Asian-American Pacific Islander community.

DLA Aviation spotlights Jennifer Kim Deskins, a lead procurement analyst in the Procurement Process Support Directorate in Richmond, Virginia. She has worked for Defense Logistics Agency Aviation for about eight years.

What does the 2020 Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you? The Federal Asian Pacific American Council’s theme is definitely of utmost importance this year, and every year. Racial groups should always be empowered with equality. It shouldn’t be seen as some lofty “ideal” – it should be a reality and we should all conscientiously strive to manifest it, day-in and day-out. It can be as simple as being mindful over your thoughts, speech and actions in regard to others. Additionally, it can be as proactive as spearheading positive projects or volunteering in marginalized areas or groups.

Given our current global situation, being asked to represent observance of this year’s Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month at DLA Aviation is exceptionally important to me. Because of the surge in xenophobia and bigotry resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the Asian American Pacific Islander Civil Rights Organization and Asian Pacific Planning and Policy Council established a platform to report these hate crimes. This reporting center “Stop AAPI Hate” can be found at www.stopaapihate.org.

Although it wasn’t launched until March 19, there have been about 1,800 reported and confirmed hate crimes since its launch nine weeks ago. There are many additional cases not included in this number reported to police departments, and many cases that haven’t been reported at all. Asians are being heavily targeted and are being used as scapegoats for the world’s ignorant anger. Examples of this in the news include an acid attack on a 39- year-old woman taking out her trash, to several stabbings in grocery stores and walking on the street, to stabbing entire families (including children) inside the home, to brutal beatings including those many attacks on elderly people, it’s clear that the scariest disease is hatred.

I know many people who have personally experienced increased blatant racial hatred in this already difficult time. Scapegoating, hatred and ignorance have always been drivers to the world’s most shameful travesties. Therefore, I ask everyone who reads this to remember: Asians are not the virus. Keep an open mind and let empathy guide your heart. Consider that what we may think is fact this year, might be debunked next year, or in any subsequent years, for that matter.

Food for thought:  The H1N1 Influenza A virus, otherwise known as the “Spanish Flu” did not originate in Spain. However, since Spain was neutral during WWI, their press didn’t have to follow wartime precautions and censorship rules, so they reported their earliest occurrences. Meanwhile, the French, German and American press were busy reporting on the war efforts, had to adhere to wartime precautions and were reluctant to expose any weaknesses impacting their troops.

Considering the variables within current international affairs, this certainly is by no means an exact mirror of our particular coronavirus pandemic; however, it’s just a lesson learned that what the public thinks to be true is often subject to change and evolves over time.

Tell us something unique about your heritage, country of origin or family traditions. It’s hard to narrow down. I think being multi-racial is a unique experience in and of itself, but for the love of embracing Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I’ll go into a couple things that fascinate me about my mom’s country of origin. For one, South Korea has a unique culture of women free divers – they’re often called the “Mermaids of Korea,” “Sirens of Jeju,” or “Women of the Sea” (Haenyeo in Korean means female diver). These strong and fearless women dive deep in the ocean to retrieve abalone, oysters, octopus, sea urchin, red sea cumber, seaweed and other sea vegetables/creatures. They’re located in Jeju, one of Korea’s most interesting islands (referred to as Korea’s Hawaii, which also has large ancient stone statues like the moai on Easter Island.

These “mermaids” dive deep, usually 50-80 feet, and hold their breath for up to three minutes (sometimes more) with absolutely no breathing equipment! By comparison, the average person can hold their breath for about 30 seconds. For centuries, these women divers were the “breadwinners” and the economic engine of Jeju. They structured the semi-matriarchal society, but due to industrialization, it’s a dying occupation and tradition, as most are now over the age of 50.

South Korea also has retained some of their beautiful, traditional festivals, like “Chuseok” or “Autumn Eve.”  This autumn equinox harvest moon festival is a three-day holiday that honors the spirits of ancestors and celebrates a bountiful harvest with traditional food, dance, martial arts, archery, folk games, and more.

What misconception about your heritage or country of origin would you like to correct? I’m passionate about the crucial need to dismantle many stereotypes placed on people, and especially those of Asian heritage due to the fact that the Asian voice is hardly ever heard or represented. A couple misconceptions that stick out in my head right now are the “Forever Foreigner” and “Model Minority” myths.

Although our appearance might seem “foreign,” many are just as American as apple pie – well, maybe more like spiced apple pie. America is a melting pot of cultures, so it’s important to remember that this is truly home to many “foreign” appearing people. Many are citizens, many are born and raised here, many have served in the U.S. military, many love this country, the people in it and would do anything to help progress and protect it. Being seen or treated as a foreigner, despite being born and raised in Virginia, has certainly had existential moments of isolation.

Speaking of isolation, the “Model Minority” myth is another one that only psychologically segregates and pushes division between racial groups. It acts as a “racial wedge” between groups by making people staunchly believe that we are all always much more different than we are alike. However, when we come together and apply critical thinking to the diversity and experiences existing within racial groups themselves, we can more easily understand our differences while embracing commonalities, pains and lessons in our experiences. While no experience is identical to the next, there are several similar themes and feelings that minorities can relate to together and help one other with.

Last but not least, stop thinking that we’re all submissive and good at math. Don’t ask me to do your taxes because some of us, like myself, would much rather be doing something expressive, creative and artistic.

What do you consider one of your most important accomplishment that you would like to share? This accomplishment can cover any topic; health, academia, professional, etc. Getting my yoga teacher certification because of its versatility and the fact that it’s an evolving, holistic learning practice and lifestyle.

Tell us a little known fact that most people don’t know about you. I’m a descendant of the Shawnee Nation’s Chief Hokoleskwa (“Cornstalk”) and Davy Crockett. My grandmother is really into genealogy, and those are two of the most exciting ancestral findings since I really respect their natural leadership inclinations, desires for diplomacy, resourcefulness, bravery and courage. I also think it’s interestingly notable because when Davy Crockett was a congressman, he was the only one in Tennessee’s delegation who voted against Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act.

How important is it to you that DLA Aviation recognize this month? It is very important to me. In Richmond, Asian and Pacific Islanders comprise of 2-3% of the population. Nationally, we make up about 4-6%. Given the statistics and an array of societal factors, our voice tends to be hushed, diminished and silenced. There are large gaps of understanding that need to be addressed, and there is a vast, enormous amount of beauty in our culture that should be respected.

What do you want the DLA Aviation workforce to take away from celebrating this particular month? I’d love for the workforce to gain a greater appreciation and a deeper understanding of Asian Pacific Americans, our culture, our diversity, our complex, long history and how it all influences our realities.