News | May 26, 2016

Speaker notes diversity of AAPI Americans, urges unity

By DLA Public Affairs

The Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Contract Audit Agency, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Defense Technical Information Center and the U.S. Strategic Command Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction hosted a presentation in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month May 25 at the McNamara Headquarters Complex.

Guest speaker Grace Spence addressed the theme “Walk Together. Embrace Differences. Build legacies.” Spence is president of the nonprofit, nongovernmental Federal Asian Pacific American Council and works as an information technology specialist for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Spence, who immigrated to the United States from China 25 years ago, noted that the stereotype of the “passive, non-confrontational, antisocial” Asian American is “really a misconception” when applied to every member. However, she said, many Asian Americans grow up being encouraged by elders to “work hard and don’t make trouble,” which can lead some to forego opportunities in leadership, for fear of standing out.

Likewise, Spence said, she herself experienced the stereotype of the technically savvy but narrowly focused Asian when she found that even with degrees in history and international relations, she could not find work in those fields but was encouraged to look for work in the IT world — in part because employers focused on her work as a math teacher in the distant past, she said.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans are a diverse group, she noted, comprising 28 countries and 19 ethnic subgroups. As a whole, it has been the fastest-growing ethnic group for the last 10 years, she noted, and in 2040 will have doubled in size.

That said, Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans are less than 6 percent of the federal workforce and less than 5 percent of the Senior Executive Service, she noted. Similarly, members of these groups are “well-represented in small business, but in large businesses, their numbers are low,” she said, adding that currently, there are no Asian American CEOs of large corporations.

However, Spence encouraged Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to “stay positive.” She reminded the audience, “We’re Americans. We’re in it together. We need to walk together.”

May was chosen as AAPI Heritage Month for two reasons, Spence said. The first immigrants from Japan came to America in May 1843. And the Transcontinental Railroad, built largely with Chinese immigrant labor, was completed in May 1869.