Pride and prejudice: Celebrating Asian Pacific culture as it’s under attack

May 21, 2021 | 3 minute read
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May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so it’s no surprise that Oracle Professional Asian Leaders (OPAL) has a packed calendar. In fact, the employee resource group (ERG) is sponsoring an activity every single day. But this year’s activities are different.

Taking place amid the sickening rise in anti-Asian hate, OPAL’s work has become more urgent than ever before. As the group helps its community deal with stressful, bewildering times, it’s showing how hard it can be, and how necessary, to celebrate while candidly acknowledging the pain.

A time to celebrate heritage

OPAL works within Oracle and local communities to support Americans of Asian and Pacific Island (AAPI) descent. The broader AAPI community is amazingly diverse, representing more than 40 countries. Currently, OPAL has 22 chapters around the world and more than 3,600 members.

“We’re constantly sharing something new,” says Bo English-Wiczling, Oracle director of program management and chair of OPAL’s board. “We’ll invite an Oracle leader to discuss how they’ve architected their career. Or sometimes we’ll celebrate culture and just have fun.”

For example, OPAL is hosting a SPAM fight, with members vying to make the most creative delicacy using the canned meat introduced to Asia by American soldiers in World War II. Other events in May: a Bollywood dance party, a discussion of Asian movies, a boba (bubble tea) break, and a Kahoot trivia contest.

But OPAL’s mission is bigger than a mere celebration of Asian heritage. The group is also focused on empowering Asian employees, in particular helping members advance their careers. Carol Hsieh, a solutions consultant on the public sector team, became an OPAL member last year during the height of the pandemic. “I decided to join after participating in a careers panel discussion,” she says. “It was great to connect and get involved. I love what the group stands for.”

A time to act in unity

Indeed, combating prejudice and hate has become a priority in 2021. The reporting forum Stop AAPI Hate revealed that Asian hate incidents—from shunning to verbal abuse and outright violence—numbers more than 6,600 since last year. Additionally, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that anti-Asian hate crimes surged in the United States in 2020, rising 145% compared to 2019, despite a 6% drop in hate crimes overall.

OPAL members joined Seattle activists for a discussion on stopping Asian hate.

OPAL is meeting this challenge within Oracle by doubling down on education. The group recently hosted a talk by Dr. Josephine Kim, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, to inform the entire Oracle workforce about the history of racism against Asian Americans. OPAL also hosted a webinar on unconscious bias and a panel discussion with volunteers in Seattle who are working to curb hate crimes.

Based in Brussels, Account Executive Kanika Sambaur has a different perspective on the rise of anti-Asian hate. “Violence against Asians is normally something we see in the news from America, but you do notice more subtle things, like how people look at you on the subway,” she says. Sambaur helped to launch OPAL’s EMEA chapter and has joined the OPAL board as its marketing lead.

Likewise, Michelle Fong, senior program associate in Oracle volunteering, became more active in OPAL as the crisis unfolded. “I felt very impacted by the string of violence,” she says. “I wanted to find support and I wanted to support the community. I saw an opportunity to help aggregate resources, both inside and outside of Oracle, that would be useful to Asian employees.” She now heads up OPAL’s equity program.

One such resource: other Oracle ERGs. Seeking ideas and encouragement, OPAL has reached out to several, including the Alliance of Black Leaders for Excellence (ABLE) and the Military Affiliated Veteran Employee Network (MAVEN), the latter for tips on situational awareness—being alert to potential threats and prepared should they occur.

“We’re trying to engage and build partnerships,” says Fong. “These days, it helps to have candid conversations about how to support each other.”

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Mark Jackley

Mark Jackley is an Oracle digital content specialist.

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