History. Hope. Help.
Ray Padilla, chair of Wintrust’s Multicultural Professionals Network (MPN) Business Resource Group (BRG) and vice president of enterprise project management office, reflects on his experiences as a Filipino American, the significance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and his leadership of the MPN BRG.
To start, I would like to acknowledge all of my Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) coworkers at Wintrust. As we are at the time of year for Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, it is a time to celebrate and honor not only the cultures, experiences, and contributions of these communities, but to emphasize the importance our differences make in enriching our country.
If I had to distill AAPI month into a few words it would be: history, hope, and help. The best part about AAPI month is the variety of people that identify as Asian, which makes for rich and vivid experiences, unique and interesting to each. Asians have a rich history, and we are all willing to share it with just about anyone. I have my own personal memories, which are fundamental to my Filipino history. Growing up as the son of Filipino immigrants, I didn’t think of myself as Asian; I was always Filipino, with strong influence of Chinese. And, being Filipino meant some very specific things for me. Family: big extended families with many distant cousins. Traditions: how we treated and greeted our elders, and special clothes for special occasions. Food: all of the glorious Filipino dishes that all of the moms made, like lumpia and noodles at every get-together. Every day was Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
I didn’t know that President Carter signed a joint resolution in 1978 that celebrated Asian heritage in May. And, soon enough, my Asian heritage would become more than just being Filipino. I wouldn’t be introduced to a Business Resource Group (BRG) for almost 20 years of my professional career. When my heritage intersected with corporate diversity and inclusion, the celebrations got bigger and better. Diversity added many facets of Asian life I didn’t readily have experience with, and I was introduced to all of the wonderful aspects of every different Asian ethnicity (especially the food). I have quickly realized that I didn’t participate in a BRG just for the food. I wanted to help the Asian community. Being Asian and Filipino was important to me on a professional level, and I wanted it to be important where I worked. And, if I wanted it to be important, I had to get involved. I want to ensure that my voice is heard and that all of our voices are heard. I’d be helping to open up the Asian community to non-Asians, and to each other.
This year’s Heritage Month is especially important, as it serves as a timely reminder of the AAPI community’s positive influence on, and contributions to, America’s history and culture. Diversity means different. It is important to recognize that Asian Americans are an important faction of the diverse cultures instrumental in driving this country to success. AAPI Heritage Month brings awareness to the hardships that the community has faced throughout history. Rather than merely celebrate the community, we should place focus on underrepresented, underestimated people, not just different people. Tensions have ramped up in the past few months, and as a BRG, we are a forum for AAPI and non-AAPI coworkers to vent their frustrations, tell their personal stories, and for all of us to become allies to each other. I want to remind and encourage our BRG team members, and allies alike, to remember that we are not just Asians, we are also Americans (with delicious and different foods).