Celebrating AAPI Heritage: UKG AsPIRE Members Share Their Cultural Journeys

AsPIRE Employee Resource Group members celebrate May's AAPI month.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, which are communities that encompass almost 50 ethnic groups in more than 40 different countries. To learn about and celebrate these dynamic cultures, I interviewed members of the UKG employee resource group (ERG) AsPIRE (Asians and Pacific Islanders Raising Equity). Read on as we dive into the stories of Calle, Chris, and Leilani to discover how their rich heritage influenced their lives, families, and careers, and how they found a sense of belonging and inclusion at UKG. 

Celebrating AAPI Heritage: UKG AsPIRE Members Share Their Cultural Journeys

Calle J., Senior Talent Acquisition - Sourcing

An adoption story: In the past, it was difficult to consider myself an authentic member of the AAPI community. Genetically speaking I am 100% Filipino, but as a child adopted into and raised in a nearly all white community, I found it difficult to connect with my ancestry. As I have grown, my world has expanded and as a result I have come to admire and appreciate the land, the people, and the culture that birthed me. Kapta-tao (short for 'Pakikipagkapwa-tao) in Tagalog (native language in the Philippines) is one of the oldest and strongest values in Filipino culture. What that translates to is the genuine ability to respect and care for others at the most basic human level. It is a part of Filipino culture to support others, which has naturally been part of my core values. 

Supporting the AAPI community: AAPI Month presents us with the spotlight to appreciate and celebrate our cultures. Supporting local AAPI-owned restaurants and businesses is my favorite tradition. In doing so, I can participate in the importance of cuisine to my culture while bringing good fortune to other AAPI individuals in my community. Throughout the year I will continue to speak up against discrimination. I will raise my voice using my privilege to advocate for my community that has been historically marginalized and underrepresented. 

Filipino identity: As an adopted child, I grew up celebrating the anniversary of my coming home day from the Philippines. Each year, my immediate family gathers to honor the gift of adoption. In doing so, we honor the Filipino culture and the sacrifices of my biological family in the Philippines. It is my greatest ambition to someday return to the Philippines and adopt a child of my own and pass down the traditions of my people with another child birthed to the beautiful islands of the Philippines. 

Gaining wisdom and finding acceptance: I've had the opportunity to meet and learn from individuals with a similar cultural background as mine. The wisdom and inspiration gained has been invaluable, not only professionally but in my own personal-growth journey as well. The way that the members of AsPIRE celebrate individuality and acceptance has helped me continue to reconcile my identity as an Asian American. 

Fostering Authenticity: It is the people here at UKG that motivate me to bring my most authentic self to work each day. My peers, colleagues, and leaders continuously uplift me by recognizing my strengths and encouraging me to be vulnerable. 

Chris C., Lead Specialty Support, UKG Pro Benefits Administration

Advocating for inclusion: I was born in Seoul, South Korea. My father was in the U.S. Army when he met my mother. The AAPI community is a growing, culturally diverse community that encompasses a wide range of backgrounds and history. I’m proud to be a part of this rich cultural heritage that has contributed significantly to American society. This diversity is a source of strength but may also cause marginalization, so it is imperative that we continue to promote a culture that is inclusive, supportive, and filled with an agape style love.  

South Korean food culture: Several times a year my mother will cook traditional South Korean cuisine for the whole family. South Korean food culture is amazing because it’s not only about the food, but the overall holistic experience. The Korean culture views food as more than just nutrition but also as a requirement for mental and emotional well-being. Some Koreans use food as a cure for various illnesses and ailments. The traditional ingredient in many Korean dishes uses gochujang which is a paste made from the Korean Cheongyang pepper. Some of my family’s favorite Korean dishes are Bibimbap, Rice Cake Soup (Tteokguk), Japchae noodles, Kimchi, Bulgogi, LA Galbi, and Kimbap (all the kids love this). Also, Korean food culture is very communal, so side dishes (banchan) are always shared. 

Personal and professional growth: UKG provides me with an abundance of resources for both personal and professional support. Some of my favorite resources are the U Choose benefits, our Employee Assistance Program, and our ERGs.  

Unifying voices: The AsPIRE ERG resonates with me because they promote a workplace culture that cultivates strong relationships and connection through shared values and common interests. And there is a wealth of opportunities for professional development through mentoring and community involvement. Since the AAPI community encompasses almost 50 ethnic groups in more than 40 different countries, the opportunities to learn about other AAPI cultures are endless. This diversity is what excites and motivates me that UKG cares about our collective voices and experiences, which then drives innovation and business opportunities in the HR/Benefits/Payroll technology industry.

Finding the right fit: UKG is an amazing employer that supports its employees and promotes professional and personal well-being. If you’re in the job market, I encourage you to do your own research to decide if a company’s interests, focus areas, and culture align with your own. Making connections online -- like on LinkedIn for example -- with current and former employees can be a great place to start. Try to evaluate what you are passionate about and how those passions align to specific companies, job postings, skills, values, and goals. Finding organizations and people that align with your own passions is a foundational requirement to long term success, growth, and contentment in anything you want to achieve in life.

Leilani L., Solution Consultant 

My hidden identity: My parents met in Hawaii and had nine children. My mom was of Hawaiian and Chinese descent and my dad was Scottish, Irish, Dutch, German, and French. Unfortunately, my dad was concerned about how his children would be treated, so he forced the family to deny that we were Hawaiian or Chinese. It was a very confusing way to grow up, since all nine of us had black hair and dark skin and clearly looked Polynesian and Asian.  

A duality in denial: Growing up I was raised with Mary as my first name, since, on my father’s side, a distant relative came over on the Mayflower. I was taught to embrace only the parts of myself that were “white” which was very confusing since I was clearly Asian and Hawaiian as well. 

For example, I wanted to learn hula since my mom had been a semi-professional hula dancer, but dad would not allow us to know or learn anything outside of the acceptable traditional American traditions and cultures. We were reprimanded if we tried to pretend to hula or learn any Hawaiian words. To further enforce dad’s wishes, we moved to Carlsbad, California, where I spent most of my elementary, middle, and high school years. It was a beautiful town, but there were only a handful of mixed-race students in the schools. I spent much of my time trying to hold in my fuller lips since the other kids called me bongo lips. 

To serve and protect: After finishing college, I had some male friends who encouraged me to become a firefighter. I spent 27 years as a firefighter for the San Diego Fire Department. I was very proud of being a firefighter and it was a great avenue for me to help and serve others. But during my career, I still struggled with my identity. Since there were very few women in the fire service, I suppressed parts of myself to fit in. Now, not only was I suppressing my Asian and Hawaiian heritage, but I was also downplaying my femininity. 

Freedom of expression: It wasn’t until I was hired at UKG and became part of the AsPIRE group that I realized much of what I’m sharing here. Through AsPIRE and all of the wonderful people in the ERGs, I started to verbalize and discuss many of my internal struggles. I am now learning to fully embrace my whole self, thanks in part to outwardly discussing and sharing my story. 

Here are some tactics that helped me embrace my whole self and they might help you, too! 

  • Take opportunities to listen and read about other traditions and cultures.
  • Share your unique experiences with others.
  • Honor all diversities including your own. By fully accepting who you are, you can also fully accept everyone else’s uniqueness.
  • Share your struggles embracing your heritage to help others learn from them.


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