U Krewer Juan “Jay” T.’s upbringing included a melting pot of cultures. Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, after his parents left China in the 1980s seeking a better opportunity, Jay and his family settled in Jalisco, where they opened a Chinese restaurant in Guadalajara’s downtown. “My parents worked non-stop for more than 20 years so they could provide a better life for my sister and me,” says Jay, a business systems analyst at UKG. “Today, we have incorporated traditions and holidays from our three cultural backgrounds (Chinese, Mexican, and American) into our family.”
In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, UKG chatted with Jay, who is a member of two UKG employee resources groups (ERGs)— Asians and Pacific Islanders Raising Equity (AsPIRE) and UNIDOS, a Latin-Hispanic ERG — to learn more about the experiences that shaped his life, family, and career.
How do you honor AAPI Heritage Month? I celebrate and remember everyone involved with the AAPI community and those who made strides at making us more visible and heard. I like to take this and other heritage celebrations, such as Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month, as learning and teaching opportunities. One month is not enough to celebrate our diverse cultures and contributions, but it is a great reminder for me to reflect on how I fit in within the AAPI community.
What makes you proud to be part of this community? The AAPI community is composed of a wide variety of backgrounds, languages, customs, and traditions, and yet everyone is an uncle, aunt, cousin, etc., even if we’re not remotely related to each other. It’s a big family. There’s a lot of solidarity within the different cultures as well with other minority and marginalized groups.
Your upbringing was so interesting. Tell us about your family and where you grew up. I have a big family! We are all over North America with family in Mexico, the U.S., and Canada. My childhood was mostly spent on the floor of the dining room or storage room of my parents’ restaurant, playing with bottle caps and straws. They worked non-stop for more than 20 years to provide a better life for my sister and me.
There has been a sizable population of Chinese Mexicans in Mexico City and the Mexicali for quite some time already, but we were one of only a dozen Chinese families in Guadalajara at the time. Luckily, I never felt like a foreigner or discriminated against as a child, so I never really identified as Chinese Mexican. I was just Mexican.
Eventually, I moved to New York in 2001 to live with an aunt and continue my education in the U.S. It was at this point when I started to feel like I was more than just Mexican. I started an English as a Second Language (ESL) class with the Chinese-speaking classroom until they realized I did not speak Chinese that well and moved me to the Spanish-speaking group. I was just one of two Asian-Latin American students in the class. This is when I began to form a cultural identity — not quite Mexican, Chinese, or American, but a mixture of the three.
Share a few of your family’s favorite customs and traditions. My family observes anything and everything that brings friends, family, and food together! We have incorporated traditions and holidays from our three cultural backgrounds into our family. We hang a lunar calendar at home to follow the lunar holidays, support Mexico’s national football team, “El Tri,” and bring the family together for Thanksgiving.
During our celebrations, our table is a buffet of three cuisines: You’ll see tamales next to the turkey and the Cantonese steamed fish, and a mixture of chopsticks and forks. For the Lunar New Year, we start sweeping and cleaning the house days before to rid ourselves of the old and avoid cleaning during the first few days of the new year to avoid “cleaning off the new good luck.” We have a feast of noodles, dumplings, steamed fish, and sweet rice balls. For Día de los Muertos, our family in Mexico sets up altares to honor the dead.
Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite days since it brings the family together to cook and eat. Our table usually has tamales, pozole rojo, turkey, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and steamed fish.
You experienced a defining moment in college. Tell us about it. There have been many turning points in my life, but dropping out of college and the pre-med program after an underwhelming freshman year was the first time I had to rely on myself to find something I could succeed at and pull myself and my grades back up. I think all my defining moments come from failures, which became learning moments that shaped me to become the person I am today.
What career advice would you give to your younger self? I still think of my career as a work in progress, but I like the path that I have taken. I wouldn’t change anything (including the multiple degree and career changes) since it brought me here. Perseverance has been the common theme of my academic and professional life. I would tell my younger self to just keep going.
How has UKG supported you? I am part of a great team that provides me with the support and feedback I need to succeed in my role. The knowledge and skills of those around me is very impressive (at times intimidating) and I am confident I’m learning from the best.
The UKG ERGs are unique and rare in the professional world. It brings me back to my college days and the different cultural and support groups available. These groups allow me to connect and learn in a way I haven’t in years! It is great to have this resource as a working professional.
What makes you proud to be a U Krewer? I am grateful for our rapid response to world events and the company’s willingness to jump in and drive programs aimed at raising money and resources to help communities affected by disasters. Similarly, I also like the more formal philanthropy drives aimed at raising awareness and providing for those in need.