Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month: Q&A with United Way Board Member Stephanie Kim

Asian and Pacific-Islanders’ rich heritage spans thousands of years. The term Asian/Pacific encompasses all of the Asian continent and Pacific islands of Melanesia (New Guinea, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands), Micronesia (Marianas, Guam, Wake Island, Palau, Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia) and Polynesia (New Zealand, Hawaiian Islands, Rotuma, Midway Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia and Easter Island).

 

President Jimmy Carter signed into law the first recognition of Asian/Pacific Americans in 1977. In the next decade, this designation grew from the first 10 days in May to the entire month of observance by 1990. The month of May was chosen to commemorate the first Japanese immigrants to the U.S. on May 7, 1843 to mark the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. These newcomers to America represented a majority of the workforce who laid the tracks.

 

Stephanie Kim, chief administrative officer of Telamon and longtime United Way of Central Indiana board member, sat down with us to share her personal experiences.

 

Q: Why is it important to you to be involved in giving back to the community?

A: My first experience with giving back to the community happened while I was still a college student. I didn’t have the funds to donate financially, but I did have time to donate.I saw firsthand what programs helping the underserved did to boost morale of those involved, not just from a recipient perspective but also from a volunteer perspective. It was then that I fell in love with philanthropy and the good that it did for all parties. Since then, it has always been important to me.

 

Q: Why is it important for our community to know more about our fellow neighbors with American Asian Pacific Islander heritage?

A: Engaging with AAPI history/community is engaging in American history/community. Immigrants from Asia helped build American infrastructure. Successful American companies like Bose and Yahoo were founded by Asian Americans. Even in Central Indiana, the work of K.K. Chen was instrumental in utilizing the pharmacological benefits of ephedrine, and David Wong was one of the researchers who developed Prozac.

 

Asian hate is only now becoming something that people are mentioning, but it has always existed. The mentality of many Asian immigrants is that of: Keep your head down, work hard, and overcome. Often first-generation immigrants are of the mindset that if you work hard and pay your dues, you will be able to live your life the way that you want – or what many call, the “American dream”. My ancestry came from either communism or an education system, which was entirely based on how you score on standardized tests.. All men had requisite military service. Being given the freedom of choice, as we have in the USA, was something completely foreign and of the utmost importance.

 

Q: What ways would you recommend for individuals and families to engage and learn more about AAPI culture here in Central Indiana?

A: There are several organizations such as Indianapolis Chinese Community Center, Inc., AAAI and the America China Society that try to engage business professionals with diverse types of Asian culture, be it East or West Asian. The international festival is also one that has been around since I was a child that is fun for families to enjoy various aspects of other cultures, including music, dance, food, etc.

 

Q: Why are you passionate about United Way and our mission?

A: There are so many deserving organizations, and from a donor perspective, it is difficult to vet each one individually. United Way does an excellent job with keeping a pulse on the community, seeing what is important to our local area, what the biggest needs are, and how to effectively address those areas. United Way of Central Indiana does something for the community that I, as an individual, would never be able to vet or accomplish on my own through various health and human services organizations.

 

Q: What advice would you share for those considering ways to get involved in the Central Indiana and/or the AAPI community?

A: I recommend taking advantage of UWCI’s resources, going to uwci.org, click on volunteer, and explore opportunities in your area. There are plethora of options available by age, group, county, virtual, or in-person to ensure everyone can find an opportunity that fits their personal needs.

 

Q: What inspired, frustrated, and surprised you most about this last year as many of our fellow neighbors found themselves struggling economically through the pandemic?

A: I loved seeing the community come together for several large funds, including the Central Indiana COVID-19 Community Economic Relief Fund (C-CERF), that were aimed to assist either education or human services during the pandemic . I also loved seeing how the community rallied together to help those most affected in various ways, aside from large grants made towards CBOs, from ordering more takeout, to flexible work schedules for working parents, to creative childcare opportunities, to online/virtual events to foster community while staying socially distant and safe.

 

Q: What community work or leadership are you most proud of at this point?

A: My work in central Indiana is a labor of love. I cannot say I am prouder of one thing over another. I would say that my career has afforded me many opportunities to pursue meaningful community work and leadership that continues to evolve, and I hope will never cease to exist.