James Fong

Within the Asian community here at the GSB, there is an unspoken commonality we share no matter where we were raised.

JAMES'S STORY

Growing up in a Floridian retirement community, I did not have an experience of being surrounded by people who looked like me as a child. But I didn’t really notice - I went to annual family reunions with my extended family and we kept our cultural traditions alive through the food my mom prepared and the holidays we celebrated. My family was the only Asian community I thought I needed. As a result, I became quite comfortable wherever I went no matter the ethnic composition of the group, and perhaps even unconsciously self-selected my community to be majority-white. I played tennis, football, and golf and joined a fraternity in college. I now recognize that not constantly feeling like a minority was a privilege that few other Asian Americans have, and for that I am grateful. Many people are surprised by this fact, especially since I grew up in the South. The only times I would feel other-ed was when trying to date outside of my ethnicity, and was constantly left to wonder if girls truly didn’t think we were compatible or if they simply were not comfortable bringing an Asian man home to their family.

I began to truly embrace my heritage when I moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana for work (you read that correctly). My company had a vibrant Asian employee resource group because Baton Rouge was literally a world away from many of the lived experiences of my fellow Asian co-workers. We would gather for holiday meals and dumpling making parties at various homes throughout the city, and even received funding to share our culture during company Lunch and Learns. For Lunar New Year 2019, I walked into our control room in full traditional Chinese attire and gave out red packets to all my operators to teach them about the holiday. This was quite warmly received by the largely native-Louisianan blue collar workforce, and it brought us all a bit closer. Just as I eagerly learned about hunting and fishing from them, they were similarly eager to learn about me and a world they knew little about.

Coming to the GSB and the Bay Area was a step into a brand new space. Previously, the Asians I knew had assimilated to the culture around them and kept their cultural heritage as a private part of their identity. At the GSB and in Palo Alto, I find myself surrounded by Asians who proudly stand out as different and are more “woke” about the racism experienced by our communities. In my previous life, I felt that others first and foremost saw me as an American whereas here, I feel seen first and foremost as an Asian. This is neither good nor bad, but I feel an invisible responsibility being associated with the rich and complicated history of the Asian community in the Bay Area of which I still know little.

Being surrounded by the largest community of Asians I have ever been around at the GSB has been an enriching experience. There is an unspoken commonality we share no matter where we were raised, and they are helping me continue the journey I began in Baton Rouge of embracing my identity as an Asian American. At the same time, I hope to show others that we have much in common and while it is nice to be appreciated and understood for our unique qualities, it is sometimes even more important to be accepted by others as just one of the rest.