Life at Gem

Gem celebrates AAPI Heritage Month

Posted on

May 24, 2021

During AAPI Heritage Month, we've been listening, learning, and discussing the histories and experiences of the AAPI community. Here, we'd like to celebrate the unique backgrounds and stories of our AAPI Gems.

Happy Asian-American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month! 

The recent rise in violence and attacks against the AAPI community has shaken many of us, causing the AAPI community to feel unsafe in public, unsupported, and alone. As the AAPI-focused Employee Resource Group (ERG) at Gem, the Jades ERG sought to provide some programming to help our Gems decompress from the string of negative events, to come to a deeper understanding of the current situation, and to find a positive path forward. In the past few weeks, we’ve been able to arrange the following sessions: 

  1. A Wellness Hour to decompress and be in solidarity 

  2. Authenticity in the Workplace - the Asian American Experience, a discussion led by Jerry Won

  3. Bystander Intervention to Stop Anti-Asian/American and Xenophobic Harassment, a training led by Hollaback!

We’d love to end AAPI Heritage Month on a positive note and celebrate the unique backgrounds and stories of our AAPI Gems. We’ve provided a list of questions to help our Gems showcase a piece of who they are and have provided some of their answers below. We hope that by learning more about our human experience, you will deepen your understanding that we are all more alike than we are different. 

Dennis Xiong, Sr. Sales Development Representative


What does AAPI Heritage month mean to you?

What’s up everyone? Happy Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month! I hope you’re taking the time this month to appreciate Asian-American history and learn how these contributions have helped shape America into the country that it is today.

I am a first-generation Hmong-American and my grandfather led a military unit of over 300 people to fight alongside the American troops during the Vietnam war. Because of his military status, my family was able to escape the then-war-torn country of Laos to come to America at the end of the Vietnam War. 

Every year during this time, I am reminded to take pride in my Asian-American identity, to honor the part my ancestors played to make this country great, and to celebrate my Asian-American friends and family. 

Favorite memory growing up?

I grew up in the Central Valley of California in a small town called Winton. My grandparents were strawberry farmers, and their strawberries were the best! Some of my favorite memories growing up were in the fields, picking strawberries with my family to be sold at local farmers markets or to be shipped to commercial companies that specialized in fruit/vegetable distribution. After a long day of hard work, we would pick a small bucket of strawberries for ourselves to take home… and those juicy strawberries made it all worth it! 

Favorite holiday or tradition?

I am Hmong-American and my favorite time of the year is Hmong New Year! The New Year festivals bring the whole community together and serve as places for courtship, pageants, talent shows, fashion, food, and more. Every year I look forward to dressing up in my traditional clothes with my family and attending these events!

Gaurav Nihalani, Marketing Campaign Manager


What does AAPI Heritage month mean to you? 

It means we recognize and celebrate our cultural differences while accepting that those differences are what make us infinite. Every human being has their own unique culture that we should celebrate because our differences are what help expand our perspective to the limitless potential of humanity. I love celebrating the oneness in humanity, but to me that means acknowledging the power of knowledge we gain from each other.

Favorite memory growing up?

Hanging out and eating pizza at the beach with all my friends in the Caribbean (shout out to my All Saints Cathedral Vikings and the Magens Bay crew!) We moved from India to St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands when I was 6. At first it was a huge culture shock for me but I quickly fell in love with the place and the people. I think having this early exposure to a people, culture, and place so different from my homeland enabled me to expand my perspective and learn to appreciate the expansiveness of what it meant to be a human being. To this day, I stay in touch with my friends of all backgrounds from the Caribbean and cherish the memories we had together and look forward to our reunions in the future. 

Favorite holiday or tradition?

My mom or dad's birthday. We always get together as a family and just enjoy each other's company by spending a weekend together eating, drinking, playing games, and exploring new places. 

Share an experience traveling to a different country and learning about their culture (through food, music, activities, etc)

Every country I have been to I have loved and gained a new appreciation for. Some of the top places for me have been Mexico, Italy, Argentina, Spain, and Colombia. I could speak endlessly about all of these places and many others, but the one thing I appreciate most about each is the deep history of their cuisine and how you can clearly see the intersectionality of many cultures and time periods regardless of where you go to. 

Jude Ocampo,  Sr. Sales Development Representative


What does AAPI Heritage month mean to you?

Intersectionality. Being Filipino-American, I've experienced both cultures growing up. I was born in the Philippines and moved to America when I was 4 years old. Even then, I remember growing up speaking Tagalog but quickly having to adapt to English as many of the educational institutions in my hometown in Tracy didn't accommodate my language. Despite this, I still preserved my language and culture: my parents continually spoke to me in Tagalog, regularly shared stories of their experiences growing up, and I was constantly exposed to Filipino media in our house. I grew to deeply appreciate the intersectionality of my culture in college when I took a Filipino-American history class and learned about the American / Spanish influences on my culture. From universities, to recipes, to language, my culture has a rich and varied nature that makes being Filipino so unique. 

Favorite memory growing up?

Growing up with my cousin Kimi, who was like a sister to me. I did not have many friends because I was still getting used to the culture in the U.S. Yet I found a best friend in her; and we would go on adventures, play on various playgrounds, eat the latest-and-greatest candies, and go to each others' house for sleepovers. 

Favorite holiday or tradition?

Christmas! Filipinos celebrate Christmas with enthusiasm, often making it a 3-day event: a small family gathering on Christmas eve, midnight mass, a bigger party on Christmas day with multiple families (meaning lots of gifts lol) that ends up going onto the next day. It’s delightful laughing and reminiscing with my uncles and aunts until we all pass out, and closing out the holiday by planning for next year. 

Share an experience traveling to a different country and learning about their culture (through food, music, activities, etc)

I went back to the Philippines in 2017 for the first time since I was born. It was a truly humbling experience to get to witness and appreciate the beauty of the islands, the landmarks, the cities, and the camaraderie among my people. It made me proud because even though it is an impoverished country, my family and distant relatives made us feel welcomed and showed us that even with what little they had, they still invested in their children's futures by prioritizing the importance of education. It was then that I realized being Filipino also means being resilient. 

Maria Lat, Sr. Sales Solutions Consultant


What does AAPI Heritage month mean to you?

To me, AAPI Heritage month is a time of celebration of the voices and the stories of those who have paved the way for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to be heard. In light of recent events and racist attacks on the AAPI community, it's made me realize the importance of being an Asian American and to celebrate the accomplishments, contributions, achievements, cultures, identities and stories of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since many AAPI individuals have been taught to assimilate, this month allows us to be extra proud of our community, our differences, our traditions, and all that makes us beautiful and unique.

This month has also made me want to learn more about all Asian cultures. As I’m having more conversations with other friends and colleagues in the Asian-American community, I’ve learned so much from their stories and challenges, and how those stories shaped them into the people they are today.

Favorite memory growing up?

My favorite memory growing up has to be all of our family parties! I have a big Filipino family, and every weekend felt like a celebration. Needless to say, there was never a dull moment growing up. Whether it was a birthday, an anniversary, a holiday, or really any reason to get together, I always felt surrounded by good food, and most importantly, my big Filipino family!

I also loved watching my grandma cook all the amazing Filipino food. She was always cooking, and would always make sure we were never hungry. Even if I already ate, she would make me a plate of her cooking. Food is her love language!

Favorite holiday or tradition?

Simbang Gabi (Filipino for "Night Mass") is my favorite Filipino tradition. It's a Filipino Christmas tradition where Filipinos around the world attend a series of nine masses at night on the nights leading up to Christmas. Most churches are decorated with colorful lights and special Filipino star lanterns (or parols). After mass, there's almost always a celebration with traditional Filipino foods, desserts, traditional dances, and other popular Filipino customs. It makes the holiday season extra special!

Stephanie Chou, Sr. Sales Development Representative


What does AAPI Heritage month mean to you?

We get a whole month to dedicate time and resources to learning more about our own heritage and all the wonderful AAPI traditions and cultures. It means that we have come really far in American history to have this month to celebrate our uniqueness. This is also a time for me to listen to others share their stories and to educate myself on our shared histories. And it’s a reminder that there is always more to learn.

Favorite memory growing up?

My favorite memory growing up is learning how to play mahjong with my grandparents. It was the same routine every evening: as soon as we finished dinner, my uncle cleared the table, my grandma grabbed the mahjong set, and my grandpa turned on the TV to listen to his Chinese soap operas while my dad and I set up the table. I watched for hours and would sit with my grandma on some days and sit with my grandpa on other days. The best part was that I finally got a seat at the table after I learned all the rules!

Favorite holiday or tradition?

My favorite holiday is the mid-autumn festival, also known as the mooncake festival. It falls on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month (full moon during the middle of autumn), usually around the end of Sept/early Oct. There are a couple reasons why this is my favorite. First, I love mooncakes. There are so many different flavors and textures of mooncakes. Every region makes their mooncakes differently. It's become so mainstream that bakeries in the US are making their own labels, such as Lady M. Second, the gift-giving aspect of it. I like giving mooncakes as much as I enjoy receiving them, it's a win-win. You can never have too many! I love sharing mooncakes with my friends and getting them to try it for the first time. Third, spending time with family. It's usually a huge gathering with lots of good food, music, and laughter. In parts of Asia, there are festivals with lanterns and lots of decorations. 

Thanks so much to all of our Jades; we love you and we wouldn't be Gem without you! Want to come celebrate with this incredible team? Gem is hiring; and we'd love to have you along for the ride.


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