Editor’s Note: May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. The month celebrates all Asians and Pacific Islanders (think the island chains of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia) and became law in 1992. As with many months celebrating the ethnic heritage that creates the United States, our country’s history with Asian and Pacific Islander Americans is complex. We encourage you to learn more about the fastest growing US demographic.
At RPG, our core cultural building blocks are authenticity, belonging and compassion. But, without a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, these are just words. Our friends at The Diversity Movement remind us, “when companies downplay demographic differences, they actually increase underrepresented employees’ perception of bias from white colleagues and reduce engagement at work.”
As part of recognizing and celebrating Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (APAHM), we celebrate Racer Joyce Cho, and all that the month of observation means to her.
What motivates you?
This is a multi-layered question that would require some deep unfolding but, for the sake of digestibility, I will simply say that growth motivates me. The word growth is just vague enough for me to create a personalized meaning that embodies the way I choose to lead my life.
Growth to me is being 1% better with everything you have and can do. This may seem like a low expectation, but I believe life is too short to fix yourself to the often unrealistic standards set by culture and other outside pressures. Being only 1% better motivates me for all things in life, because we as humans have to take things moment-by-moment, hour-by-hour, day-by-day. There is no rewind, fast-forward, or pause.
My 1% better today was listening to a TED talk in the morning, sitting for 2 minutes to drink my coffee, putting on my Halloween socks, and writing affirmations to myself. These little things motivated me to then go to work with a positive mindset and prepare myself for a big change coming in my life. The little things are building blocks to support the heavier things in life. I find no shame in this seemingly slow growth, it brings me peace while pushing me realistically to improve for the Joyce on the other end of the 1%.
Who has served as an inspiration in your life?
My mom has served as the biggest inspiration in my life. Anyone in the world would be lucky to meet Inseon Song, but I have the honor to say that she is my mom. My mom is the coolest lady in the whole wide world. She is the sole breadwinner, an amazing cook, hilariously funny, doesn’t let anyone downplay her worth, feminine, confident, speaks three languages fluently, and shows her love in a million different ways.
My mom taught me that it is good to be overly confident: that only you can represent you. She taught me that strength and femininity go hand-in-hand. That there is strength in being kind, loving, understanding, and patient. And to never let anyone walk or talk over you. My mom goes into every room knowing who she is and no one in the world can take that away from her.
What book do you think everyone should read?
My favorite book is The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. It is about a pair of twins who grow up in an African American community that values light skin— and intentionally lightens their skin. The twins, being of very fair complexion, can make a choice to live as white or Black. The story follows these twins and the complexity of family, being a minority, and the choices that follow you. Brit Bennett is an amazing author who includes non-traditional characters, romances, and family styles. Her character inclusion never feels performative and showcases underrepresented groups beautifully. I highly recommend reading this book, I have a copy if anyone wants!
What does Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month mean to you?
Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage Month to me means recognition and pride. I am a Korean American who loves soft tofu stew as much as I love chicken wings. I am someone who connects with my Korean culture heavily but strays from the Korean conservative mindset. I am a blend of the three different cultures that come from being a first-generation immigrant in America. This pride stems from the joy and history in my culture, but also from the adversities I have faced.
All my life, I have been told in disguised ways to be ashamed of my background. Whether it be from friends teasing me about my “yellow skin,” the funny looks when I ate kimbap at lunchtime, the constant Where are you from? questions, the even worse Are you Chinese or Asian? question, the random spurts of people speaking multiple Asian languages at me, the eye pulls to make their eyes slanted, and so much more. More recently, the harassment and beatings of Asian people during the pandemic stemming from the racist, inaccurate view of a virus implemented by hateful politicians. That fact someone can look at me and only see our differences is terrifying and infuriating, and the reality that some use it as reasoning to outcast, harass or kill is deeply hurting and confusing.
Despite all the hardship, I would never hide who I am. Everything that has ever happened to me makes up who I am now, and I can only be grateful for that. I am the daughter of two amazing strong Koreans, I am a friend to many of different cultures, I am kind to most, but I am not above anger for some. I am proud of being Asian-American, but more than anything I am proud of who I am. Asian/Pacific Islander American Heritage month serves as reminder for me to exude blinding pride while recognizing the hurt and struggle my people and I have faced.
I am Joyce Cho. I am 조은조. I am not just my skin color. I am not just Korean. I am not just American. I am exactly who I am supposed to be — I am complex, I am worthy, and I am proud.