by Soo Hong
CHIEF PEOPLE OFFICER
COMMUNITY · May 25th, 2021
At NVA, we believe that engaging and amplifying different voices encourages us all to learn and thrive. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we asked teammates from around our community to share their personal journeys. NVA Chief People Officer Soo Hong joined NVA in 2019.
What’s your favorite part about working at NVA?
The people. I know that sounds like an incredibly obvious answer for a Chief People Officer, but there is no organization or community in which I’ve so consistently felt the care, inspiration, and genuine call to meaning and purpose as I have at NVA. Whether it’s one of our Technology Service team members during COVID completing essential work for a site conversion or Nissan Moshapour, our hospital leader at MASH, who recently helped refer me to an oncologist for our 14-year-old cat, the care, hard work, and support of each other in our community sometimes takes my breath away.
What’s your family history/origin, and how is being Asian part of your identity?
I was born in Korea, but my father was in the U.S. Army (82ndAirborne) when I was born. During the Vietnam War, he studied in Connecticut in the late 1960s and had an opportunity to enlist in exchange for citizenship. He was the son of a farmer, so my mom and I lived with his parents in Seoul and on their nearby family farm when he was stationed at Fort Bragg. When I was 4, my mom, dad, and I moved to the U.S. together for the first time, but we moved back and forth to Korea, like many of my Army brat friends, until my father retired from the military when I was in middle school. We moved about 12 times before I was 10 years old, but every summer, I got to spend time with my grandparents on their farm. My favorite thing was feeding the chickens and the cow. Because we moved so much, I wasn’t allowed to have a dog, but I had a stuffed dog Mochi that went with me everywhere – and who our now family dog Jeter resembles.
Being Asian, and specifically Asian American is the root of where I try to draw compassion and empathy. Now in hindsight, most of my experience is wonderful – being bilingual, having delicious Korean food every night for dinner. But there were certainly difficult parts, like having almost every one of my teachers mispronounce my name. At age 6, having to translate for my mom when she tried to make a return at Sears and understanding the not so nice things the sales associate was saying about her, even though my mother could not. Being asked by strangers where I’m from or being told that I speak English so well, even though I had learned to speak English and Korean simultaneously as I learned to talk. I’ve been called racial slurs or told to go back to my country regularly during my life, but I don’t really know many Asian Americans my age (or any age) who at some point in their lived experience, have not been called a racial slur – that, too, is part of being Asian American.
And for me, being Asian American also meant that at times in my life, I felt like I was an ‘other’ in my American community yet also an ‘other’ in my Korean community, too. I am an in-between. But I think that’s exactly why I’ve found my calling in all things people – because we’re all human and all just trying to be our best selves, whatever community or history that forms us.
What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
The month for me is a time to celebrate, honor, and learn the history and impact that Asian Americans have had on our country. There are 22 million Asian Americans in the U.S., and is expected to triple in the next 50 years. As we celebrate the different histories and cultures of AAPI, this AAPI umbrella is vast, covering but not limited to China, Guam, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, or the Philippines. Asian-Americans are one of the fastest-growing racial or ethnic groups in the U.S., and yet, I don’t recall learning anything in my history classes about the Asian American experience. That Filipinos arrived in Morro Bay in California from Manila in 1587; the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 prohibited virtually all immigration from China and was the first immigration law to do so based on race or national origin. It really wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 eliminated racial/nationality-based discrimination in immigration quotas that my parents and a generation of Asians came to this country to build our lives, become your family, friends and neighbors.
AAPI Heritage Month is a time when I can learn more about an important part of our community – it just happens that it is my own heritage. It’s a time for learning. And I’m still learning.
Why is it important for the larger NVA community to celebrate this month or learn about the AAPI experience?
Honestly, I love celebrations of any sort. I think celebrating the diverse affinities within our community – on our teams, at NVA, in our local communities, and in our country – makes us truly better together. Like our bodies are made up of a miraculous set of organs, muscles, bones working in concert, the different backgrounds that make us who we are is a beautiful miracle to me.
I’m grateful personally for the larger NVA community learning about the AAPI experience because we are a part of this community. As we’ve learned this last year, the connection we have to each other as people is precious…and fleeting. And like many others this past year, our AAPI team members have needed love, support, and understanding. As hate crimes increase against AAPI in the US, it’s been distressing to see the elderly in our AAPI community targeted. It’s scary to think about my father possibly being targeted and also frustrating because he served our country. One that he loves dearly.
But it’s truly been wonderful to see the support from our NVA colleagues as allies. It’s demonstrated to me certainly that hate has no place here.
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