The celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month represents another opportunity to highlight the importance of acting on our company’s core values of “Do the Right Thing, Champion People and Shape the Future.”
Sharing our stories and listening to those of others, contributes to the nurturing of the diverse and inclusive culture here at SDG&E. As we honor the differences that underscore each individual’s unique contributions, let’s encourage each other to seek opportunities to act as allies, to learn from and understand one another.
Join us in our AAPI Heritage Month Q&A with Cory Mitsui, our Electric Distribution Operations Manager, and Pauline Ma, our Community Relations Manager, as they share personal stories of the role their heritage plays in their lives.
Can you share a bit about yourself and your cultural history?
I’m a 4th generation Japanese American (or Yonsei) whose great-grandparents immigrated to the U.S. just after the turn of the 20th century. Because of my long family history in the U.S., there are only a few norms and values left from my Japanese ancestry and my identity is more focused on being Japanese American.
I’m especially proud of the hardships my family overcame by turning negative experiences into positive ones. For example, my grandparents were incarcerated during World War II during their early 20s because of their Japanese ancestry. While incarcerated, my grandfather leveraged his passion for baseball and helped form a prison camp baseball team. In doing so, he created a little bit of joy for himself out of a terrible situation and was later recognized as part of an exhibit in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I identify as a proud, first-generation Chinese American. My dad’s family is from China and my mom’s is from Hong Kong. Growing up, I was not very in tune with my cultural history since my immigrant parents wanted us to embrace the “American” way so they could give us a better life than what they had. My dad grew up in a rural part of China in a dirt-floor “home” smaller than a garage. He doesn’t even know his own birthday because the area he grew up in was so remote and impoverished that it was common for women to give birth at home without medical care or a birth certificate. Fun fact: the “birthday” he lists on legal documents is actually the day he immigrated to America! My mom also experienced poverty as a child and needed to be sent to live in a convent at the age of 13 after her father passed away since her mother could not care for six children by herself.
Admittedly, I was fine with my parents’ method of living the “American” way since I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and wanted to blend in with the rest of my peers. I didn’t even like saying my last name, Ma, because of how short and different it was (I now have it tattooed on me)! As I got older, I learned to find pride in my Chinese heritage, especially after going to Hong Kong for the first time to meet my relatives. Even though we were raised oceans apart, there were so many commonalities and shared values. I felt as if I had known them my whole life. I’ve learned so much about my culture since then and I am also trying to learn and speak Cantonese as often as I can. Even though I didn’t notice it as a kid, I now see how Chinese culture has shaped the person that I am today.
In your opinion, what value does diversity - of all types - bring to organizations?
Diversity brings a multitude of strengths, lived experiences, and values that can be utilized to meet the needs of an organization. If we limit our diversity in any way, we’re capping our potential and isolating ourselves from the communities we serve. It’s important to celebrate the things that make us unique so that everyone feels safe to bring their true authentic selves to work every day! I truly appreciate the opportunity to share the things that make me unique in this AAPI spotlight.
To me, one of the most valuable aspects of diversity is perspective. Having different perspectives together in a room is one thing but having the ability to broaden your own perspectives whenever you learn about others’ experiences is what I find most valuable. I think diversity and perspective lead to more empathy and better-informed decision-making. Why limit your scope when there is a whole world outside of you?
I feel like celebrating diversity creates positive momentum for folks to bring their whole selves to work, and not just conform to the cookie-cutter model. Growing up I felt as if I needed to hide my heritage in a predominantly white neighborhood, but I’ve learned from that mistake and now I wear my culture (and my last name) with pride.
Do you have any other final thoughts you would like to share with us?
I’d like to share that my family history has made a huge impact on the person I am today. I feel grateful to have grown up with certain opportunities that resulted from the sacrifices my ancestors, grandparents, and parents made. These lessons influenced my personal drive and motivation, allowing me to focus on my career ambitions, get an education, and ultimately obtain a degree in engineering.
I also appreciate how my grandparents stressed the importance of family and community in terms of supporting each other in times of need. These lessons led me to join the local chapter of San Diego’s Japanese Citizens League, which is the oldest Asian American civil rights organization in the country. Through this organization, I stay connected to the Asian American community and help ensure that our society doesn’t repeat the injustices of the past.
Yes, to me this month means celebrating the traditions of people who identify as AAPI descent. I really like how heritage is included in Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month because growing up I had very mixed feelings about China’s politics and history. It wasn’t until I met my relatives for the first time about six years ago that I realized I needed to separate my views on Chinese culture from my Americanized views of China as a country.
Geopolitics aside, this month is about celebrating the people who have passed down these remarkable values and traditions that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders share today. I am always looking for ways to highlight the AAPI culture that I’ve learned to become so proud of – whether that be in employee forums like this, serving on the Asian Business Association board of directors, or showing off the Convoy District (which is one of the largest Pan-Asian business districts in the country) to friends/family visiting from out of town.