Staff Stories: Introducing BDT's newest employee resource group, AAPI Alliance

By: Julian Xie, Senior Health Innovation and Evaluation Manager, Jessy Dickinson, Benefits Outreach Specialist, and Joon Daniele Kim, Benefits Outreach Specialist

In honor of AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Heritage Month, we would like to say hello from BDT’s newest employee resource group (ERG), AAPI Alliance, and share some of the stories from our members to celebrate the diversity of BDT’s staff.

AAPI employees at BDT were growing their community long before AAPI Alliance was established. AAPI employees and allies at BDT began meeting regularly in the wake of hate crimes targeting Asian people during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 Atlanta spa shooting. Jaime Renman (Healthcare Strategy Coordinator), Emily Plagman (former Benefits Outreach Specialist and Implementation Associate), and Minnie Nguyen (former Benefits Outreach Specialist) grew these meetings into ongoing open space gatherings.

Our group began discussions about how to become a permanent entity to support AAPI employees at BDT, leading to the formal creation of AAPI Alliance as an ERG this past January, just in time for Lunar New Year. 

AAPI Alliance Facilitators: Julian Xie, Jessy Dickinson, Joon Daniele Kim

Through a series of collaborative brainstorm meetings, we came up with our name, logo, and this mission statement: “The purpose of AAPI Alliance is to support AAPI employees within BDT by providing community and professional development. As a group, we strive to build a sense of togetherness among people with shared heritage and experiences by raising cultural awareness about the AAPI diaspora. We will work to ensure consideration of how to appropriately serve and collaborate with Asian clients and partner organizations. We do events, workshops, mentorship programs, and work alongside other BDT ERGs and allies to further intersectional diversity, equity, and inclusion. We hope to build awareness and competency of AAPI culture as it intersects with our work and professional identity at BDT.” 

Besides hosting member-focused and open space meetings, AAPI Alliance:

  • Celebrates and observes many Asian holidays
  • Promotes AAPI breakthroughs in industries like politics and media
  • Showcases AAPI Heritage Month in May

One of the biggest traditions that AAPI Alliance has established so far is sharing “My AAPI Story,” or stories from AAPI employees about their experiences and reflections on being Asian and Pacific Islander. These AAPI stories are shared throughout the month of May among the BDT community. These stories give voice to the AAPI experience, bring awareness to our presence at BDT, and celebrate our diversity.

We’re excited to share our stories to get to know each other better, and to uphold and continuously improve BDT’s culture of understanding and humility. Our aim is to continue building an environment where all employees feel welcome and ensure we’re serving our clients with dignity and respect – including when it comes to serving the AAPI community and ensuring that diversity, equity, and inclusion reaches all corners of BDT.

Juliette Hye-Young Cho, Senior Director of Philanthropy, Korean American

"Watching my kids grow, I now realize that what I saw as my 'Korean culture,' is actually a beautiful, braided legacy that my sons and I are woven into, instead of something to learn or even reject." - Juliette Hye-Young Cho, Senior Director of Philanthropy

There is a Korean expression that roughly translates to “even dragons rise from small streams.” 

I grew up learning Korean phrases like this from my paternal grandparents, who were very involved in my childhood. My grandfather immigrated to the United States in early 1980 as an official translator for the U.S. Army. He was the first in his family to attend and graduate middle school, high school and even college. He took his middle school exit exam in a UNICEF sponsored tent, after having lost both parents in the Korean War. He taught himself English and used that skill to join the U.S. Army as a civilian translator and rose to a point where he brought his family, newly including my mom, to Washington D.C.

I was born a few years after they came stateside. I had a blessed childhood, paid for by the many sacrifices and investments my parents made as they navigated the valleys and peaks of owning small businesses and operating in a new culture and language in their 30s. Like so many, I still experienced the identity crises that many first-generation immigrants go through.

My childhood was split between Northern Virginia and Dallas. In Dallas, I was the only person of color in my elementary school — so much so that I thought I was Caucasian until I was 5 years old. I spent most of my childhood denying my Korean culture and heritage because it was inconvenient to be different — until we moved back to Northern Virginia when I was a teenager. This launched a cultural reawakening when I learned to speak Korean for the first time, embraced Korean food — and even traveled abroad to Seoul, South Korea for the summer between high school and college.

Now, as a mother to two beautiful Korean-American little boys (Henry, age 3 and Oliver, age 8 months), I find myself actively seeking more opportunities to learn — and pass on — elements of our culture. Watching my kids grow, I now realize that what I saw as my “Korean culture,” is actually a beautiful, braided legacy that my sons and I are woven into, instead of something to learn or even reject. Put another way, our culture is actually the river from which I rose — and my little dragons will rise. My husband and I strive to live out this well-seeded epiphany through actively speaking Korean around our boys and embracing our celebration of holidays and cultural anniversaries.

I proudly celebrate AAPI month with all of you — and am truly honored to be in the presence of and in partnership with so many fellow mighty dragons from your own beautiful and deep streams.

Saharnaz Muniri, Benefits Outreach Specialist, Central Asian / Afghanistan

"After joining [AAPI Alliance], I'm feeling happy that I can share my experiences, ideas, and culture as an Asian." - Saharanaz Muniri, Benefits Outreach Specialist

I am grateful to be a part of AAPI Alliance. I did not know we have such an amazing group that works for Asian cultural awareness and heritage. So after joining, I am feeling happy that I can share my experiences, ideas and culture as being Asian. We as Afghans are famous for our culture, hospitality, clothes, and food. This is what I am most proud of, and we are following our own culture here in the U.S. too.

I want to share my immigration story, which is a bit sad, but we made it. I am from Afghanistan. I was born and grew up there with a joint family of more than 25 people, including my parents, siblings, uncles, and cousins. We had a happy and great life until August 2021, when the Taliban took over our country. Because my father was working with the U.S. Embassy there, they wanted to kill him and all my family. So four members of my family and I had to leave our own land — just to save our lives. The U.S. Army helped us to move to Qatar; we couldn’t take anything with us like clothes, shoes, food, etc. After staying nine days in Qatar in a desert tent with thousands of immigrants — with extremely hot weather, no food, hot water, and no place to sleep — we traveled to the United States, to a military camp in New Jersey in September 2021. Then we stayed for a couple of months there in tents with other immigrants, but at least there we had enough water and food. The journey of traveling from Afghanistan to where I live now was a nightmare. After the camp, we moved to Philadelphia, and now I am living here together with my family thanks to the support of the Nationalities Service Center and especially Julie Shaw who helped support me step by step in getting this job at BDT.

I joined BDT on April 18, 2022, and am working as a Benefits Outreach Specialist. I learned a lot from BDT because this is my first ever job, and I am the only one in my family who works and can speak English. Thank you for having me in this group.

Cassian Brigette Kina Ki`i Kimhan Powell, Senior Director of Policy, Pacific Islander / Hawaii

"An interesting part of my journey has been finding my identity when there is so much to draw upon. Being Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, and many other ethnicities, I had the opportunity to learn about many traditions, foods, languages, methods of celebration, and religion." Ki`i Kimhan Powell, Senior Policy Director

In my life, I have had the pleasure of experiencing many different cultures. Part of that comes from an ethnically diverse family and part of that was living in Hawai`i, which is rich in diversity.

An interesting part of my journey has been finding my identity when there is so much to draw upon. Being Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Native Hawaiian, and many other ethnicities, I had the opportunity to learn about many traditions, foods, languages, methods of celebration, and religion.

It is also interesting to me that part of the way we see ourselves is how the world views us (for good and for bad). I am one of three daughters who all look different. As adults we have each come to identify our race and ethnicity different from one another in the way we talk about ourselves, complete doctor forms, or register for school. This made me realize that how we define ourselves is influenced by our biology, but some of it is our experiences.

I feel lucky to have such a rich cultural background as it has increased my awareness of the beauty of differences but reinforced that despite our differing heritage humans have much in common.

Siddhanth Rameshchander, Logistics Analyst, South Asian / Indian-American

"As a South Asian trying to find my way in America, I'm trying to stay connected to my roots and heritage from India. I'm happy to have found the AAPI community who understands the struggle of being at home." - Siddhanth Rameshchander, Logistics Analytics

I moved to the United States to pursue my master’s degree at New York University in 2015. I was born and raised in India and, after spending 22 years of my life living there, it wasn't easy to start a new life here in the US. It was difficult at times to adjust in a new country when I didn’t have many friends or family members around to talk to. However, I did have the support of my sister initially, as she had moved to the US after her marriage few years ago. I was grateful to have her around in the beginning as I settled in. I quickly realized the American education system was rigorous and demanding, as all the international students were required to maintain a GPA of 3.4 or higher to stay enrolled in school. After two amazing years, I graduated from my master’s degree and started my career working in corporate America. I was the first person in my family to earn a master’s degree.

As a recent graduate being employed for the first time, it was a steep learning curve I had to quickly overcome to gain my team’s trust. I made numerous mistakes early on and received critical feedback from my boss that shaped my work ethic to survive in the US workforce. I enjoyed the challenges at work and was soon able to prove my reliability to my colleagues. However, when the time came to sponsor my work visa, they always had an excuse and eventually refused to go ahead with the process. I continued giving my best, despite the situation. But deep down, I knew that my days in the US were numbered if I couldn’t find a way to attain a valid work visa authorization. I wanted to stay longer to enjoy the growth opportunities and amazing resources corporate America had to offer. But as the end date of my student visa work authorization approached, I started getting anxious about the future.

I joined BDT in June 2019 with the hopes of getting my work visa sponsored by the company, but I stayed for the people and culture this company had to offer. As someone on a temporary visa trying to make my way and establish a career in the US, I felt welcomed and valued for what I brought to the table. BDT offered tremendous learning opportunities and flexibility for me to earn my second master's degree in data analytics last year.

Though I had made the decision to stay in the US, I felt I was losing connection to my roots and culture the longer I stayed away from home. Being in a foreign country on a visa makes it difficult to travel and visit my family whenever I miss them. It comes with a sense of loneliness and guilt of not being able to be physically close to my parents whenever they need me.

After a strenuous immigration journey, I finally received the work visa approval last year, based on which I was able to travel to India and meet with my family and relatives in 2022. This trip was long overdue, as the last time I visited India was in 2016. It was extra special, as I got to meet my grandma along with all my aunts and cousins there. I got to travel to a lot of places throughout India, meet my old friends from college, attend my friend’s wedding, and eat a lot of good food. This trip was filled with nostalgia and doing all the things that I missed for so long.

As a South Asian trying to find my way in America, I’m trying to stay connected to my roots and heritage from India. I’m happy to have found the AAPI community who understands the struggle of being at home away from home. Happy AAPI month!