Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May brings Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, a time to celebrate cultures from the Asian continent—including East, Southeast and South Asia—and the Pacific Islands of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

As we honor the accomplishments of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, we also acknowledge that the community has faced a rise in anti-Asian bias and violence over the past few years, making the observance of AAPI Heritage Month even more important. 

At Unum, we share a collective responsibility to create a sense of belonging and inclusion so that each of us can be our authentic selves. This diversity of thought is crucial to our thriving as individuals and it helps us better serve our customers, communities – and each other. 

To highlight AAPI Heritage Month, we spoke with four colleagues to learn about their heritage, culture, and how they show up to work as their authentic selves. 

 

Mark Chavez | Director IDI Benefit Operations

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?  

For me AAPI month is a great way for Americans with Asian and Pacific Islander ethnicity to celebrate and say we are a part of this country. We helped in the building of this nation, and we add value.  Whether it is the Chinese immigrants who helped build the railroads, people like my father who joined the US Navy serving honorably for many years, or any of the AAPI peoples in the US - collectively we all are an integral part of the US that we live in today.  I love that our country recognizes our cultures and contributions during AAPI month.  

Also, I must admit that for many years I didn’t even know there was such a thing as AAPI month.  The first time I heard of it was because Unum wanted to foster a sense of belonging for its employees.  Unum opened my eyes and made me aware that AAPI month exists.  I will always be grateful and associate AAPI month with Unum. 

Recognizing the cultures that make up the AAPI community, how has your heritage shaped who you are today?

Growing up, my family ate foods that most people in my neighborhood had never heard of – it was different but still delicious.  We used to go to Filipino American parties where heavily accented English or Tagalog was spoken and if we didn’t understand each other that well we would find other ways to communicate.  My family and my culture helped me appreciate the differences, but they also helped me appreciate the similarities.  I am confident in who I am because I have an appreciation of where I come from.   

How do you show up as your authentic self in the workplace? 

My father used to say just because I speak with an accent doesn’t mean I think with one.  To me, that means I need to appreciate that on the surface, people may seem different, but inside we are all just people – each one of us deserving respect.  I try to make sure people I work with and the customers we serve are always appreciated as individuals, regardless of where they come from or what they may look and sound like.

“My appreciation for differences comes from my family and my culture, but they also helped me understand the similarities. I am confident in who I am because I honor where I come from.”

Mark Chavez | Director IDI Benefit Operations

 

Synna Coito | Client Experience Rep I

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?  

Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in May to recognize and celebrate the contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the history, culture, and achievements of the United States. This month is an opportunity to raise awareness and promote a greater understanding of the diversity of Asian and Pacific Islander cultures.

Recognizing the cultures that make up the AAPI community, how has your heritage shaped who you are today?

Heritage plays a significant role in shaping my identity and how I view the world. For my family, our cultural background, values, and traditions influence our perspectives and experiences. Growing up in Hawaii, being the melting pot that it is, allowed me to be around many different cultures and ethnicities.  Learning and absorbing multiple values have stayed with me throughout the years and allowed me to instill this in my traditions with my child. I still follow certain customs.  For instance, “No shoes in the house” is a common practice in Hawaii.  It shows respect for a person’s home or “Hale.”  I enjoy wearing a flower in my ear to represent my Hawaiian roots.  Did you know that the side you wear it on shows if you are single or in a relationship.  Left is in a relationship, right is single. Understanding and celebrating my heritage has helped to strengthen my sense of self and provide a source of pride and belonging.  This month allows us to have open conversations about tough topics such as prejudices and injustices and guides us to an inclusive future.

How do you show up as your authentic self in the workplace? 

I have always shown my authentic self in the workplace, I feel it is important to embrace your unique qualities and experiences. This involves sharing my perspectives and ideas, being honest about my strengths and weaknesses, and advocating for my needs and values. I love to share my culture, even if it’s just using familiar Hawaiian words such as “Aloha” & “Mahalo” in my emails or in passing conversations.  It's also essential for me to communicate effectively and respectfully with colleagues, and to seek out opportunities to learn from and collaborate with others. Building strong relationships, based on trust and mutual respect, has always helped me to feel more comfortable being myself and contribute to a positive and fun work environment.  

"Understanding and celebrating my heritage has helped to strengthen my sense of self and provide a source of pride and belonging.  This month allows us to speak openly about tough topics such as prejudices and injustices and guides us to an inclusive future."

Synna Coito | Client Experience Rep I



John Loata | Quote Specialist

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month is a time to celebrate those before us who have endured and overcome hardships to bring us to where we are now. With violence and hostility ever increasing towards the Asian American community since the pandemic, it is crucial to advance forward with our united voices and strength to stand up against racial discrimination and push for equal opportunity rights. Recognizing the cultures that make up the AAPI community, how has your heritage shaped who you are today?

My heritage has shaped the way I honor my ancestors and raise my children. By expressing myself through the Arts, I can transform the anxiety to clarity and awareness of my culture to the public. With my daily training in the Martial Arts of Tai Chi and the practice of Nichiren Buddhism, I become confident in my everyday decision making and actions taken. By developing my passion and open mindedness towards the community, I can express my gratitude and contribute to its inclusivity. By joining conversations with different Employee Networks, I expanded my openness to experiences shared of challenges faced by co-workers from their lives or children’s lives. It has helped me in holding conversations with my children about issues they have experienced or are trying to help their close friends with.

How do you show up as your authentic self in the workplace? 
I show up as a creative and critical thinker so that I may apply my efforts on the tasks at hand without losing focus. From daily quoting opportunities to engaging in the Employee Network meetings, I challenge myself to find opportunities that can expand my skills and in turn increase my productivity in teamwork. Each day has its goals to be met and no matter how small the task, it is still a step forward. By reaching out to help other teammates with their workload, I have become more knowledgeable in my role and feel appreciated.

"By joining conversations with different Employee Networks and the communities they represent, I expanded my openness to experiences shared of challenges faced by co-workers from their lives or children’s lives."

John Loata | Quote Specialist

 

Meera Puthiyadath – Manager, IT Delivery, US

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

As an immigrant from India who immigrated 15 years ago, chasing an American dream, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month holds a deep significance for me. For me, this month is to remember many immigrants who contributed and are currently contributing to American society. This month is to celebrate AAPI immigrants’ success who have made and are currently making history as leaders, artists, and other significant contributors. 

As an immigrant, I have faced my share of challenges, including navigating a new culture, language barriers, and overcoming stereotypes. I carry the richness of my Indian heritage, with its traditions, customs, and values, while also embracing the opportunities and challenges of living in America. We have a rich history of cultural heritage, cuisine, and traditions that add to the diversity and vibrancy of America.

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a meaningful time for me to celebrate my cultural heritage, honor the struggles and achievements of my community, promote awareness and inclusivity, combat discrimination and racism and advocate for equality and justice for all. 

Recognizing the cultures that make up the AAPI community, how has your heritage shaped who you are today?

My Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage has played a profound role in shaping who I am today. First and foremost, my AAPI heritage has instilled in me a deep appreciation for family and community. In many Asian cultures, family is regarded as the cornerstone of society. This has shaped my outlook on the importance of maintaining close family ties and influenced my understanding of collective responsibility and the importance of giving back to my community.

The customs, traditions, and celebrations of my Asian heritage have enriched my life and have given me a unique perspective on the world. From festivals and ceremonies to music, dance, and cuisine, my AAPI heritage has contributed to my sense of identity and has given me a diverse and inclusive worldview. Being a classical dancer myself, I encourage the student community to learn the classical dance form which help students to understand the culture and tradition of India. 

I have started a learning center in the US which helps kids learn their mother tongue so that they can communicate to their non-English speaking grandparents back in India. This school helps a new generation learn and adopt both cultures and understand the goodness of both American and Indian cultures. 

Furthermore, my AAPI heritage has influenced my work ethic and resilience. Asian cultures often place a strong emphasis on hard work, perseverance, and academic achievement. These values have been instilled in me from a young age and have shaped my approach to education, career, and personal growth. They have also provided me with the resilience to overcome challenges and persevere in the face of adversity. 

My AAPI heritage also gives emphasis on service to the community and helping the people who need it. While serving as the vice president of an Indian cultural association, I lead my team to make sure our commitment to help society was our priority.

How do you show up as your authentic self in the workplace? 

As an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) woman, showing up as my authentic self in the workplace is important to me. Here are some ways I strive to do so:

  1. Embracing my cultural identity
  2. Being true to my voice and opinions
  3. Building genuine relationships
  4. Advocating for inclusivity and diversity
  5. Being my authentic self
In effect, showing up as my authentic self in the workplace involves embracing my cultural identity, expressing my voice and opinions, building genuine relationships, advocating for inclusivity and diversity, and balancing self-care with work-life integration. It is about being true to who I am, valuing my uniqueness, and contributing my authentic perspective to create a positive and inclusive work environment.

"Showing up as my authentic self in the workplace involves embracing my cultural identity, expressing my voice and opinions, building genuine relationships, advocating for inclusivity and diversity, and balancing self-care with work-life integration."

Meera Puthiyadath | Manager, IT Delivery, US


About Unum Group

Unum (NYSE: UNM), an international provider of workplace benefits and services, has been helping workers and their families for 175 years. Through its Unum and Colonial Life brands, the company offers disability, life, accident, critical illness, dental, vision and stop-loss insurance; leave and absence management support and behavioral health services. In 2022, Unum reported revenues of $12.0 billion and paid $7.9 billion in benefits. The Fortune 500 company is one of the 2023 World’s Most Ethical Companies, recognized by Ethisphere®.  

 

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