Lift Every Voice – Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month

Every May, the U.S. observes Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to celebrate and share the varied and vibrant histories and cultures of Asian/Pacific Americans and honor the contributions they have made to American society. As a global infrastructure firm, we feel it is important to extend our celebration of Asian and Pacific Islander communities to those outside of the U.S. as well.

1. In your opinion, which Asian/Pacific American has made the most significant contribution to the advancement of the arts, sciences, or social justice and equality in the United States or Canada?

TrucAnh Elliott, Senior Project Engineer

I recently read about an Asian American named Dr. Võ Đình Tun. Originally from Vietnam, he studied engineering in Europe and then immigrated to the United States in 1975. As a published biomedical engineering professor at Duke University, he patented many new technologies to detect cancer earlier than before and developed new methods to treat the cancer differently from any other method that had been discovered before. As an Asian American, my family and I also immigrated from Vietnam in 1975 (the same year he did), so I really appreciate the accomplishments from my fellow immigrants who came over at the same time. He used his overseas education, combined it with the resources that he had here in the United States, and was able to invent new ways to look at a problem that is faced worldwide.

Julie Lee, Corporate Counsel

I am a lawyer for Gannett Fleming, and an individual who comes to mind is Fred Korematsu. In 1941 during World War II, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. In response to that, in 1942, President Roosevelt enacted an executive order permitting the internment of over 100,000 Japanese-American citizens to internment camps, primarily in the western Pacific U.S. Fred Korematsu, an American citizen at the age of 23, did not abide by that internment order, left his hometown, and was later on found and convicted of a felony based upon a violation of that order. Mister Korematsu, instead of just agreeing to serve out his time, decided to try to fight what he thought was – and what he rightfully thought was – an injustice and a violation of his civil liberties to the Supreme Court in 1944. In a decision 6-3, the Supreme Court actually upheld his conviction. Mr. Korematsu ended up leaving the internment camp but used that experience to continue to promote and fight for social and racial justice. It’s actually not only until 1983 when his specific conviction was overturned after research and investigation that there had been no specific basis for mass incarceration of a specific race and no finding of treasonous activity among the Japanese-American population. So, while Mr. Korematsu’s conviction was overturned specifically, there has been no instance to date where the Supreme Court has had the chance to specifically weigh in on the overturning of the Korematsu decision itself, so it still stands.

We, as a society, have come some way from that decision and that type of government response of mass racial discrimination; however, it’s something that has been brought up more recently in the Muslim travel ban, so we still have a way to go. Mr. Korematsu sticks out in my mind as someone who has significantly contributed to not only the AAPI community but to the American community as a whole.

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Strategist

I think Kamala Harris is a great example of an Asian American who is currently making significant contributions to equality in the United States. By being elected the first Asian American, Black, and female vice president in our history, she is helping to open doors for other minority communities to seek office and create change for future generations.

William Roman, Chief Geologist

I admire Gordon Hirabayashi, who I learned about during a visit to the Gordon Hirabayashi Campground in the Coronado National Forest in southeastern Arizona in 2017. Hirabayashi was a Japanese American who challenged the constitutionality of the internment of Japanese Americans based on race or ancestry during World War II. In 1942, Hirabayashi was a senior at the University of Washington, and rather than reporting for relocation, he turned himself in to the FBI. He was convicted of curfew violation and sentenced to serve 90 days of hard labor at the Federal Honor Camp in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The government would not transport him or even provide train fare for his trip from Washington to southeastern Arizona, so Hirabayashi hitchhiked to the prison camp.

In 1987, Hirabayashi’s case was overturned because evidence arose that the Solicitor General’s office had cited examples of Japanese-American sabotage in its arguments, despite having researched and debunked all the rumored incidents. A federal commission determined that the internment had been motivated by racial prejudice and wartime hysteria. In 1988, the Civil Liberties Act was signed by President Ronald Reagan, which acknowledged the injustice and apologized for the internment. In 1999, the Coronado National Forest renamed the prison camp site in honor of Gordon Hirabayashi and the other resisters of conscience who were imprisoned there. In May 2012, President Obama posthumously awarded Gordon Hirabayashi the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

2. Why do you feel it is important for Gannett Fleming to acknowledge and promote cultural differences, and how have you seen Gannett Fleming support this position?

TrucAnh Elliott, Senior Project Engineer

Well, the world is a big, lovely place full of many different, wonderful experiences, and I think everyone should experience all of these different cultures and expand their knowledge to embrace all the differences that we have instead of trying to hide them. And I think it helps us to see beyond what we see every day and what’s in front of our noses, and in turn, it helps us to think on a much wider scale. Gannett Fleming supports this by promoting this very program I’m participating in right now, and it’s a wonderful thing.

Julie Lee, Corporate Counsel

I think it’s important to understand that the AAPI community is not monolithic. There is a rich difference in the culture, the experience, the background, the socio-economic status of our community, much like the greater community as a whole. Treating the AAPI community essentially as general, or as one, has done it a disservice, and I think it has created more ease in continuing to perpetuate and promote the invisibility of our culture. I think it’s important to not only acknowledge but celebrate our cultural differences in the AAPI community because it really does fight against erasure of our community.

It’s important for companies like Gannett Fleming to acknowledge and celebrate these types of differences as well. We’re in the business of serving the public. We provide public spaces. We are in the business of providing better and more accessible public transportation. This is the community that we serve, and the AAPI community is within that, and I think that acknowledging that and really showing on a company level that we appreciate and acknowledge those individuals in our community is very important. I think Gannett Fleming in the past few years has done a much better job and continues to do a better job of acknowledging and celebrating those differences. I am really appreciative as a person of Asian descent, as a Korean American, to be part of this professional community and to really understand that we are trying to meet and promote the goal of service of our community.

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Strategist

I think it’s important for Gannett Fleming to acknowledge and promote cultural differences because, by celebrating the uniqueness of each person, we can become more open-minded to viewpoints different than our own. In turn, we will see greater equality and equity in our workforce. I have seen Gannett Fleming support this position through our employee resource groups, by supporting projects like Lift Every Voice, and by having leaders like Bob Scaer, who actively speaks out and takes strong positions against hate and intolerance.

William Roman, Chief Geologist

Acknowledging and promoting cultural differences allows Gannett Fleming to attract more diverse employees and provide better solutions to its clients. Gannett Fleming has been supporting this position through messages from leadership, education and training opportunities for employees, and the creation of employee resource groups.

3. In 2020, we began to witness acts of violence in the U.S. against our brothers and sisters who identify as Asian and Pacific Islanders. What can you do to show your support and uplift members of the Asian/Pacific American community?

TrucAnh Elliott, Senior Project Engineer

This one holds a special place in my heart because I can put myself in the shoes of some of those people who are being attacked. I have elderly relatives, and fortunately, I haven’t seen that kind of violence and racism myself here. But I can put myself in their shoes, so it really hits home for me. Non-Asians and Pacific Islanders can speak up and stand up with us to actively and publicly denounce racist comments and actions. To speak up when you hear someone blame Asians for problems that we all are facing and especially help us protect the vulnerable members of our Asian and Pacific Islander communities – these are the ways that everyone can help support and uplift members of the Asian and Pacific Islander community.

Julie Lee, Corporate Counsel

As I said before, the AAPI community has long been considered invisible. This is due to either the perpetuation of the model minority myth or being left out in larger conversations about race and culture as a whole in our community. I think this invisibility has created a level of comfort to see members of my community as less than or not equal, and I think that itself directly perpetuates a “greater acceptability” of physical harm and verbal abuse against members of the AAPI community. I think that the intentional silencing of our community is really what’s creating these issues that we’re seeing today.

The AAPI story is very much, in many instances, one of an immigrant story. Parents, like my parents, who came from Korea, were quite literally silenced by their inability to speak the English language. Their goal, like many of the immigrant generation, was to create a better life for their children, and enduring racism and prejudice along the way was often seen as a price to pay for trying to meet that goal and to hopefully create a society that’s better for their kids.

I’m very hopeful that my generation and the generation that comes after me are not necessarily taking that approach. We are creating a greater voice in terms of trying to acknowledge and share the issues that are arising in our community that have been sustained here and are affecting the AAPI community in a very dire and dangerous way. Again, I think the same issues that allowed the Korematsu decision to happen – to see our community as not American or looking different – is what is perpetuating the rise in the physical and verbal abuse of members of my community. It’s concerning because it hasn’t gone away. It’s showing its face in different and more visible ways now, but what I am hopeful about, as I said before, is that members of my community are not standing by silently anymore. We are meeting the issues of the rise in attacks on the AAPI community with a stronger voice. And I’m hopeful, and I continue to support the conversation and the response in order to allow our community the given right as American and Canadian citizens to live without the fear of harm and to live in peace.

Hilary Lentz, Digital Communications Strategist

While we have seen an increase in hate crimes against the AAPI community since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, racist rhetoric and violence against this community is not a new trend. As a white person, I first feel a responsibility to acknowledge that white supremacy and privilege exist in the United States, that I have benefited from them, and that white people need to put in the work to actively dismantle them. I can help and uplift the AAPI community by supporting the immediate needs of AAPI groups, speaking out and reporting hate crimes or incidents when I see them, and reaching out to my elected officials to tackle systemic racism. I can learn about the discrimination of the AAPI community and take part in trainings to learn how to stop hate. I can also check in with my APPI peers by listening to them and finding out how I can support them.

William Roman, Chief Geologist

I can support efforts like Lift Every Voice, contribute to groups that support the victims of hate crimes against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islanders community, and become better educated about the history of discrimination.