KIPP Foundation AAPI Staff Reflect on Their Culture and Identity

As Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month comes to a close, there is no better time to recognize and appreciate the diverse voices and stories of the AAPI community. In celebration of the month, four KIPP Foundation AAPI staff members graciously shared unique perspectives on their identity and heritage. Through their own words, we can gain insight into what it means to them to identify as an AAPI person in today’s society. Check out the conversation below with President, Kinnari Patel Smyth and Chief Equity Officer, Benny Vasquez and reflections shared by members of the KIPP Foundation AAPI affinity group.


How has your heritage shaped who you are today?

“My heritage comprises itself of influences from the Philippines, Singapore, and the United States, so it’s definitely a melting pot! Assimilation is a shared experience with many immigrants: we were hard-coded for survival. Growing up, I certainly had my fair share of blending in, but as I’ve gotten – let’s say “less young” – I find myself wanting to learn more and connect with the many aspects of my identities I tried to suppress for so long.”

What helped you push through anti-Asian sentiment/rhetoric during the pandemic?

“Talking about it and taking action! At the height of the pandemic, I was working remotely for a different organization and was part of a founding board for an AAPI Faculty & Staff Employee Resource Group which was a direct result of recognizing just how problematic rhetoric creeps into so many spaces. Working on critical points of conversation and identifying areas of need was my way of giving back to our communities that lost so much.”


What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?

“It means that I have a unique community and we, as a community, have a unique set of challenges. It means that I have fellow AAPI folks rooting for me and experiencing the same bias/assumptions/stereotypes from others. It means that I have the privilege to proudly advocate for myself, my community, and those in other oppressed communities for better resources, support, acceptance, and equity.”

What advice do you have for AAPI KIPP students starting out in the workforce?

“Don’t be afraid to speak up to advocate for yourself and for others, because if you don’t then no one will. Build relationships with allies that you work with, this has made it so much easier for me to speak up about things. Building relationships can also give you great life advice and mentorship from people that share your identities.”

Henry Liu

Why is AAPI representation in the media significant?

“I’ve unfortunately been in way too many situations where people immediately saw me as the caricatured version of an Asian person. It’s been incredible and inspiring to see so much AAPI representation now – full casts of amazing and talented AAPI actors and actresses like in ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ and ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once.’ It means so much to be able to witness aspects of my culture and heritage represented in Hollywood, not in a stereotypical way, but in a way that honors the full complexities of our people.”

What does your AAPI heritage mean to you?

“I remember when I was younger, I felt like I had to choose between being Asian and being American. I didn’t think that the two could coexist in the same space because of the narratives that I was internalizing – that I was never enough for either side. I’m so glad that now as an adult, I’ve come to understand that this hyphenated identity of being Asian-American is what shapes my unique perspectives and understandings of the world. It’s not an ‘either/or’ but an ‘and.’”