May is Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. The Asian Affinity Business Association (AABA), in collaboration with students and organizations across campus, is proud to share and honor the stories of our community members. We hope these stories showcase the history, richness, and diversity of the AAPI experience and inspire hope for a world of empathy, compassion, and courage.

Iris Yu (MBA 2023)

My family story is one of many variations on the theme of the American Dream. My parents immigrated from China to the US in pursuit of an education, a better life, and freedom to create their own destinies. They set down roots on Long Island, and raised two daughters in a small town where there were just a few families of color. When I was in elementary school, I wanted nothing more than to have blond curly hair, like the other girls on the playground. Like many of us, I felt different and out of place.

In 2019, I watched The Farewell at a movie theater in Brooklyn. It centers on Billi (played by Awkwafina) who travels back to China with her family to reconnect with her grandma. In one early scene, Billi and her family eat xiang bing, these pan-fried meat pies that my family makes from scratch together on special occasions. When the xiang bing appeared, I started crying uncontrollably. The number of tears was honestly hilarious. I used up every spare tissue and napkin in my bag, my friend’s backpack, and a stranger’s purse. After the movie I sob-laughed my way out of the theater and into the nearby Whole Foods vegetable aisle where the waterworks continued. I had just never felt so ‘seen’ by a movie. In hindsight, it was only my position between these cultures that allowed this story to resonate so deeply.

I used to see the hyphen between “Asian” and “American” as a separator; a little line that pushes two worlds apart. I think it’s more powerful to think of it as a bridge. Standing on that bridge, we have access to a unique vantage point. With that comes the opportunity to take attributes of each culture that we hold authentic and true, and reasons to reject those attributes that we do not. For me, celebrating AAPI heritage means embracing the power that comes from charting a new path.

Johnny Ho (MBA 2023)

"You lived a life we are proud of, and had little regrets in life," my father reflected with tears as we mourned the loss of my grandfather to cancer, a man who embodied the very essence of what it meant to live a purposeful life. He had advanced the lives of millions in Asia by bringing systematic and industrial practice in textile to developing Asian countries.

Since first grade, I was acutely aware of the fragility of life and the fleeting nature of our existence. Soon after, I struggled to adapt to moving to Texas as one of the only Asian students in my class, and I often found solace in contemplating the meaning of my life.

Despite growing up without religion, I was driven by a deep sense of purpose to make a positive impact on society, knowing that one’s life is measured by the impact on others, not by material possessions, as my grandfather had done.

This conviction fueled my lifelong mission to improve the human condition through innovation and progress, one small step at a time. As I contemplated the future, I am determined to positively impact humanity and leave behind a legacy that will hopefully make a difference for generations to come.

Celia Chen (MBA 2023)

The “Asian” and “Chinese” labels held an overwhelming weight for me at HBS. Every time people introduced themselves, I felt like an outsider because I’ve never spent time in the US for study or work. So, I stayed silent when people talk about Hollywood celebrities and gossip, American politics, football, etc. I tried hard to hide my Asian identity and Chinese heritage, at least growing distant from my culture. I mimicked authentic American accent and learned slang only Americans say to just fit in.

One day, I was cold called on a China case and stumbled through a comment in class. After class, a section mate came saying “thank you for sharing with us about your culture and traditions. I’m always fascinated by Asian history. You should make yourself heard more.” It was a pivotal moment that made me realize I wasn't being authentic to myself. Instead of moving in circles filled with insecurity, I needed to stay true to who I am because only I can decide how authentic I feel to my Asian and Chinese roots.

I decided to change. Over the past two years at HBS, I have become more confident and courageous to share my unique experience. I embrace my roots and take great pride in my Asian identity. I have realized that my heritage makes me stand out as a great dancer at the HBS Show, and a humble person in life.

I will continue to stay true to myself and encourage others to stay true to themselves. We should accept who we are and make joint efforts to build Asian representation and supportive communities. My generation might not have a super strong and confident Asian identity, but I will leverage the opportunity granted to make our identity proud.

Eric Deng (MBA 2023)

“Don’t rock the boat.” “Don’t make trouble.” “Keep your head down.” Growing up in Utah, where I was often the only one or one of a few that looked like me, these were the standard phrases and sentiments uttered to me to survive and make it. To a younger me, these sentiments made sense. After all, it was enough that I already looked different and didn’t go to church on Sundays. It was enough that I had rice for breakfast and therefore couldn’t answer what my favorite type of breakfast cereal was. It was enough that I had jook (Cantonese for congee/rice porridge) and fried rice for lunch instead of a ham and cheese sandwich.

It took me until college to find a larger community of folks with the similar experience of being pulled in two opposite directions: not Chinese enough and yet not American enough. It’ll take me longer, perhaps on a lifelong journey, to continue reconciling the two, embracing my identity, telling my story, and encouraging others to do the same.

As I graduate from HBS, I’m looking most forward to spending time with my parents (the ones who had the courage to strike out for a better life in a different land – even when at times, it didn’t seem like we were wanted here), speaking Cantonese, and preserving their recipes. As I look to building a career and a life I am proud of, I remind myself to speak out and advocate for those who can’t, to make it easier for those who follow to bring with them their full selves, to “rock the boat.” After all, what else is a degree from HBS for?