Andrew Mok, 34, has heard his share of racist slurs. In workplaces early in his career, for example, he would hear, “Oh, you and that other Asian colleague, I can’t tell you apart. You all look alike,” he says.
At the time, he was laughing about it, but looking back, he realizes that “it made me feel a little small”.
Mok’s parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in the 1970s and he grew up in the Bay Area of California and attended the University of California, Berkeley, before pursuing a career in the entertainment world. startups. Mok has worked at Turo, the Airbnb of car rentals, since 2012, as chief marketing officer.
Mok has spent the past few years thinking about what it means to him to be Asian American, both at work and in general. Here’s how his attitude about his identity has changed over time and why he thinks Asian Americans should speak up more about their experience.
Growing up, Mok felt he had to hide his Asian identity. “Asian American culture is really about not talking about being Asian,” he says, adding that “we just have to keep our heads down. We just have to work hard.”
When he was a kid, for example, his mother would pack him Chinese food for lunch “and the kids would say, ‘Oh, that smells bad,’ or ‘Oh, that looks gross,'” he says. He went home and said to his mother, “I don’t want any more Chinese food. I only want American food. So she started packing him Campbell’s chicken noodle soup to take him to school instead.
Even as an adult, “I would do everything I could before to almost ignore the fact that I was Asian,” he says. But especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, his attitude has changed. He realized the importance of celebrating uniqueness and showcasing difference.
“We have to realize that it’s a special experience growing up as a first-generation Asian American,” he says. “It’s something to be proud of and it’s something to educate people about.”
To that end, Mok would encourage his fellow Asian Americans to share their stories.
“I have this thing, like, wired into me to feel uncomfortable talking ‘about being Asian,’ he says, adding that, “I have to challenge myself to be like, ‘No, say something.'” When he does, the feedback has always been positive.
He gives the example of sharing a story about a colleague’s grandmother who was the victim of an Asian hate crime in San Francisco in their company Slack. “It opened the floodgates and made people feel comfortable sharing” their own stories, he says.
But it’s not just the Asian American community to talk about, he says. It is also up to anyone who is not part of the work of the community to feel comfortable doing so. “It goes a long way when people show genuine curiosity and interest in that aspect of my culture,” he says.
It also challenged people to learn about the different communities in the Asian world. “Recognizing and appreciating the many different countries and heritages unique to each individual – Korean, Indian, Japanese, Taiwanese, etc. – also plays an important role in helping people feel welcome.”
Ultimately, he says, it’s about “more awareness and more empathy.”
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