What Being Asian American Means To Me

Deborah LuBy Deborah Lu

It means food. Food is community, food is family and food is universal.

I am an “ABC”—an American Born Chinese. I grew up in Belleville, Montville and Westfield, New Jersey. I was fortunate to have many aunts, uncles and cousins who also lived in New Jersey, so large family dinners were common. Phrases of “have you eaten”, “are you hungry” or “here, try this” were expressions of love. I have fond memories of making wontons and hot pot dinners, where cooking and retrieving food from the hot pot was a full contact sport.

My mother was a wonderful cook and she made me care packages of my favorite dinners when I was in college. Unfortunately, they were very popular with my roommates so I had to eat quickly before they were gone. My mother’s response was to cook more so there was enough for everyone.

Today, I keep these traditions alive by hosting dinners, especially hot pot dinners. I have watched the children first refusing to eat hot pot (too foreign) and then eagerly asking when was the next dinner. Unfortunately, I have not yet mastered won tons but when I do so, it will be a welcome addition to the hot pot.

I remember my neighbor the Italian grandmother and my Shanghainese grandmother who could not speak to each other, but communicated through their mutual love of cooking. A friend’s German mother feeds me her special potato salad. I have been fortunate to be invited for meals all over the world, and there is nothing like home cooking.

It is no wonder that client relations blossom over lunches and dinners and deals are often closed over meals. Even though the new normal includes more videoconferences than meals, I am optimistic that we will return to a time where sharing food takes center stage.

*This series has been created to celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

What Being Asian American Means To Me: The Indo-Caribbean-American Edition

By Amrita Narine

For me, being Asian American is about compromise and embracing all aspects of my identity.  For years I struggled with my identity, often settling for the answer that made things easier for everyone around me.  Slowly, I cut out parts of my identity for the sake of fitting in, until I realized that I should not be compromising myself to make those around me feel better.

The confusion stems from the fact that my parents were both born in Guyana, which is the only English speaking country in South America and culturally considered part of the Caribbean.  Their ancestors were brought over to Guyana from India as indentured servants by the British.  Thus, creating the Indo-Caribbean identity.

After living in a predominantly Indo-Caribbean neighborhood in Queens, New York, I was not prepared for entering the melting pot that is New York City.  Once outside of the bubble that was my neighborhood, where I never had to second guess my identity, people would often ask me “What are you?” or “Where are you from?”  I quickly learned that no one was interested in the fact that I was born and raised in Queens, New York.  What they really wanted to know was, “Where are your parents from? And their parents? And their parents? And theirs?” “I’m Guyanese” always prompted a mix of responses: “Wait, you’re not Indian?” or “You’re from Africa?” Explaining that my forefathers were from India rarely failed to elicit the same response: “Oh, so you are Indian.” “Not exactlybut okay,” became a response that I was all too familiar with.

Over time, these questions forced me to think about what I should choose as my identity.  Do I accept the box that is most assumed?  That I am Indian, which is an assumption entirely based on my skin tone and my name.  Should I celebrate being Guyanese, which is a fusion of both Caribbean and Indian culture.  Or do I embrace being American, because, as my parents believe, being American represents freedom, opportunity, and choice.

Around my family, I was not Guyanese enough because I don’t have a Guyanese accent and I don’t like roti (I promise—to those of you that don’t know—this is blasphemous).  To Indians, I was not Indian enough – our curry is different, our language is different, and our music is different.  And to the world, it was never enough to say that I was American because obviously my parents couldn’t have come from the United States.

After years of struggling, I finally realized that I don’t have to pick and choose parts of my identity.  It is okay to embrace and celebrate all of it because I do represent all of these cultures.  I am Indian.  I am Guyanese.  I am Caribbean.  I am American.  And I embody more than what any one of those words can describe.

*This is the second of several blog posts that will be published by Duane Morris attorneys during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. 

What Being Asian American Means To Me

Manita RawatBy Manita Rawat

It means basketball! Many might wonder why anyone would associate basketball with being Asian American. It wasn’t even until “Linsanity” that the world finally saw that one of us could hold their own on the court. We were supposed to be winning spelling bees and getting into Harvard, not driving the lane for a lay-up. Basketball, however, is exactly what I needed to help me fit into a world that was new to me while also embracing my cultural past.

I grew up in small town USA. I was three years old when my parents brought my brother and me from north India to Grand Forks, North Dakota in the 1980s. When I was 9 years old, we moved to Reno, Nevada. I knew we were novelties because people would stare at us at restaurants and stores and wherever else we went. I was embarrassed when my friends came over and commented on the smell of our house, which was fragrant with scents of Indian spices and basmati rice. I avoided inquiries about my ethnic background, like why my mom wore a “dot” (called a bindi) on her forehead. I detested the stares and the questions. I wanted people to treat me like I was no different from the blond, blue-eyed kids at school.

My parents, in their own way, felt the same. My mom quickly changed her wardrobe from silk sarees to dresses and slacks. My father, on the other hand, encouraged us to adopt the American way of life as a way of surviving in our new country. He cautioned that most people here viewed us as strangers and may even be hostile, and that we needed to immerse ourselves into our new environment. Like most immigrant parents, he also told us that we would need to work harder than others and excel in anything we do. Finally, he told us to embrace and love sports—because there is nothing more American. He made sure my brother and I excelled in any sport we chose to play. Looking back, this was the best advice he could give.

As I watched Michael Jordan play with the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s, I knew exactly what sport I wanted to play. Being able to fly like Michael Jordan was every kid’s dream, and it became my virtue. My dad would take me to the YMCA and work with me to perfect my shot. Then came years of basketball camps, leagues, and school teams. The better I got, the more friends I made. My father was right—playing sports helped me feel American.

Basketball taught me to embrace my multi-cultural identity and to not fear sharing my family’s heritage with others. On the court, I was a starting point guard with a decent outside shot and defense hustle. Our ethnic differences no longer mattered. We simply needed to work together on the court to win games. My strong bond with my teammates enabled me to share my whole self with them. They loved coming to my house after practice for Indian food. They asked my mom to make samosas as game snacks. During Diwali, my teammates even wore bindis to celebrate this important holiday with me.

Basketball not only helped me embrace my new country and American life, but it also enabled me to proudly share my past. Basketball can teach us many things about life, but for me, it taught me to love being Asian American

*This is the first of several blog posts that will be published by Duane Morris attorneys during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. 

Duane Morris Celebrates the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights

Ralph CarterBy Ralph Carter

On Monday, February 24, 2020, Duane Morris’ National and New York Diversity and Inclusion team hosted a Black History Month celebration in partnership with the St. John’s University School of Law’s Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights. The Ronald H. Brown Center is headed by Director Kamille Dean, who is the Law School’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion, and Professor Elaine Chiu, who serves as Faculty Advisor for the Center.

The Ronald H. Brown Center is named after the esteemed St. John’s Law alumnus Ronald H. Brown ’70, ‘89HON, who served as the nation’s first African American Secretary of Commerce and first African American Chairperson of the Democratic National Committee, along with countless other historic achievements in politics, international commerce and the law. The life of Secretary Brown was tragically cut short in April 1996 while on a trade mission to promote economic development in the war-ravaged Balkan region.
The celebration of the work of the Ronald H. Brown Center was attended by St. John’s Law alumni and students, and other supporters of the Center. Also in attendance were alumni of the Ronald H. Brown Law School Prep Program for College Students and recipients of full-tuition scholarships to St. John’s Law School under the aegis of the Ronald H. Brown Scholars Program.

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Duane Morris LLP Earns Top Marks in 2020 Corporate Equality Index

2020 Corporate Equality Index Best Place to Work for LGBTQ EqualityDuane Morris LLP received a score of 100 percent on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), the nation’s premiere benchmarking survey and report measuring corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality. Duane Morris LLP joins the ranks of more than 680 major U.S. businesses that also earned top marks this year.

The results of this year’s CEI showcase how 1059 U.S.-based companies are not only promoting LGBTQ-friendly workplace policies in the U.S., but helping advance the cause of LGBTQ inclusion in workplaces abroad. Duane Morris LLP’s efforts in satisfying all of the CEI’s criteria earned a 100 percent ranking and the designation as a Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality.

The CEI rates companies and top law firms on detailed criteria falling under five broad categories:

  • Non-discrimination policies
  • Employment benefits
  • Demonstrated organizational competency and accountability around LGBTQ diversity and inclusion
  • Public commitment to LGBT equality
  • Responsible citizenship

The full report is available online at www.hrc.org/cei.

Visit the Duane Morris website for more information about Duane Morris LLP’s diversity and inclusion efforts.