Foley Heritage Month Program: Since 1587 – The History of Asians in America

26 May 2023 Foley Career Perspectives Blog
Author(s): Alexis P. Robertson
Jerry Won

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Foley was pleased to welcome back Jerry Won, Founder & CEO of Just Like Media, for a firmwide virtual discussion on May 23.

Won’s program, titled “Since 1587,” uses storytelling and data to explore the history of how Asians have been here in America (or what we now call America) since Filipinos first set foot in modern-day Morro Bay, and how Asians still deal with being treated as the perpetual foreigner and other stereotypes.

“Despite being in America and contributing to society for over 400 years, Asian Americans often feel invisible and overlooked,” he said. In a 2023 survey, Won told attendees, 26% of Americans were unable to name a famous Asian American – and those most often identified (Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee) are steeped in stereotypes. While more people named Vice President Kamala Harris than they did three years ago, most remain unaware of Olympians like Nathan Chen, astronauts like Jonny Kim, and the many other Asian-American stories worthy of celebration.

With his award-winning Dear Asian Americans podcast and other content he creates through his Asian American storytelling company, Won aims to put as many stories as possible out into the universe to help us all to be more mindful of the complex diversity of Asian Americans.

Asian Americans have had a different American Experience than Native Hawaiians or Pacific Islanders, he explained. And the story of the Asian American experience requires a nuanced understanding of the ethnic diversity, circumstantial diversity, and intergenerational diversity across groups that came to America from East, Southeast, or South Asia. 

Six Asian origin groups in the United States had populations of at least 1 million people in 2019, and the way it looks in the future is more diverse, more mixed race, and more beautiful.”

While it remains difficult to capture what Asian American looks like, there is reason to be hopeful that Won and other Asian Americans are increasingly being included and seen. As examples, he shared photos of his recent appearance with Vice President Harris at the White House Asian American and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Forum and his attendance with his family at the White House annual Easter event.

“I bring humility to every person I get to talk to for my podcast,” he said. “I’ve realized that I don’t know anything about Asian American experiences that are different from my own, but there’s something in every story that resonates with me.

We can all help facilitate belonging, Won said, by being more mindful of these differences, asking better and more direct questions like “what is your ethnicity” instead of “where are you from,” and speaking up when we hear micro-aggressions directed toward less privileged groups.

This program was presented by Foley’s Asian, Pacific, and Middle Eastern Attorneys Affinity Group. Click here to learn more about Diversity & Inclusion at the firm.

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Alexis P. Robertson

Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion