#MEETIRONGALAXY - AAPI ERG Edition
At Iron Galaxy, our team of inspired and motivated people are essential to our ability to make games. Their diverse backgrounds and views help us create exciting and unique gaming experiences that are welcoming to many people. This recurring series of interviews is a chance for us to introduce them and let them tell their stories.
As part of our recognition of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we’re talking to members of our AAPI Employee Resource Group. Let’s learn about what it means to be AAPI and the importance of heritage.
Header image from left to right: Karthik Narayan, Elaine Del Rosario, Tammy Dao, Anika Tabassum and Chaohao Wang.
Iron Galaxy: Thanks for agreeing to talk to us. What ethnicity are you?
Karthik: I was born and raised in India, and immigrated to the US to pursue my master’s in game engineering.
Elaine: I am Filipino but born and raised in the US.
Tammy: I was born and raised in US, but my family is Chinese and Vietnamese.
Anika: I'm from Bangladesh. I was born there but moved to the US when I was young, I think younger than four.
Chaohao: My family is Chinese, and I was born and raised in China.
IG: What role did your heritage play in your home life while growing up?
Karthik: Growing up in India, I learned about our history and how we have a lot of cultural variations, even across neighboring states. Since my family moved around quite a bit, I was very lucky to have seen a small part of all these amazing little details, like the type of food you can experience and the different kinds of festivals that different regions of the country celebrate.
Elaine: For me, I never really got super close with my culture when I was little. If anything, I always kept it at arm’s length. I was never taught Tagalog (outside a few words or phrases). I didn't own any traditional clothes, and I never really took the time to learn more about my culture. The only connection that kept me close to my culture was food, Filipino Soap Operas, the tabo, and mass amounts of Filipino parties. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to get more curious about my culture and now ask my Filipino family members more questions about the Philippines. They tell me stories about my cousins and the lifestyle they lived when they previously lived there. More recently, I’ve gotten to talk to some of my cousins on Skype and learn more about my family! With that growing interest, I do hope to one day visit the Philippines and see all the things I've been hearing about through these stories.
Tammy: My parents immigrated here from Saigon, Vietnam in search of a better life. Quintessential American dream. To that end, they didn't put a whole lot of focus on preserving any traditions from their home country outside of food and the lunar new year holiday. I learned a little bit of Mandarin growing up but fell out of it and the focus of my childhood was primarily to do well in school. They loved to watch movies that they'd pickup at the local Chinese/Vietnamese markets and stores, not subbed in the slightest, and I grew to appreciate the fantasy martial arts and the romanticism of that style of movie. It wasn't until I was older that I asked them about their lives in Vietnam. Some of the stories my dad told were scary to hear, the stuff you read in history textbooks. I still don't quite feel a connection to the culture but have become more fascinated by it the older I become.
Anika: I was lucky as an immigrant kid. My family visited Bangladesh quite frequently when I was younger. We even spent a year or so living there when I was about seven. This allowed me to have an early exposure and appreciation for my culture and gave me the opportunity to meet a large chunk of my relatives and extended family (and Bangladeshi extended families are big!). Outside of that, as my parents were the first ones in their families to move to the US, they kept a lot of the culture alive for my younger siblings and I. We ate Bangladeshi food, spoke Bangla at home, consumed Bangladeshi media, and kept in touch with family back in Asia. We've also been a part of the larger Bangladeshi communities in all the various places we've lived, including Raleigh, Toronto, and Orlando. Being in these communities really helped strengthen our ties to Bangladesh and exposed all the kids in the family to the culture. We continue to remain a part of these communities!
Chaohao: Growing up in China, I was taught a lot about our own history, culture, and traditions. Back when I was in school, I didn't really think too much about the meanings behind them other than knowing that it's something we would have to know to do well in tests. Now that I live in the US, I’ve started to appreciate that I learned so much about my own culture. I can pick up different references in movies or other media when it comes to something related to China and explain it to my friends. I am also able to recite certain ancient poems and literature pieces when I see something that reminds me of them. This strong connection with my heritage is something that I learned to be proud of after I moved to the US.
IG: When did you or your family immigrate to the United States?
Karthik: I came to the US in 2014 to pursue my master’s in game engineering at the University of Utah.
Elaine: My grandfather had joined the US Navy in hopes of successfully immigrating to the United States after serving several years. My mother was born at a Japanese Naval Base, and being in a military family, they had to relocated quite often. They finally settled in Florida when my mom was around her middle school-high school years.
Tammy: My mom had most of her entire family moved here thanks to her older sister marrying an American who worked in the US government. My dad immigrated here shortly after, fleeing from some violence. They met here in the states after a year or two thanks to some mutual friend circles... and that was a year before they had my brother and about 3 years before they had my sister and I.
Anika: My dad got the opportunity to complete his bachelor’s degree in the US and married my mom back in Bangladesh sometime in the middle of his degree. After getting married, they both moved to the US and when my dad completed his degree, they moved back to Bangladesh, and then I was born. Shortly after that, we moved to North Carolina for my dad's higher graduate degrees. That's where I spent a good chunk of my life growing up and where both of my younger sisters were born. My parents never had any intentions of staying in the US permanently as it was far from family and loved ones. Once my sisters and I were born, they decided they needed to give us a life with better opportunities, so they applied for American citizenship. Once that got approved, we moved to Orlando and have been here since!
Chaohao: I moved to the US in 2013 and started my senior year in high school. My mom had been in the States for 8 years before that, pursuing a better future for me and my sister. My stepdad has been here since the nineties.
IG: What's something about being AAPI you'd like to share?
Karthik: There are so many little variations in cultures within India, and it is always a great experience to learn more about these little details. Did you know that the number of established languages spoken in India is more than four hundred!? And each state or region within a state adds its own spin on these languages to make it their own. The same goes for food as well :)
Elaine: When I was younger, I was always told to never speak my native language, and that I should focus on learning and speaking fluent English. As I grew older, I understood that it was so that I could have an easier time assimilating with my classmates and not have to worry about getting bullied or ridiculed (which one shouldn't do regardless). As time went on, being open in expressing culture has become more widely accepted in a lot of places in the States. For those who were in a similar situation like me, I would say take the time to learn more about culture from your family. Visit restaurants that serve your culture's dishes and taste cuisine you haven't had before, and maybe attempt to cook them yourself. Learn the language if you never had the chance. It's never too late to learn more about your own heritage.
Tammy: It's super weird identifying as an Asian American when your childhood was super focused on assimilating well with American culture. The odd experience of coming home and seeing items or smelling things so drastically different from friends made it difficult to reconcile as a kid, and that only pushed me away from my parent's heritage. I don't think it ever really disappointed my parents, but I still regret not having spent the time to look into it growing up and incorporating it more into my identity. It is so fascinating hearing how differently my parents lived compared to how I live now, and really just shocks me at how quickly things have progressed.
Anika: Ooh, this is a tough one! Being AAPI is a huge umbrella. There are hundreds of cultures that fall under the AAPI banner, and we all have different personal stories. For myself, as someone whose parents were new to the country, it was tough to navigate life trying to respect your home culture while growing up in a place with vastly different values from that of your parents. As the first born, I had a lot of restrictions growing up that neither of my sisters did. It's a balance that can be tough and very confusing while growing up. It wasn't the easiest trying to be a "normal" kid when you see your friends doing all these things, when your parents would forbid you from doing those same things with explanations of "It's not our culture." I did harbor some resentment for my culture when I was younger but now that I'm older and an "adult" (not sure I feel like one yet, haha!), I can appreciate that it was a difficult situation for my parents to navigate as well. They moved thousands of miles away from family to a land with a whole other language, food, media, culture, etc. They were essentially "strangers in a strange land" and just wanted to do what was best for their kids with the experiences and framework they had. As my parents helped to retain Bangladeshi culture in myself and my siblings, my sisters and I also helped my parents assimilate more into American/westernized culture.
Chaohao: Since I moved to the US as a teenager, I sometimes feel like it's hard for me to identify with either 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. On one hand, I grew up in China, making it hard for me to relate to people my age who grew up in the US. On the other hand, my learnings of how to be an adult in the US have been drastically different since the way I handle problems is much different than the older generation like my parents. This sometimes has made me feel lost and that I don’t belong anywhere, but as time has gone by, I’ve learned to be at peace with these feelings. I can take inspirations from both generations.
IG: How are you celebrating AAPI Heritage Month?
Karthik: Most definitely food! There are a lot of good places to eat in Orlando for authentic Indian food. I exclusively cook Indian recipes at home, mainly because I don’t know how to make anything else :)
Elaine: Food!! Eating and cooking lots and lots of Filipino food! And of course, I'd like to attempt making some dishes from other cultures as well :)
Tammy: Definitely finding some good Asian food here. It can be difficult being in the mid-west, but the gems I do find give me such nostalgia! I usually compensate by trying to cook dishes my dad prepared for me growing up as well. And then of course, culture research for my Chinese inspired D&D game that I run for myself and my fiancée. It's been a fun thing to learn together
Anika: Oh, definitely food! I get to celebrate Eid (Islamic holiday; Bangladesh is majority Muslim) this month with a ton of delicious home-made Bangladeshi foods by all the uncles and aunties. By the way, we call any older-than-you Bangladeshi person by their respective title so mom's friend = aunty, etc. I'm also going to go out and experience more of the rich Asian culture and foods that are in Central Florida.
Chaohao: I want to try more local AAPI-owned restaurants. I have also bought some Hanfu (traditional Chinese clothing) for myself and want to see if there are any occasions that I can wear them in public. There's also a novel I got, written by a Chinese Canadian author where the story is set in a world with mechas inspired by Chinese mythical creatures, which I am excited to read.
IG: Why is it important to commemorate AAPI culture?
Karthik: I believe that personally being able to understand and experience diverse cultures opens your mind to a whole new level of understanding. I have had some of the best memories of my life while living in India and, at the same time, being able to get the same experience in a country that is across the world. It always feels great to be reminded of where you come from, even in small details in your daily lives.
Elaine: Being able to commemorate AAPI culture allows people to embrace and learn more about their heritage when they have little chance to. I believe the more you learn and get in touch with your culture, the more you'll appreciate and accept it.
Tammy: Diversity is incredibly important in this day and age. Being exposed to different cultures and peoples helps with tolerance and acceptance and honestly leads to more creativity and innovation. And it can help kids like me grow up knowing that it's okay to celebrate your own culture and that it's in fact incredibly cool.
Anika: It's important to celebrate AAPI culture to create more exposure to and appreciation for all the distinct cultures that make up Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures. AAPI isn't a monolith. It's made up of peoples from different backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, etc. and each and every one is important to the melting pot that is America. It also signals to younger AAPI individuals that it's OK to embrace your cultural background while retaining who you are. Also, the variety of food is amazing and delicious.
Chaohao: Every person has their own background and stories. Being AAPI, we need to preserve our cultural memory and learn, or relearn, the stories of our people. Even if you are not part of the AAPI community, knowing about us and our culture will widen your horizon and lead to more appreciation for the world.
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