AAPI Heritage Month

The Month of May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. In light of everything that has happened recently, there is more weight and urgency to bring awareness to this year’s AAPI Heritage Month. In accordance with this year’s theme, “Stop AAPI Hate: Solidarity, Community, Celebration”, we asked clinicians in the AAPI community to reflect and respond.

Tina Yang, DO

Being able to support patients through their most vulnerable moments is why Dr. Yang chose a career in Emergency Medicine. From the fluidity of seeing bread-and-butter cases, to performing procedures, to running codes, she loves how intellectually riveting and empowering her job is.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

Growing up in America in a predominately white neighborhood meant growing up wishing I fit in. It meant walking into school and always being uncomfortable. I was constantly getting “slanty eyes” made at me. I was ridiculed for my flat face, for my yellow skin tone, for my Asian eyes... Stereotypes were made about my work ethic, math skills, and driving skills. While my parents slaved away at work to ensure my future success, I was home alone resenting my culture and wishing I was born white. It took years to build my confidence, embrace who I am and my Chinese culture. As I have grown, I’m very proud to be Chinese. As a medical professional, I have been able to use my cultural background and Chinese language skills to better serve my patients.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

It breaks my heart to see the drastic spike in crimes against Asians. Elderly Asian grandmas and grandpas are getting shoved to the ground and attacked for no reason. Asian women are getting targeted and shot, meanwhile the perpetrator is portrayed as the victim as “he was just having a bad day”. In times like this, it is vital to come together as a community and support each other. Support means standing up for others when you see abuse, continuing the dialogue to discuss why hate crimes against Asians are happening, and unifying because we are stronger together.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

I'm very privileged to work in the diverse community of Queens, however racism still occurs here. I remember a patient saying, "I don't know if that Asian doctor talked to me, you guys all look the same with your chinky eyes." I was shocked to hear that... I was even more disheartened knowing that if I retorted in any way, it would likely be me that got in trouble as our hospital cares more about patient satisfaction than actively discussing racism. We can do better by having more than just one or two superficial talks about racial discrimination. We need to address racial disparities influence medicine.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

I love Chinese New Year.  I love the colors, the food, the festivities and most importantly I love that it brings everyone together. My favorite memories are from my childhood when we would go to China for the new year and watch the dragons dance and eat all the delicious food from the street vendors as we celebrate another year together.

Aaron Hunro, PA-C

Aaron is a PA-C in Long Beach, California. Raised by refugees, Aaron is passionate about giving back to a world that has given him so much life experience and valuable lessons, which he accomplishes through volunteerism, advocacy, motivation and art.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

It means trying to show empathy for patients who do not look like us, do not know us, and those who may not like us based off our perceived associations and prejudices. Folks group us as "Asians" or "Chinese" but there are so many different ethnicities and we are all unique. I'm a PA but I am Cambodian-American first.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

The theme of Solidarity is important because it allows us to speak for those who have been silenced, it allows for us to share our stories that others may not be aware of, and it allows us to learn from one another and respect one another-- regardless of our backgrounds.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

Yes, it does affect me and often times hurts but it's nothing I haven't faced in the past. I just continue to do the best job that I can to care for patients, work alongside my team, and provide for my community.  Unfortunately, I've even been discriminated against by other Asian people, as Cambodians are often seen as the "inferior" Asian minority. This community can do better by stepping up for one another and checking our own implicit biases.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

The first experience I had translating Khmer (Cambodian) for a "patient" was actually when I was in 3rd at the school nurses' office. It was for another classmate and her mom who didn't speak English. Fast forward a couple decades later, I'm able to provide care and communicate with patients in Khmer, as a PA. It means a lot to be able to have this tool and embrace my culture and people. One that was able to survive and thrive despite a genocide. I encourage folks to watch "First They Killed My Father" to get a glimpse of what life was like for my family and many other Cambodians.

Dagny Zhu, MD 

Harvard trained, Ophthalmologic Surgeon, Dr. Dagny Zhu chose medicine with one goal in mind- to make a difference in people's lives through healing. Dr. Zhu strives to keep proving others wrong through continual learning and mastering of her craft. She always strives to step out of the box to better herself and build her practice to become a premier institute.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is a month that has largely been ignored by everyone including Asian Americans--until now. It took an unprecedented pandemic of sickness and hate for our community to finally speak up about the issues that have plagued our community for so long. As an Asian American physician, this month is an opportunity for us to continue the conversation and highlight the hidden healthcare disparities that disproportionately affect the AAPI community, which is composed of dozens of different languages, cultures, and ethnicities. For example, AAPI patients are the least likely group to have a primary care provider. Cambodians and Vietnamese are 3x more likely to skip doctor visits due to cost compared to all US residents. And Asian Americans are less likely to get preventative screening like blood pressure monitoring and pap smears. Our community is also disproportionately affected by chronic diseases like COPD, hepatitis B, HIV, tuberculosis, and stomach and liver cancers.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Solidarity is crucial in times like these not only amongst Asian Americans, but amongst all groups who wish to see an end to all forms of injustice. I have seen an outpouring of support from other communities including our Black Brothers and Sisters who have embraced us in their fight against racial injustice. There is no value in competing with one other or tearing each other down. We are all on the same team.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

As an AAPI husband (orthodontist) and wife (ophthalmologist) physician duo who own our own practices, we have worked tirelessly to care for our patients during the pandemic (Asian Americans make up 20% of physicians). That's why it has been even more disheartening to hear about all the violence that has taken place. At work, I recently received an anonymous call with someone on the other end mocking my Chinese name by repeating made-up syllables to the essence of “Ching Chong.” One of my optometrists was told by a patient that she didn’t look Taiwanese because her eyes didn’t “look like this” as he pulled up the corners of his eyes. None of us have been physically attacked for which I am very grateful.

We can do better by not staying silent. When you see acts of hate, speak up. Help the victim. Report incidents to authorities. That also means calling out your friends or family for seemingly harmless remarks. Challenging these biases starts with yourself and the people in your immediate circle; it goes a long way. Finally, support AAPI small businesses and leaders and non-profits who are fighting anti-Asian hate.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

One fundamental thing that unites all Asian Americans is our love for family and respect for elders. Our immigrant roots make this bond even stronger because our parents and grandparents sacrificed so much for us to have greater opportunities by coming to this foreign land.

My mom came to this country with nothing. She cleaned motels and waitressed by day and took English and bookkeeping classes by night. She saved her money, invested in 401Ks, 529 plan, eventually became a homeowner, citizen of the United States, and put her daughter through college and medical school. My mom embodies the American spirit more than anyone I know.

Edward Ng, OMS4 

Edward Ng is an incoming Emergency Medicine Resident Physician with a desire to incorporate his life experiences with his passion for serving others for the underserved and marginalized community. 

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

AAPI Heritage Month has always had a special place in my heart. As a first generation Asian American, I have always felt poorly represented in mainstream media. As a young doctor starting a career in Emergency Medicine, I know that I am extremely fortunate to be in a position that will serve the AAPI community. For many AAPI individuals, the Emergency Department is the "gate to medicine", in that their ED visit is the first time they have seen a physician in a long time. This trust is not lost on me, and with everything that has happened in this past year, that trust is so much more important - for AAPI patients to see that their physician looks like them. 

This year in particular, AAPI Heritage Month brings an even bigger sense of pride than usual. I am a newly minted Emergency Medicine physician. I am an Asian American. I love my country and my people and I am proud of my heritage.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

I think solidarity is extremely important, and this transcends just AAPI individuals. Especially in a hundred year pandemic in which we are already fighting COVID, we do not need to be fragmented and fight racism as well. I think we as a people need to band together and advocate for each other. Whether it is advocating for our Black brothers and sisters or advocating for the safety of our AAPI elders being attacked in the streets, we need to come together now more than ever.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

As an Asian American, I have been discriminated at every step of my medical career thus far. As a medical student, I have been verbally abused in a racial manner and had my care refused because I was Asian. The best way for this community to do better is to stand up for one another. To go back to my example, in that instance, my non-Asian attending stepped in without batting an eye and informed the patient that I was the provider and that my race had nothing to do with how qualified I was to provide care. It is in these situations when AAPI individuals are being verbally and at times physically assaulted that we need the community to step in and stand by us.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

Family has always held high importance in Asian culture. My parents are immigrants from Malaysia and came to the United States for a better life and to give be and my sister a life in which we could be what we wanted to be. My dad recently passed away earlier this year from COVID and since then, the bonds of family have been evermore important. Family is at the essence of who we are as a people, and that is why you will always be treated as family at our house.

In Asian culture, you work hard to bring honor to your family and I like to think that I have only just begun to do so and will continue throughout my career.

Joyce Park, MD, FAAD 

Dr. Joyce Park is a Stanford-trained Dermatologist.  She was in and out of hospitals a lot as a kid, both for her own illnesses and her younger brother’s. Seeing how much the doctors impacted her family left a huge impression on Dr. Park so she decided to pursue medicine to make that difference for other families in the future.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

It is more crucial than ever that we recognize the contributions of AAPI to the medical field and also celebrate AAPI culture and the role our communities have played in shaping the history of America.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Solidarity for the AAPI community is so important right now given the huge uptick in verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans in the past year. My heart hurts reading the news of the most vulnerable in our communities being discriminated against, beaten, robbed, and even killed. We must use our voices and online platforms to raise awareness of these injustices and to speak out against them.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

I have faced racism and microaggressions from coworkers and patients alike, and I have never felt empowered to say anything. I brush off all the questionable comments and make a joke out of it because by pretending these actions aren't racist, I tell myself that I haven't been discriminated against. But that is not right. By staying silent I allow these behaviors to continue. I want us to speak up and if you see racism happening to your colleagues, please speak up as well. We must support one another by calling out actions that should not be tolerated.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

I was raised in a Taiwanese American household, and in addition to speaking only Mandarin at home, we also celebrated every Chinese holiday. Other than lunar new year, one of my favorite Chinese holidays is the Dragon Boat Festival. This usually occurs around my birthday in June, and my favorite part of it is eating zongzi. Zongzi are glutinous rice treats with sweet or savory filling, wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves, and steamed. You may have eaten this as part of dim sum!

Daniel Liga, BSN, RN 

As an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Nurse, Daniel Liga is proud to be in a profession that shows compassion, strength and teamwork. 

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

As a medical professional, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month brings me pride despite the difficulty in 2020 in regards to discrimination and the pandemic. The strength of the AAPI medical professions bring me great pride because the community kept fighting against the pandemic and facing the front lines with everyone around the country, even though there were those who thought it was our fault the pandemic happened.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Hearing about the increase in discrimination is truly heartbreaking. It is important to stand together for not only the AAPI community, but together as Americans. One voice can possibly get a message noticed, but a whole group of voices can make a message to be actually heard and understood.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

With hate crimes increasing against the AAPI in 2020, the occurrence of racism in the medical community has not been a common theme in my area in New Jersey.  The diversity in the community may have been put into play unlike those horror stories that has been heard from the news. With that being said, I did feel the discomfort of alienation from the outside of the medical community/workplace in certain areas and it was only a state over. The look of disgust and very noticeable change of location/social distancing can put someone in uncomfortable state. Simple educating about the virus is not derived by Asians is the first step to resolving this issue.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

As a Filipino-American, our culture is integrated with many influence of other cultures. One of my favorite and special traditions is something called "mano-po". Mano-po or pagmamano is an "honoring-gesture" used in Filipino culture performed as a sign of respect to elders and as a way of requesting a blessing from the elder. The person giving the greeting bows towards the hand of the elder and presses their forehead on the elder's hand. A memory that always sticks with me was with my grandma (Lola). The look of sincere happiness in her eyes when I greet her with mano-po is an unforgettable feeling as she sees her grandchildren maintain that respectful tradition in America.

 

Audrey Sue Cruz, MD 

Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz is a Board Certified Internal Medicine Physician. Dr. Cruz's favorite thing about her job is being able to form meaningful doctor- patient relationships. Patient interaction is so important to her, and she find great satisfaction in being there for her patients during their times of need.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

As a medical professional, Asian American and Pacific Islander month means recognizing and bringing awareness to the unique health conditions and psychological experiences that members of the AAPI community face on a daily basis. It means understanding that AAPI patients are going through a lot right now and knowing that this community needs our support and empathy more than ever.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Solidarity amongst the AAPI community is incredibly important during these difficult times. We must continue to come together to stand against these acts of hate and discrimination. It is vital that we use our voices to speak up for those who cannot do so and encourage others to take action against such hateful acts.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

Yes, as an AAPI physician, I have experienced backhanded comments from patients stating that they usually don't want an Asian doctor. Many patients request Caucasian physicians specifically. I have also been called derogatory names such as "Oriental". I think the community can do better by educating themselves on Asian American history and speaking to members of the community to understand the battles that we face daily.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

Something special about my culture is the focus on family. We tend to have many generations living under the same roof because we value closeness and spending time together. I love that I grew up with my grandparents living with us because we developed such a special bond while I was growing up! I'm excited for my son to experience the same with my parents and grandparents.

Lizzii Le, MS4 

As an incoming Emergency Medicine Resident Physician, Lizzii Le, MS4, always knew she wanted to become successful in life to support her family as a first generation American. When her grandmother was sick in Vietnam, she noticed the patients were not given proper care because they could not afford it. From that moment, she promised herself that she would become a doctor to one day go back to her home country to do philanthropy work.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

I've honestly never ever known about AAPI month until last year. This year with everything going on, I feel like it's more important. I think raising awareness of what's going on within our community is important so other ethnicities can see our racial disparities. In medicine, it's important because Asian Americans became the blame for the pandemic arising. I think it's important to educate our patients that racism against Asians is not right. We will be their providers and racism in medicine should not be a factor in the doctor/ patient relationship.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Solidarity is so important! Verbal harassment and sly comments is not something that is new. I feel like Asian Americans have experienced that long before now. I think the shunning is more recent.

As a soon to be emergency medicine resident, I think shunning is silly. If you come into my ED, I will be your provider. I am Asian. Will you refuse medical care because of the color of my skin in an emergency situation?

We need solidarity because without it, we become divided for obsolete reasons.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

I think there is a model minority myth for Asian Americans. We are seen as smart and hard working, which are great traits to have. But I believe our successes aren't as celebrated because of this false standard. I think people have a certain expectation for Asians as well, and if not met - then we somehow become lesser than our Asian counterparts. This is not blatantly described in medicine but can be seen for medical school acceptance rates, or expectations from professors or attending doctors.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

I believe the most beautiful thing about my culture is the respect for our elders. I think that aspect really grounds us as human beings. We learn from their wisdom and guidance to become better people!

Daniel Sugai, MD,  FAAD 

Harvard-trained Dermatologist, Dr. Daniel Sugai chose dermatology as he likes to diagnose skin conditions based on visual skills and procedures. Dr. Sugai enjoys the art of diagnosis as well as problem solving on dermatology.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

This month means a lot to me. I feel proud to represent AAPI in medicine and on social media and this month allows me to reflect on my journey as an Asian American physician who has dealt with being "different" or discriminated against along the way. I hope to motivate and inspire the younger AAPI generations to pursue careers in medicine!

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

The AAPI community needs to stand together in unity on these issues but I also hope that people of all color and race come together in solidarity on these issues. These acts of discrimination and hate have been around for some time and it is good that it is being talked about on a global stage. I know Asian Americans can be stereotyped as being passive or quiet but we will no longer remain silent. One voice is not enough; we need a unified voice.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

Yes, I have faced racial tensions as a physician. I have had patients ask me during medical school if I "could speak English?" I have been called a "chink" and "Jap" by drunken patients in the hospital/Emergency Room. I have always tried to suppress my anger when hearing this as I had to treat these patients regardless. I hope that the increased awareness and solidarity displayed on a global stage will influence people to "do better" but that is certainly not guaranteed as there are a lot of people with hate ingrained in them for so long, generation after generation. I hope that we make a better example for the younger generations as they will make real change in the future. 

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

I have so many memories growing up as a Japanese American in Hawaii. I recall listening to my grandparents' stories of working in the hot sun doing back-breaking work on the sugarcane plantations, playing the card game Hanafuda as a family on New Years Day for good luck, and reading about the 442nd Infantry Regiment as an adolescent (a book given by my mother who knew I was facing racism in school). This book was about the most decorated unit in military history while the US accused many of them of being spies and had their families in internment camps. Their slogan “Go For Broke” has been one of my mottos throughout my medical career where it set my frame of mind: to do what’s right, to do it well and do not listen to the noise and doubters. Go for broke!

Melissa Mondala, MD

Dr. Melissa Mondala is a Board Certified Family Medicine Physician who has embraced the new emerging field of Lifestyle Medicine. Lifestyle Medicine resonates with Dr. Mondala because it tackles the challenges of prevention and treatment, but also disease reversal. Dr. Mondala finds it meaningful to address core values, motivations for change, fears, and even traumas as a source of healing.

In light of everything that has happened within the past year, what does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you as a medical professional?

AAPI Heritage Month to me means embracing and learning stories, struggles, and accomplishments of the AAPI community.  It means to address their specific cultural needs while educating and empowering them so they don't get lost in the healthcare system.

In a report by Stop AAPI Hate, verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning (20.5%) (i.e., the deliberate avoidance of Asian Americans) make up the two largest proportions of types of discrimination. How important is the theme of Solidarity in a time like this?

Solidarity means standing up and standing together. I want to show a strong and positive side of the AAPI community. We are leaders. We have a voice to be heard. We are human. Don't just like us for our food but for who we are.

Hate crimes against Asian American & Pacific Islanders increased by 145% in 2020. As an Asian American or Pacific Islander in the medical community, have you faced racism by a colleague, educator, or patient? How can this community do better?

145% is a huge number that needs to be stopped! I'm blessed to not have a hate crime against me, but I know countless people in my social circle who had racial attacks. This is not new but has been happening for centuries.  Microaggressions are more common and often go unnoticed. We need to all be aware because xenophobia has very deep negative psycholigcal impact that can affect individual's function at work, home, or other activities.

The last topic in this year's theme is Celebration. Asian Culture is worth celebrating! Whether it be a tradition, your family, a memory, etc. what is something special about your culture that you would like to share?

As a Pilipina American, we love coming together as families to eat but also show respect to our elders by "Blessing them." We take our grandma's hand to place it on our foreheads and kiss it to show we love them.

 

 

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