In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we're doing a four-part series highlighting the experiences and sentiments of some of our employees at Notarize. Stay tuned for the remainder of the series being published throughout May.
The tech industry was the last industry I ever thought I would end up working in. I started my career in politics as a high school volunteer for my local Congressman’s re-election campaign. By volunteering, I became fully immersed in local politics and found wonderful mentors who remain trusted advisors today. I never ran for office myself, but from when I was in college to years after, I helped candidates get elected at the local, state and national levels. Upon graduating from Western Michigan University, I started my career in government working for the Michigan House of Representatives where I covered a diverse number of issues.
After nearly eight years with the state house, I left to work as a multi-client lobbyist at both the state and federal level. I later set-up my own consulting firm together with two other business partners to do advocacy work. Prior to starting with Notarize, I spent over nine years with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) where, among other responsibilities, I led the replacement of outdated IT databases and legacy software programs with online systems such as COTS, SaaS, or in some cases designed completely new systems depending on the program needs.
When the opportunity came for me to join Notarize and lead Government Affairs and Community Engagement efforts, I knew all of my past experiences would allow me to blend my love for promoting new technology and advancing innovation with my deep interest in policy. I was ready for a new challenge and instead of being the customer of a technology vendor, I thought it would be interesting to learn a different perspective and understand how a company like Notarize can best serve its customers.
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month has helped to open my eyes, learn and grow; to become more comfortable being of Korean descent and also an American. It has helped me to recognize I’m still on a journey to being the best human I can be for my family, friends, colleagues and greater community — no matter what my heritage is or the culture with which I associate myself.
I first came to the U.S. from Korea when I was adopted at around the age of five. There were a lot of things I had to grapple with growing up as a child of Asian descent in an American household: Do I stick to my Korean culture and language? Or do I embrace American culture, speak English and forsake my prior identity?
When I became a US citizen at seven years old, I felt like I was American and no longer Korean. It didn’t matter that I looked different, I was finally American like everyone else around me. My parents would have me visit with a Korean couple — the Lee’s — in my town. I remember going to Mrs. Lee’s and talking with her in Korean. Unfortunately, despite my parents’ efforts to help me maintain my native language, once I learned how to speak and write in English, I refused to speak Korean and visit with Mrs. Lee.
After a while, I even stopped eating Korean food, even though my adoptive mom learned how to cook some Korean dishes for me. I remember eating a lot of kimchi when I first came to the U.S., but after a while, I preferred my mom’s fried chicken, mashed potatoes, hamburgers and midwestern cooking.
And while to me I was no different than my American friends and family, I wasn’t always seen that way by others. I have a vivid memory of my first day of school in junior high when my teacher called my name. After I said I was present, she paused and stared at me. A look of confusion came across her face and then she asked, “You have an older sister, right?” I replied firmly, “Yes.” I was dumbfounded when she then said in front of the whole class, “How is that possible? You don’t look the same. It’s not possible that you’re siblings.” That was the first time looking different made me feel almost ashamed.
In high school, common stereotypes meant being Asian also came with a higher set of expectations for my grades. This was infuriating to me, but at the same time, it pushed me to work twice as hard to get those perfect grades. I ended up adding extra pressure on myself because for the first time I felt like my reputation as an Asian — not as an American — was on the line.
The older I got, the more my Asian background came up. While it was hard at first to accept that this was something that defined me to others, I learned it was my job to help educate them.
I have two amazing girls, one is 12 years old and the other is almost 9. My husband is from Germany, so we’re teaching them to speak the language and exposing them to both American and German traditions and cultures.
My oldest was 9 years old when she asked me why we didn’t celebrate my Korean culture. It was at that moment I realized that as a parent, I should help her learn about her Korean heritage. It took me up until that moment to accept that I’m still Korean even as a U.S. citizen, and that I needed to stop hiding from it.
We have since celebrated the Korean Lunar New Year for the past two years, and pre-pandemic, we took our girls to the Detroit Institute of Art where they had a day celebrating Korean art and culture. There was a Korean artist who wrote what their names meant in Korean, which we have since framed.
AAPI Heritage Month is important because it’s helped me to take time to celebrate my culture and help others learn, including myself, about the contributions that we have made and about who we are as a people and community. While it’s taken me a long time to get to a good place with acknowledging and accepting that I’m Korean and a part of the larger Asian community, I encourage everyone to pause and learn about themself and others around them. Through listening to others and learning about their life experiences and stories, we can and will become better humans.