Communicators Discuss Challenges for the Asian American & Pacific Islander Community

This past May 19, PRSA hosted the first webinar in its Diverse Dialogues series to celebrate Asian American & Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

As a Filipina American and member of the PRSA National Diversity & Inclusion Committee, I appreciated that our first webinar addressed what we, the Asian American & Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, have been dealing with since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

The webinar featured some of the country’s leading Asian American communications professionals and discussed how they are navigating the effects of COVID-19 within the AAPI community. The panelists included Angela Chitkara, researcher and consultant, World in 2020 Project; Soon Mee Kim, executive vice president and Global Diversity and Inclusion leader, Porter Novelli; and Ted Nguyen, immediate past-president of PRSA’s Orange County Chapter and national delegate, and senior manager of external affairs at the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Moderated by PRSSA President Carolyn Lok, the webinar was a lively, frank discussion of how professionals and students can be better allies and stewards of diversity in public relations.

“In this time of COVID-19, while we are all affected, we are also experiencing this pandemic very differently… specifically, Black and brown communities, who account for a smaller population but a very large portion of COVID-specific deaths,” Kim said. “For those in the Asian American community, who are of Asian descent, we are facing incidents of personal physical attacks and verbal attacks to the degree that many of us feel unsafe, in a country we thought was our country as well.”

Nguyen talked about not only “facing the virus itself and the horrible toll it’s taking, but also the virus of hatred and bigotry,” which he said we can help control. He mentioned the efforts of the Vietnamese American community in Orange County and Southern California, which represents a large portion of small-business owners in the Golden State.

Through NAILING IT FOR AMERICA, an organization that represents California’s nail-care industry, the community provided more than 1 million pieces of personal protective equipment, worth $30 million, and 32,000 restaurant meals, to health care workers. The community also sought to counter the misperception of the “Asian virus” itself.

Chitkara spoke about the social risk to organizations that a lack of diversity and inclusion poses. “Employees are looking very closely at their organizations and asking, ‘Are they being inclusive?’” she said. “‘Are they being empathetic?’ When I think of an organization, I think of how they are contributing to society.”

Nguyen emphasized the power of listening and empathy by sharing his experience as a refugee. He had escaped Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon in 1975 to immigrate to the United States, where he chose his new first name, Ted, after his favorite teddy bear.

The webinar was a conversation-starter, not a presentation or discussion that lasts for only an hour or a month. Here are some resources that support the panelists’ discussion:

  • Nielsen Report on Asian American consumer insights — released in May, this report will help PR professionals better understand and engage with the Asian American & Pacific Islander community
  • ASIAN AMERICANS,” a five-part documentary series now available on PBS or to stream online

My hope is that, as storytellers, we can use our collective voices to speak up and stand up for what is right. As PR professionals and communicators, it’s our responsibility to tell these stories truthfully and authentically. By doing so, we will have a more diverse and inclusive profession and a more diverse and inclusive world.

Laarni Rosca Dacanay is an award-winning entertainment and media publicist with more than 15 years of experience spanning all dimensions of diversity, equity and inclusion. She currently serves as PR/communications consultant for Comcast NBCUniversal. Based in Southern California, she is serving her 12th year on PRSA’s National Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Follow her on Twitter @laarnid1.

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Laarni Rosca Dacanay

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