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AAPI Heritage Month: Planning the seeds of inclusion

Business Operations Manager and Finance Manager Yanni Zhang

Illustration: Fernando Augusto

To honor Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month 2023, we asked AAPI members of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health community what the month means to them. We will be posting the responses throughout the month, which ends May 31, 2023.

Today, we feature Business Operations Manager and Finance Manager Yanni Zhang.

Yanni Zhang (she/her/hers): As a first-generation immigrant and Asian American woman, I have faced struggles such as a different culture, language barriers, and lack of a sense of belonging. Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month means planting the seeds of inclusion, resilience, and reflection. It’s a time to celebrate AAPI cultures and contributions while acknowledging the challenges we face in public health and society. It also reminds me that we have the power of vulnerability and the ability to rise strong. This parallel process takes a lifetime of learning and practicing these skills, and it binds me to our greater community.

Berkeley Public Health: What is your role here at BPH and how long have you been here?

For the past four years, I have been working at Berkeley Public Health as a business operations manager and finance manager. In my role, I am responsible for managing all aspects of the business operations and overseeing the research budget, program operation budget, and financial management. I also provide program support and administration for both the Berkeley Center for Health Technology and UC Berkeley Labor Occupational Health Program. In addition, I am actively involved in various committees such as the BPH Staff Advisory Council (SAC), UC Berkeley Administrative Management Professionals (AMP), and Cal Women Leadership Program. By participating in these groups, I am able to contribute to the organization’s success and growth and feel a sense of belonging to our community.

BPH: What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

As a first-generation immigrant, Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month holds great importance to me. It is a time for us to celebrate the rich history, cultures, and contributions to our community while also reflecting on the struggles and challenges we have faced.

AAPI Heritage Month serves as a platform for us to educate and support our own community, especially in light of the recent increase in hate crimes towards Asians during and after the pandemic. This month reminds us of the resilience and strength of our communities and encourages us to take pride in our achievements. Additionally, this month allows me to reflect on the power of vulnerability and courage, as recently expressed in Dr. Brené Brown’s book The Power of Vulnerability.

As Brown aptly stated, “We associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty. The vulnerability is not weakness, but the willingness to show up and be seen when we cannot control the outcome.”

This statement resonates with me because it helps me decode my mixed feelings and learn how to face anti-race challenges in our lives and stand up for our rights and be valued. Ultimately, AAPI Heritage Month promotes awareness, understanding, and unity among all communities and encourages us to work together toward a more equitable and just society.

BPH: How do you feel that Asian American and Pacific Islanders are seen through the lens of public health and what challenges might they have?

As a collective, we feel that the unique challenges faced by the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in public health are often overlooked. Challenges include language barriers, cultural differences, limited access to healthcare services, and the fact that AAPI communities typically have fewer resources compared to other communities such as Black and Spanish-speaking communities. These challenges have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and increased racism and violence towards Asian Americans. To promote equity, inclusion, diversity, and belonging in public health, we believe it is crucial to provide culturally and linguistically appropriate care that recognizes and respects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of AAPI communities.

BPH: How do you feel our school could better serve our AAPI community members?

To amplify our voice within the AAPI community, we recognize the need for a multifaceted approach. This includes improving access to member services, collecting disaggregated data to understand our unique needs and experiences, and providing culturally and linguistically appropriate care. Our school has already started this process by inviting us to join various campus-wide workshops and trainings. By prioritizing these efforts, we can work towards a more inclusive, belonging, and wholehearted community.

Here are some specific ideas to consider:

  • Celebrate culture and tradition: Hosting a multi-culture festival or event to celebrate traditional holidays and culture would help others to understand our rich culture and enables us to feel a sense of belonging and inclusion in our school.
  • Offer diverse and inclusive curricula: Our school can promote inclusivity by incorporating AAPI history, culture, and experiences into course content across various subjects, especially for our training/workshop program.
  • Provide resources and support: Hiring more bilingual staff and AAPI members would provide additional academic and emotional support, such as tutoring, coaching, mentoring, and counseling, to help AAPI students and staff succeed academically and personally.
  • Offer training and education: Having more AAPI members who can provide the training and education to our community, such as hiring some AAPI staff as LOHP coordinator and public education specialist, would be beneficial.
  • Job opportunities: Providing equal opportunity for AAPI members to receive promotions and having one or more AAPI members of the Chancellor’s Cabinet/office or in a position of leadership on our campus would be beneficial.

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