May is Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month. From science and medicine to government and arts, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made significant contributions to American culture and society. To commemorate this special month, we asked Legal Assistant Sherry Gonzales to tell us why this designation is important to her.
This year’s theme for AAPI Month is “Advancing Leaders Through Collaboration.” Who do you consider a leader(s) or role model(s) within the AAPI community, and why?
I love Amanda Nguyen – she is a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee who helped get the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights passed and is a huge advocate for victims of Anti-Asian hate crimes. Some of her many accolades include: a 2022 TIME magazine woman of the year, a Nelson Mandela Changemaker and Forbes 30 under 30.
My mom is a Korean immigrant who, as an American, should be able to walk any street without imposed judgment, prejudices or hate based on what she looks like. I love how Amanda has been a positive voice, raising awareness on social platforms and through news media to promote better understanding, education, and empathy for the Asian community.
How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
It has shaped not only my personality, but also how I chose to raise my children. I was bullied when I was in elementary school because I am biracial (Korean and Caucasian). From that experience, I have always sided with underdogs, and will always be an advocate to help anyone who does not have the confidence to speak up for themselves or provide resources to help others.
I raised my children to never judge anyone by what they look like and to recognize when someone feels excluded. Always go out of your way to make sure there is inclusion and be the friend that provides acceptance on any level. Most Asian children know how to play an instrument, along with having expectations of excellent academics. I started playing the piano at 5 years old and became the church pianist at a Korean American church at the age of 11 until I moved to Houston in 1995. I played for both American and Korean services, weddings, funerals, as an accompanist for competitions such as Solo & Ensemble for orchestra, choir and band for middle school and high school students all over the city, as well as being a private piano instructor.
Do you or your family have any special traditions that celebrate your heritage? Tell us about them.
Korean Thanksgiving is celebrated at all Korean American churches in America. It is typically celebrated by dressing up in a Hanbok (traditional Korean clothing typically worn on holidays) and a feast with every Korean dish you could think of. My mouth is watering thinking of the huge spread of food that is shared that day.
What does AAPI month mean to you, personally?
I love that we have a month dedicated to celebrating our culture. Hollywood is now portraying Asians in a more positive light, and we are finally seeing more representation in all genres. We are a very humble ethnic group, and that is why it took so long to become respected instead of dismissed. We are taught to accept, adapt, and endure on all levels. We are one of the hardest working, kindhearted and most loyal friends you can have…plus we can throw down when we cook!