In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we wanted to highlight the perspectives of one of our outstanding employees: SmartBear Senior Manager of Demand Generation, Mary Nguyen. The details of her upbringing, life experiences, and advice for AAPI allies are representative of the openness that leads to greater appreciation for—and support of—the diverse array of amazing cultures that surround each one of us.
Emoni: Talk to me about your upbringing as an Asian American. How has that contributed to your career?
Mary: I grew up in a traditional Vietnamese household with a lot of emphasis on community, respect, hard work, and discipline. I was raised to be results oriented, which, was horrible as a young kid, but totally paid off as a working adult. I carry those values throughout everything I do and with everyone I come across.
Throughout my life, I‘ve volunteered and worked for various nonprofit and grassroots organizations and worked to receive a master's degree in Public Policy & Administration. Halfway through my master's program, I became restless, so I applied to a business development position at Dynatrace and was hired! My career just took off from there.
I’m fortunate to have achieved a lot of success in my career so far, but it’s always dawned on me that I have to have two identities: one in the workplace and one in my personal life. Most meeting rooms don’t have an Asian woman at the table. I am always aware of how I pronounce certain words, if I am using an American idiom correctly, and if I am carrying myself in a way where people aren’t only focused on my identity as an Asian woman but as a professional marketer in the tech industry.
Emoni: I totally understand that feeling of a need to watch what you say, or constantly wonder how you’re being perceived by others in the room. Have there been times when race or ethnicity has affected your career in positive or negative ways?
Mary: Because of my values, I love bringing people together and finding a common ground with communities. I think because of that, I was drawn to marketing from the start. I want to understand who people are, what they need, why now, and how I can help them achieve their goals. A lot of people think of marketing as being tacky and disingenuous. I think when it’s done right, it’s genuinely about figuring out who are your communities, and how do you work together with them to both achieve more.
I had to learn how to take up space, and to do it in a way where people won’t write me off. There have been more than a handful of meetings where I walked away embarrassed or disappointed that I didn’t use my voice or misrepresented what I wanted to share. Each of these moments were lessons learned for me. I am really thankful for my parents and my culture for raising me to be so results oriented, and I continue to put myself in uncomfortable situations so that I can learn how to navigate through them in my professional life.
I also recognize that not every space is a safe space to do this, and I understand the fear and concern that can come with speaking out about Asian hate in the workplace. “Why draw attention to myself? It’s such an emotionally charged topic.” At some point I realized I had to learn that it was okay for me to take up space... not just as a working woman but as an Asian American working woman. Taking up space means more than just speaking in meetings or leading projects. It also means not dimming your light for the comfort of someone else.
I can only speak for me, but I know once we return to the office, I am going to proudly speak of and represent my Vietnamese culture, through stories, food, celebrations, and clothing. Yeah, even the way I pronounce certain words (the R’s and L’s next to each other are tough for me!). For AAPI people who aren’t ready yet, that’s okay, too. My advice is to go at your own pace. Whenever you’re ready, know that there are people like me out there waiting to cheer you on.
Emoni: I love that. It’s really important to know that there are others out there ready to support those who are just thinking about presenting their culture more publicly. Thank you for being one of those people! Could you also share any ideas for how people can be better allies and advocates for Asians and Asian Americans? We want to support your culture, too!
Mary: Don’t be afraid to say that you support the AAPI community, or to even be very vocal about it! Sometimes, I feel like people are sometimes hesitant to say “Stop Asian Hate” or “Black Lives Matter” because maybe it’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar for them. The first part about being an advocate is to NOT be afraid or ashamed of saying you stand with the AAPI community. Honestly it doesn’t take a big gesture to make a difference in the movement.
I think a lot of people tend to feel like they’re not doing “enough,” or that their actions are so little that they won’t have any impact. But it’s the sum of all your actions (no matter how small or big) that goes a long way. Another great option is to shop and or dine locally. You can also follow news/media outletsthat are dedicated to sharing stories about their AAPI experience, such as NextShark and AsianFeed. Lastly, if you can donate donatetime or money, there are some great organizations out there like the Asian American Advocacy Fund, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Asian Mental Health Collective.