Ben Chang is the Deputy Vice President for Communications and University Spokesperson for Princeton University. He has been a member of Meridian’s Rising Leaders Council since 2016. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month, we’re excited to bring you his perspective on home, history and heritage.
For me, AAPI month begins in West Virginia.
West Virginia: Perhaps a surprising locale for a story about AAPI month, but this one begins there because my mom grew up in Clarksburg, WV. My grandparents left China — and their daughters — to come to the United States to study medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, before settling in Clarksburg to teach at the local medical school. They then brought my mom and her sister over from China just before the Communist takeover.
That is where our very American story begins. After college in West Virginia, my mom moved to the Big City (Washington, D.C.), where she raised me as a single parent with determination and grit. With that foundation and the good fortune to be able to attend Georgetown University, I joined the Foreign Service and served my country for almost two decades. I now work in higher education, grateful to be at an institution committed to seeking out talent wherever it resides across the country and around the world to further its mission of teaching and research “in the nation’s service and the service of humanity.”
So, AAPI month for me means mom, her belief in the American Dream, a commitment to service and a faith in opportunity. And in this year of great disruption and heartbreaking tragedy, AAPI month also means to me community, perseverance and uniting across divides. Ever since I left the official world of statecraft, Meridian has been an invaluable bridge for me to the world of diplomacy. I am heartened Meridian is bringing its resources, experience and perspective to the biggest challenge – and opportunity – for the institution of diplomacy today: Diversifying its most important renewable resource – its people – to ensure it can fulfill its own mission of service to the nation and humanity.
My personal experience as the “face” of America was a mixed one. More than once my ethnic origin or allegiance was questioned, even if without malice, as some people just did not expect an Asian face or a Chinese name to sit behind the Embassy visa window or in front of the “United States” name card. The face of America, though, is a multifaceted one and can be of any ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or political or religious belief. The common thread is a commitment to serve. The same goes for higher education and the Ivy League. These institutions, too, are striving to engage and attract the multifaceted talent of this country – and represent those faces and experiences in their leadership ranks as well. I am grateful to be a part of this ongoing journey.
Click here for more resources on diversity in national security.