Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch is the President of the U.S.-China Education Trust, a program devoted to promoting American Studies in China. She has had an extensive career in international affairs and government service, beginning in 1964 as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia and culminating as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Nepal in 1989 — the first Asian American to hold such rank in U.S. history. For Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month, we’re excited to bring you her perspectives on AAPI month throughout her life and career.
What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
As long as I can remember since the month’s inception as Pacific/Asian American Heritage Week in 1979, I have given remarks to celebrate AAPI achievements every May. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month has always been a time for me to help Americans see AAPIs, not as perpetual foreigners, but as who we really are, Americans who belong in America. Anybody who grows up Asian Pacific American experiences the sense of being foreign. How many times have I heard that I speak English well? Or, when asked where I am from, and I say, San Francisco or Washington, D.C., to get the retort, where are you really from? And I can’t tell you how often I’ve been asked what country I represented as ambassador. Asian Pacific Americans, unfortunately, have been tarred by the insidious presumption that we are perpetual foreigners, have dual loyalties, or are somehow linked to the government of a foreign country. May, for me, has become a month to amplify the Asian Pacific American voice and experience to share our diverse life experiences and, in the process, help build a better understanding of the AAPI community in this country.
Leadership means to use empowerment to break the barriers that stand in the way of equal opportunity for the AAPI community.
Given the heightened injustices against the AAPI community in the last year, why is this AAPI month particularly important?
The rise of anti-Asian hate today has roots in the detrimental impact of the “yellow peril” narrative, popular since the 19th century. The long history of disenfranchisement and anti-Asian racism in the U.S. has largely been masked by the model minority myth and erased from public discourse of American history. As anti-Asian violence surges across America, it is more important than ever for AAPI Heritage Month to revisit the shameful history of discrimination and exclusion of Asians in America and open public dialogue to raise awareness of the persistence, fortitude, sacrifice and, also, the triumph that symbolize the Asian American experience in this country.
May, for me, has become a month to amplify the Asian Pacific American voice and experience to share our diverse life experiences and, in the process, help build a better understanding of the AAPI community in this country.
How has your identity shaped your experience in your field, if at all? What does leadership mean to you?
In my lifetime, I have gone from a young refugee to the first Asian American ambassador. I was fortunate because from day one in America, my father told me not to look back, that we were not going back to China, and I should learn to become an American. Knowing who you are is the first step toward gaining the self-confidence that is essential to succeed. From that time forward, I have worked hard to be American, finding out in the process that it is not just birth or an oath that makes someone American. For me, being American was empowerment – I had the freedom to choose what I wanted to be, not to have to submit to what society prescribed that I should be. And leadership means to use empowerment to break the barriers that stand in the way of equal opportunity for the AAPI community.