Grassi Team Members Share their Perspectives

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, an annual celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. In recognition, Grassi’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council asked two of our team members to tell us more about their Asian-American experience and cultural backgrounds.

Our Grassi team members who joined us for this conversation are:

Kenny Cheung headshot    Tiffany Leung headshot

Pictured left to right: Kenny Cheung, Innovation and Technology Director; Tiffany Leung, Audit Associate.

Q. What aspects of your Asian Pacific American background do you feel are the biggest advantages to your current profession?

Tiffany: My culture and background have taught me to always work hard and persevere despite the hardship and barriers the Asian Pacific American community faces. All of my experiences have shaped me to become the dedicated and hardworking person I am today.

Kenny: I have to admit, during the beginning of my career in investment banking in Europe, I felt like I would never be able to make it to the top. I just didn’t see any Asians ever being promoted in the company. However, when I moved to the USA, I felt it was much more diverse and it came down more to what you are capable of, instead of what your ethnicity is. I remember my first time in Texas, I could swear I was actually being treated nicer because I was a Chinese person who was also able to impress the client. For the first time in my career, I felt like my hard work was actually getting me somewhere. And obviously, with Grassi putting me in a leadership role for technology, I can assure you that the ‘glass ceiling’ culture does not exist here. We are here to get the job done, and more and more efficiently as we go.

What is your favorite book by an Asian Pacific author?

Tiffany: I currently don’t have a favorite book by an Asian Pacific author, but I do have a favorite TV show – Fresh Off the Boat, which is based off of Eddie Huang’s autobiography, Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir. This was the first show I watched growing up that starred a family of Asian Americans as the main cast. The sitcom is a milestone for Asian representation, since Asians are usually cast as supporting characters. I found the show relatable as it shared similar stories that I experienced growing up.

Tell us one thing about Asian Pacific culture, history or influence that you want people to be aware of?

Kenny: My favorite story revolves around tea pouring in dim sum restaurants. It’s common practice to see Chinese knocking on the table when others pour tea for them. This came from the Qing dynasty where the emperor liked to travel and see the world as a commoner with his guards. During meals, he would pour tea for his guards, but it would reveal his identity if they were to kneel down and bow. So instead they “bowed” with their fingers, and this has been a tradition ever since.

Tiffany: Asians and Pacific Islanders have contributed greatly in shaping American culture beyond what is recognized. Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of the AAPI community. I hope this month of celebration inspires others to learn more about all the diverse and unique aspects of Asian Pacific culture, history, and influences.

Have you traveled back to your (or your family’s) native country, and what was that experience like for you?

Kenny: I’ve been back to Hong Kong many times and frankly, although it’s an ever-changing and evolving city, it pretty much still feels the same for me, just like home. Hong Kong was a major port for China when it was a colony, and since then it’s blossomed into a financial center for Asia. It’s filled with high rises and high-tech everything nowadays. It really just feels like any other big city on earth like New York, Tokyo, London, etc. It’s gotten much more expensive though. Everything is about three times as expensive as when I left Hong Kong; real estate is probably about 10-20 times!

Tiffany: I have not yet had the opportunity to travel back to my family’s native country, however, this is something I plan to do in the future. As a second-generation Chinese American, I believe this will be a meaningful experience to help me deepen my appreciation and understanding of my culture.

What advice would you give someone who wants to learn more about the experiences of Asian Pacific Americans?

Tiffany: My advice to someone who wants to learn more about the experiences of Asian Pacific Americans is to spend time experiencing the different cultures through films & TV shows, literature, food, etc. Another great way to gain more insight on these experiences is to reach out to those in the Asian Pacific American community to share about their experiences.

Kenny: I think the best way to learn and experience is through traveling. Sadly, this is not the best time to travel, but spending a day in a country lets you see the reality and culture so much more than reading a book. I recommend Beijing if someone were to travel to China, as it has the highest amount of tourist spots for history and culture. Hong Kong and Shanghai are more financial centers and party cities with not that much history to show.

Thank you, Tiffany and Kenny, for sharing your experiences and perspectives on the significance of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!