Honoring AANHPI Heritage, Past & Present

by Betty Pei Ching Sun

I’m Betty Pei Ching Sun and I’m a proud member of the Human Rights Campaign family, Board of Directors and the Asian-American, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander community. I’m happy to share some thoughts on AANHPI Heritage Month, which we celebrate each May.

Members of the AANHPI community have helped to build our country; from farms and railroads to the arts and sciences, athletic arenas and public offices. And despite the trials and tribulations, hardships and heartbreaks, it’s so touching to me that we are in this place in American history in which our diverse cultures can be recognized with our own affinity month.

My parents came to the United States from Taiwan when I was eight-years-old. They opened a restaurant in Southern California. I lived with my aunt and uncle in Taiwan for three years, seven months and one week, until my parents could finally negotiate the immigration bureaucracy and secure a visa for me as well.

We moved to the United States because my parents wanted a better life for me.

My father gave me six months to learn English. After school every day, I would listen to audiobooks for kindergarten students and follow along with the print editions while holding a mirror to make sure I was pronouncing and enunciating each word correctly. And then I would help my parents at the restaurant, where I could practice speaking English with our guests.

It wasn’t easy and it’s still not always easy. My parents were robbed at gunpoint more than once in America. They feared being harassed and attacked at home, at church, at work, and on the streets. Like so many other Asian-Americans and immigrants, they felt voiceless and suffered violence and racism in silence. My parents told me, “Do well in your schoolwork, keep your head down, don’t make waves and be a positive contributing factor to society.” That was just the Asian way for our family.

The Asian American communities in Dallas and Laguna Woods are just the latest to have to grapple with senseless anti-Asian violence and attempts to silence or erase us. Sign HRC’s petition to stop anti-Asian violence and protect AANHPI people and LGBTQ+ rights.

I also suffered blatant racism and discrimination in school and at work. Despite being a junior Olympic swimmer in high school, I was told by the coaches at my high school that I couldn’t even try out for our sports teams, because "Asians aren’t good athletes." My parents ended up transferring me to a private high school for my senior year so that I would have more social and educational opportunities.

And now I work in Commercial Real Estate and Disaster Management, which have traditionally been a “man’s field.” As a single working mother, I often feel like I have to work twice as hard to get half as far as my cisgender male colleagues, who have the privilege of living their authentic lives while enjoying the presumption of competence and inclusion, membership in the “club,” if you will.

Like many of us, I have had to prove myself based on my performance at school and at work against double standards, unfair expectations and conscious or unconscious bias and discrimination. But I learned fortitude and resilience and am grateful for every one of those difficult moments that have made me who I am — and now I have the ability and the voice to speak up for myself, my family and my communities.

Being involved with the Human Rights Campaign has been a godsend for me. While in my thirties, a friend took me to an HRC gala dinner. When the ballroom door opened, it was like the sky opened up before me! Everyone could be themselves without judgment. I raised my hand and said, “Where do I sign up, and how can I help?!” It’s a privilege to support an organization that fights homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, sexism and racism on all fronts with a progressive vision of equality for everyone.

My young son grew up with me in the HRC family. Whether at HRC gala dinners or pop-up fundraisers at our restaurant, Ethan would wear his bow tie and ask people for additional donations — and he got them every time! After one event, when he was nine, Ethan said to me, “Mommy, I don’t know if I’m going to like boys or girls, but I know you’re going to love me no matter what!” At that moment, I knew that I was doing something right by opening up this world to him where there is acceptance and love, no matter who we are or whom we love.

We at HRC will continue working together and in partnership with our allies to make AANHPI Heritage Month more recognized and valued. We are committed to making sure the voices of our communities are heard and that we are standing alongside them in the fight for equality.

This month and every month, I want us to lift our heads, raise our voices and make impactful waves toward a society that is more fair, equitable, inclusive and prosperous for everyone.

In Unity,

Betty Pei Ching Sun