When I co-founded Zapiah, our resource group for employees in Asia and the Pacific Islands, I didn’t think I belonged. I felt like all I was doing was putting everyone together in a bucket. I kept asking myself, “Do I have my place as a leader here?”
We started the ERG with the intention of just celebrating the holidays with happy hours and themed events, and we kicked it all off with a Diwali celebration. Naturally, conversations at this event and beyond often revolved around food. What was everyone cooking? Which restaurants were worth trying? Where is your favorite boba spot? We thought we would just keep hosting events and happy hours, letting the common ground of food connect us to each other.
When we started working remotely, I started to feel isolated. I couldn’t run into a coworker and casually vent something for a minute and walk back to my office. This is where I started to see how cathartic these one minute conversations can be. I wanted to replicate that same type of interaction in our meetings, so I asked members to share more and really open up about how they were handling things. And it worked.
Cut to a year after the start of the pandemic and I am in the process of co-hosting a monthly Zapiah reunion. We don’t ask people about boba or restaurants; instead, we provide a space for our members to cry, let off steam and share their emotions about the continuing violence against the Asian community. I’ve seen people that I used to have those minute-long ventilation sessions with crying and breakdowns in meetings; we bonded in a way that was important to all of us. And I thank Jeremy for giving me the opportunity to provide this platform to our members.
I might not have felt I was the right ‘leader’ when I started Zapiah, but I always remember that at the end of the day I was the one who helped put it all together. together. And now I feel such a responsibility to continue to be vulnerable and open with my colleagues because they have shown they will do the same.
I first came to see Mari and told him I wanted to talk about the violence against our community because I wanted a space where people were encouraged to share and participate in difficult dialogues. I volunteered to lead these conversations because I wanted Zapiah to become a space where even the most difficult conversations can take place. Violence against our community was a big topic in our meetings, but it was also in the media, so it was easier to get some sort of reaction from people.
There are other issues I want to address, but I don’t think we’re there yet. Finally, I want to talk about the more difficult topics – like the protests in Hong Kong and the coup in Myanmar – because we don’t know how they affected someone in Zumper until we talk about it. And I want Zapiah to be that place for anyone who might not know where they can bring these things up.
We live in an environment that has been fostered by generations of Asians who bow their heads and avoid conflict in order to stay safe. And rightly so. But times are changing, for better or for worse, and our approach must change as well. Having these difficult conversations – especially in the workplace – is just the start, but it’s something that excites me as much as everyone else wants it.
Since its founding, Zapiah has more than 50 members of various origins and ethnicities. Mari and Jeremy hope to continue to attract more members and provide them with a place where they can chat about what’s going on in their community, share their experiences and, of course, talk about food.