May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. It comes following an upswing in racial violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders in the U.S.
Chinese American Susanna Chiu, director of Energy Services at PSE&G, says the foundation of her 35-year career at the utility is problem-solving. It was the basis of her job when she started as a programmer in 1986, fresh out of college, and has continued to play a critical role as she moved through the company.
It also is a skill she is applying to address the recent anti-Asian comments and violence sweeping the country. While the United States has a long history of racism against Asians, the emergence of COVID-19 in China fueled its reemergence in 2020 and continues in 2021.
In addition to her role at PSE&G, Chiu is an active member of the Human Relations Council in her town. Its mission is to foster cooperation and conciliation among all community members and address the causes, impact and prevention of bias-related incidents. PSEG is focused on driving diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace and out in the communities we serve and supports employees like Chiu as they tackle difficult issues.
Following the killing of eight people – including six Asian women – in the Atlanta area in March, Chiu worked with the Human Relations Council to host a community event titled “Building Bridges: Combating Anti-Asian Racism” to foster unity and understanding.
“Unless you are Asian American, you aren’t necessarily aware of how the community is feeling and the concerns we have,” Chiu said. “It is so important that the community works together and supports each other.”
For Chiu, the concerns have struck close to home. Her daughter, who had been working in Florida last year, expressed concern for her safety and going out alone. She recently moved back home to be closer to her family. A 6-year-old son of an Asian American friend shared with his dad that someone told him to “go back to where you came from.” And Chiu finds herself having conversations with her elderly relatives, advising them that they need to be careful when they go out so they don’t also become targets.
“There are some people who view us as outsiders,” Chiu said. “It is a dangerous perception that adds another layer of stress to the burden we all already are feeling due to the pandemic.”
Working together to support one another
As the name of the event she helped host implies, Chiu believes in building coalitions of whom she calls “upstanders” – people who will join you in support. There are many ways people can help when they witness an act of racial bias, hatred or violence, she said. You can stand up in the moment to say the act is not OK, pull the person targeted aside afterward to see if they are OK, and report the incident.
“We might not be able to change the minds of some people,” she said, “but, if we work together, we can show those who try to make others feel they don’t belong that they are the ones who stand alone.”
To learn more about how Asian and Pacific Islanders have enriched America’s history and are instrumental in its future success, visit https://asianpacificheritage.gov/.