The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

STATE VP VOICE | BY HUI JUN TINA WONG AFSA NEWS Contact: | (202)-647-8160 Celebrating Asian American Leadership May launches with two exciting commemorative events— Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month and our Foreign Service Centennial. I reflect on the long history of challenges faced by many AANHPIs and the gratitude for the Foreign Service community we have built across the department, at every level, to proudly represent our country. As the first Chinese American AFSA State vice president, I want to help colleagues overcome intergenerational trauma and persistent invisibility inside and out of the workplace. Breaking Barriers. I reflect on 100 years of history, recalling the significance of episodes in which AANHPIs’ loyalty and place in America were questioned. During the late 1800s, for example, the California Gold Rush led to restrictive immigration legislation specifically targeting Chinese Americans that remained in place for half a century. And during World War II, communities of Japanese Americans were rounded up for years inside internment camps. As a Foreign Service officer and AFSA leader, I won’t ever forget those historical memories of our family members, friends, and colleagues deployed to the front lines despite the rise of anti-Asian acts and hate crimes at home. Our fight against these threats to our civil liberties continues to the present day under the increasing tensions of global strategic competition with China. Still more important, trailblazers across our department, such as Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Ambassador Rich Verma, Assistant Secretary Michele Sison, Ambassador Julie Chung, Ambassador Hugo Yon, and Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Ogburn are breaking those bamboo ceilings and transforming leadership from the heart. These leaders and so many others light the fire in me to open new doors of opportunity for others to follow. The Data Story. I am pleased to see incremental progress among self-identified Asian American entry and mid-level employees in our Foreign Service in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility Demographic Baseline and the MD-715 reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) from 2019 to 2023. However, Asian American generalist and specialist Senior Foreign Service employees remained stagnant, hovering between 5 and 5.53 percent (out of approximately 700 Asian American generalists and 400 Asian American specialists across all ranks) for the same period. Why are AANHPIs not crossing the senior threshold at the proportional rates relative to the majority population, and why is this so persistent? According to a September 2022 McKinsey study, “Asian American Workers: Diverse Outcomes and Hidden Challenges,” we only need to disaggregate the data down to subgroups and cones/specialties to show disparate, unequal outcomes. In fact, that study identified popular perceptions of AANHPIs as manicurists/ pedicurists, software developers, or physicians—the three common trades according to the U.S. Census. A U.S. government official—let alone a Foreign Service officer— doesn’t even make a tiny dot on that AANHPI labor workforce map. Finding Allies. Experiences of institutional biases and discrimination continue everywhere according to a November 2023 Pew research study. Within the department, across the U.S. government, and throughout U.S. society, we need every ally, including leaders across both sides of the political aisle. I get pushback often: Why are you so focused on these questions? What data do you have to prove the alleged biases? As one colleague said: “We have to make others understand our lived experiences.” In the Foreign Service, it is both a lived experience and a waste of taxpayer dollars to hire new entry-level officers and move them to D.C. for training, only to have them wait for unpredictable lengths of time, unable to deploy to China or other countries because of a pending Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) assignment review or appeal of an assignment restriction. I am grateful for Hill allies such as Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Congressman Andy Kim (D-N.J.), who have been stalwart supporters of DS transparency measures and appeals reform on these matters. I am thankful for the support of AFSA’s tireless labor management attorney Colleen FallonLenaghan, who has provided expert advice to our confused members stuck in these processes. I urge all department leaders to get this right. We need your support to enable those who have linguistic, cultural, and regional talents to be deployed so we can win this global competition. Equipping Leaders. My final kudos extend to AANHPI and other leaders across our employee organizations—the community lifeline. AFSA welcomes your engagement, and our labor negotiations with the department are more inclusive because of your ideas and collaboration. Not just this month, but every month, let us advance a centennial celebration focused on delivering inclusive outcomes and show the creative, genuine stuff of which AANHPI leadership is made. n 76 MAY 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL