Behind the Green Apron: Two Starbucks partners share their stories and the impact of the model minority myth


This week Cynthia and Sadaf share their stories and the impact of the model minority myth

Cynthia

I came to Canada when I was three years old. We first lived in a small village with a population of 500. It was my father’s dream to live in a huge house with a barn like in the Western movies he watched as a child.

Once I was old enough for grade school we moved to Vancouver. There were more people that looked like us here, but not many Koreans at the time. I was always the top of my grade for mathematics. My teachers assumed I wanted to be a doctor and always put in me in advance programs because it was their impression that I wanted to achieve more. I had high expectations at a young age.

Being the role model didn’t end at school. Though I am an only child in my family, I am the oldest of my generation for both sides of my family. As the oldest of the Kang family, I have the responsibility of being the role model for my cousins, nieces and nephews. I was not allowed to be spoiled, be immature or make mistakes. As I was the only one living in North America, I was also expected to have the best education and best career path compared to the rest of my cousins. I gave up a lot being the “model minority”. I wanted to pursue a career in music- I played most woodwind instruments and loved composing music. However, it was against the expectations set by my parents under the influence of model minority myth, so I stopped playing.

I joined Starbucks eight years ago. I placed a lot of pressure on myself to be perfect and that was noticed by the people around me, but one day something clicked. As I was learning more about inclusion and diversity, I came across the concept of the imposter syndrome. I realized that a lot of the pressure I placed on myself came from a fear of not being seen as good enough in front of others. This had a lot to do with the expectations I internalized due to the model minority myth. Through that realization, I learned to be more comfortable with myself and build confidence. At a company Courageous Conversation meeting, I spoke openly for the first time in front of my peers about inclusion and diversity and the importance of more representation. Afterwards, I heard from other partners that they were happy to hear me talk about things that they were feeling, but felt uncomfortable sharing. I realized how important my voice was. That’s why I joined the Starbucks Canada Pan Asian Partner Network council as a communications specialist, helping others to build confidence and be comfortable with sharing their stories.

Though I wish I had challenged the status quo much sooner, I’m very happy with my life now and have even begun playing music again. I want others to know that it’s important to keep your head up, speak up and challenge the status quo. You’ll be much happier and will make those around you happier as well.

Sadaf

My journey of embracing my Asian Canadian identity begins with my Asian Russian identity. I was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, but my family moved to Russia when I was six months old.

Growing up in post USSR Russia was surreal. I remember seeing tanks entering the city from my window in 1993, line ups for bread and milk, empty store shelves contrasting luxury cars of the "New Russians" – the newly formed business class of now "democratic" Russia. Growing up I'd play with kids in the streets under the warm supervision of omnipresent babushkas and come home to the aromatic smell of Bengali food and sounds of my native language. Although I had a lot of close friends, I still faced ingrained forms of racism through surprised glances and looks, especially when hearing my lack of accent in Russian, or sometimes outward aggression due to my race; this made me question my identity.

After coming to Canada in my early 20s, I was treated with respect and was seemingly given equal opportunities at university and work. Thus, like many first-generation Canadians, I felt that people who complained about equity, didn’t understand how thankful they should be for their privilege. In my view (at the time), the liberties of North America seemed unparalleled in contrast to the rest of the world and my own past experience. 

My lived experience helps me strive to have an open mind. It reminds me that a sense of belonging and a community is a basic human need; it is also a privilege that is taken away from many, so as years passed, my perspective changed. I was introduced to terms like “glass ceiling” and learned more about the oppression faced by the LGBTQ+ community, the Black Lives Matter movement and the history and experiences of Asian Americans and Canadians. It was open and honest conversations with my fellow partners, learning about their lives and experiences, and our Starbucks Third Place Series, videos and conversations designed to help break down biases and create more inclusive spaces, that helped open my eyes to what implicit bias truly means.

I now understand the sacrifices and suffering that many in Canada had to go through to pave a foundation of equality for everyone, and I am thankful. So much work has been done and it now gives me the privilege to write these words without fear. Perhaps paradoxically, this progress uncovers more and more opportunities for us to build on the foundation and continue our journey towards equality. A path that can only be uncovered by embracing our cultures and celebrating them.

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