Jaz Henry, Consultant in our Chicago office and co-lead of L.E.K.’s Chicago Mosaic program, tells us about embracing her Vietnamese culture and what APAHM (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month) means to her.
What does Asian Pacific American Heritage Month mean to you?
On a personal level, it’s about celebrating my Asian-ness and being unapologetically proud of it. It’s important to me because I did not embrace my Asian heritage until I was a teenager. I am biracial and was raised in a largely Caucasian Las Vegas community. My mother came to the U.S. from Vietnam during the war, and she faced a lot of racism because she didn’t speak English well and she looked different. Her way of protecting me and my siblings was to remind us we were half white — that we were American. It wasn’t until I was around 14 that I realized why she was ashamed and fearful and was able to fully embrace my Asian heritage. I am proud of being Asian American, and I am very involved in initiatives that support people of color because I have seen the dangers of racism firsthand, and the power of being unequivocally proud of who you are — no matter where you came from.
Does your family have any traditions that are important to you?
Once I embraced my identity, I ran full force into understanding what it means to be Vietnamese. Having conversations with my mom about life in Vietnam has been a healing process. Once we began talking about her past, it was like a floodgate opened. Our traditions now start in the kitchen. She taught me how to make summer rolls, which I try to bring to every potluck, and she taught me how to make a version of pho.
How has your heritage shaped the person you are today, and how do you find an outlet at L.E.K.?
As a biracial person, I’ve experienced the feeling of not being “enough” — not being “Asian” enough or not being “white” enough to really fit in anywhere. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve really shed those fears and embraced all the different layers of my identity. I own my identity as a biracial, bisexual and intersectional feminist. My heritage shaped how I show up in the world in my professional and personal lives. I want to ensure everyone has a safe space to be themselves, to be authentic and to have no shame about where they came from. I want people to show up fully, expressing their ideas and who they are. It’s important to me to be an active ally of communities of color, especially for Black, Latinx and Native American colleagues. I aspire to come from a mindset of abundance, which is why I joined Mosaic, an affinity group for those in the L.E.K. community who identify as racial and ethnic minorities. My background has taught me to be resilient, deeply empathetic and in service to others whose stories aren’t always the ones we get to hear but are nonetheless so important.