What is an Asian American narrative supposed to be, anyway?
Nora chats with Jerry Won, founder of Just Like Media and host of the "Dear Asian Americans" podcast, along with Simi Shah, founder and host of the "South Asian Trailblazers" podcast and Chief of Staff to the former CEO and Chairperson of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi for a special AAPI Heritage Month episode. Presented by Grayscale.
Producer: Bella Hutchins
Production, Mixing & Sound Design: Daniel Markus
Fact Checker: Holly Van Leuven
Senior Producer: Katherine Milsop
VP, Head of Multimedia: Sarah Singer
Full transcripts for this episode below.
Jerry Won: Our parents were born after the war in really desperate financial conditions as a country. Academics was really the only and the most reliable way to move past economic class and social class. So there's a specific reason and intent between that, and them coming here and wanting us to do our best academically to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Then, while we scoff at that stereotype as a joke amongst us now, for folks who don't do that, it's really fundamental to understand that's where it comes from and that our parents have had to deal with not just an intergenerational change in expectations of academics and career, but an intercontinental shift in culture. So we have to give our parents and our grandparents so much more grace and love than we sometimes give them for not "understanding what we want to do."
Nora Ali: For Morning Brew, this is Business Casual, the podcast that reveals the unexpected business story behind everything. I'm Nora Ali, for a special BC episode and celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Now let's get down to business. Despite being gaslit by my classmates growing up, who claimed many a time that I wasn't Asian, I can confirm that my parents arrived in the US from Bangladesh in the '70s, and the country of Bangladesh is in fact in Asia. But to be honest, I didn't feel like I was in touch with the broader Asian American community until recently, as we've seen a push for better representation in entertainment and media, politics and business. Asian Americans have also had to grapple with a few weighty issues over the last few years, including a reckoning over internalized racism and colorism within our own communities, following renewed conversations about racial injustices against Black Americans sparked in the summer of 2020. There's also been a rise in hate crimes against Asian, Asian American people, due in part to pandemic-fueled xenophobia. On top of it all, the community in recent history has, in some ways, felt a little disconnected and disjointed. According to Pew Research from 2021, "A record 22 million Asian Americans traced their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, each with unique histories, cultures, languages, and other characteristics." All the more reason to celebrate the voices of our guests today, who are both championing stories about Asian Americans and building businesses around them in their own unique way. Simi Shah is the founder and host of South Asian Trailblazers, and also happens to be the chief of staff to the former CEO and chairperson of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. Coincidentally, the subject of one of my favorite Business Casual interviews to date. Jerry Won is a keynote speaker on the Asian American experience, the creator economy and personal branding, and the founder and CEO of Just Like Media, an Asian American storytelling company, which includes the award-winning podcast, Dear Asian Americans. We'll get to our conversation with Jerry and Simi after this quick break. I think the three of us are individually just very excited to be together because we know each other from different things, but we are together, fam, for the first time on a screen, so this is very exciting for me. Now I know each of you from different things. Jerry, I don't know if you recall, but I cold DM'd you on LinkedIn because you wrote this post about the American dream and it was around the winter Olympics and Asian Americans were crushing it, as we remember, in the medal count. I was just moved by your post, decided to reach out, we became fast friends. Simi, you and I met for coffee leading up to me interviewing Indra Nooyi, for whom you are chief of staff, which is amazing. We became fast friends, but now we're here together. Simi, I will start with you. I read that you were questioned by some people, when you first started the South Asian Trailblazers podcast, if there were even enough South Asian trailblazers to fill more than one season. When you heard skepticism like that, what gave you the confidence to start the podcast and how wrong were those doubters?
Simi Shah: I did hear a lot of that when I first started and I think there were a lot of skeptics, as there often tend to be when people feel like they're tackling niches. There were a lot of skeptics just with regard to understanding how many South Asians are out there actually blazing trails in leadership roles. I think it's been very interesting to see even just in the last two years, over the course of the pandemic, the tide of that conversation change. Someone recently said this and I'm forgetting who, but they said, "It's not even right to say that our community's experiencing a moment. We're gaining momentum." I thought that captured it so beautifully that yeah, we are gaining momentum, and this now feels like an obvious thing to be doing. It feels like, duh, we should be telling these stories. I think for three of us who often occupy these spaces, there are moments, at least from you, where I felt like maybe there is a lot of saturation in this space. Then I take a step back and I talk to people and it's like, "No, we are just getting started." But it's been really exciting just to see the response that we've started to gain and the momentum that I've seen come out of Trailblazers over the past several months.
Nora Ali: That's amazing, and the momentum means there's more space being created for brands and podcasts like both of yours. Jerry, I understand that you launched Dear Asian Americans on your daughter's birthday a couple of years ago, and you wanted to leave these authentic Asian American stories for her generation. That's very sweet. How personal was the creation of this podcast to you?
Jerry Won: A hundred percent personal, because I like to say that I created it for her, but I created it for me, I created it for you, and I created it for all of us, because we don't know what we don't know. And what we didn't know when we were younger, for all of us—and I'll speak for myself, but I didn't know that I needed stories from us. I think it's really rooted in the fact that we have adopted and we have internalized this universal definition of success, universal definition of leadership, what that sounds like, what that looks like in this country. Or just even our experiences of what an Asian American narrative is supposed to be. We have to wonder who put those ideas into our heads and who keeps perpetuating them? And more importantly, who benefits when we continue that status quo? For us to be able to now own that narrative, just as Simi said, there are infinite numbers of stories, because each person has a unique story that can resonate with somebody else. Hello, there's four billion of us, and so we can't ever get through it all. It is 100% personal, because while I leave it for our kids, lives have been transformed, starting with mine. Part of what I wanted to do also was to show my kids and even myself that our stories are not only important and that they matter, but they can also be a great business platform on which we can build our family's foundation.
Nora Ali: Mm-hmm, not only are there infinite stories, but there's infinite ways to tell them and infinite career paths even, or jobs surrounding the telling of these stories. Each of you does a lot of different things, you have a portfolio of you. Jerry, it's interesting because there's so many parallels with our stories, but there is a little bit of a difference in the time where Jerry, you started your career to now. Simi's still early in her career. What has helped inform your decisions when maybe it hasn't been as common or wasn't as common to take a circuitous career path or pivot or try new things when both you and I, Jerry, were starting our careers?
Jerry Won: I think it was trying everything that I was supposed to try and trying to blame myself and to always think about how I could fit better into systems. I was a sales and marketing guy for 10 years before graduate school. Then when that didn't work well, it certainly must be graduate school, and a fancier job with a different company or a different industry. I did that too, and it wasn't going to fit. I think I had checked enough boxes, or I guess I had tried to tweak this mythical formula that we've been taught, which is based on the idea of employment and the idea of us asking for permission to exist and to be asking for a paycheck to tie that to our value of worth. One day I said, "What if I am trying to figure out the wrong formula to begin with?" We've never been taught that. I think for many of us, entrepreneurship from our parents' generation was a necessity and therefore, it wasn't something that was encouraged because they know how hard it was. But I think what they lacked in understanding was that entrepreneurship in our generation and our opportunity can and does look so different than opening up a small business or hustling with physical labor more than not. For me, it wasn't a matter of unfortunately seeing these other ideas that worked and following people, it was having tried so many things almost out of necessity that I have to try this. And if this didn't work, I—maybe not gladly—would've probably taken my butt back to some job, but at least I would've scratched that itch and I've decided for myself, well, that didn't work. But it took me 15 years after graduating from college with a combination of work and graduate school and postgraduate work for me to actually decide that this was something that was worth doing. I did it at a time it probably wasn't the most logical decision. We had two kids, we live in LA, just graduated from business school two years ago. In hindsight, it worked, but in the moment it wasn't the most sound decision and a lot of folks in our family and in my close circles, often too, wondered what the heck is he doing? Why isn't he doing the thing that he should be doing with an MBA?
Nora Ali: We'll get back to the "what the heck is he doing" sentiment, because we know we experience that in our communities. But Jerry, speaking of your MBA, of course the notion of what a normal career looks like is changing and with that, perhaps the view of what value a higher education brings is changing as well. Jerry, you posted recently on LinkedIn, reflecting on when you had started your MBA seven years ago and you wrote, "The public speaking, podcasting and coaching technically doesn't require an MBA. Everything I've been through, both the good and the forgettable, all have been instrumental in my own growth as a person and entrepreneur." Jerry, among younger generations, there may be more of an inclination to say, learn on the job, take a circuitous career path, even defer college in favor of starting something new. Simi, you told me over coffee that you had even considered getting an MBA or continued education as had I, but I decided not to pursue it ultimately. Jerry, for our younger listeners out there who are fresh out of college or might be considering a career pivot, what are your thoughts on the value of an MBA and pursuing higher education?
Simi Shah: And for me.
Nora Ali: And for Simi, yes.
Jerry Won: I think at an earlier point in my career, perhaps because I was a salesperson and that's something that wasn't as respectable by traditional Korean immigrant standards, my dad told me one time, "You should do something that your degree allows you to do." What he was basically saying was, "Don't do what you're doing now, strive for something higher." And I agreed with him at a certain degree because I was privileged enough to go to USC and to earn my degree there. Looking around at the things that I was doing and pursuing, especially in a sales field, doesn't necessarily require that. I thought about that a lot and that wasn't my guiding light, but that was on my mind. Having gone through graduate school and the traditional post-MBA path into knowing what I do, I have amended that a little bit, which is to do what you want, to do what makes you happy, but do it in the way that you and only you are uniquely capable of doing because of the experiences that you've had, including academic experiences, professional and personal experiences. People often wonder, you have a podcast, you speak for a living, does that require an MBA? Of course, the simple answer is no, but the kinds of companies that I get to engage with, the business schools that I now get to speak at, because they know that I come from a place of residence and experience and to be frank, to be able to charge the rates that I want to charge, are a result of the life experiences that I've had. I think we often live in a world of falsehood, of hacks and shortcuts and things to get somewhere, only to realize it's a whole lot of hurry up and wait. But I think that's just the way that our lives have been designed. In high school you just want to get to college, and in college you just want to get to the next thing. At some point, folks have to realize that life is a long, long marathon and there comes a point where you just have to look out into the horizon and say, "Where do I want to go?" with no next finishing line or a checkpoint to think about. For me, I did go into graduate school with a very specific mission of getting into strategy consulting. I'm never ashamed of experiences that I've had and it's just a matter of what you want to do with that. To sum it up, there are things that people can take away from you through the course of your life. People can take away money, your possessions, even your health. One of the things that people cannot take away are your degrees. Those stick with you forever. Even when the paper has gone, even though the memories are faint, you are forever affiliated with that education and that institution, and so pick and choose wisely. It does matter where you go and it does matter who you engage with. Get it, go make your money. I hope the tuition increases aren't that bad by the time you all decide to go. But it has been a valuable experience for me and something that I encourage everybody to explore, at least at some point in their lives.
Nora Ali: It's such an important perspective, because whether we want to admit it or not, your brand of school does open up certain doors and it gets you in certain rooms. But Jerry, the most important thing that you said is, make sure it's a fit and you like the people that you surround yourself with. One of the reasons I had even considered business school was because of the brands that my parents had wanted for me. My mom told me I should go to business school. So much of my career, until recently, has been based on what would make my parents proud. Going back to that point, Simi, starting with you, does it matter to you what your parents, your family members or community thinks of your job, or if they even understand your job?
Simi Shah: I feel like over the course of the pandemic, just having moved home and spent more time with my family, I think I developed a greater appreciation for what they did. Moving here, not knowing anyone, putting food on the table, basically from nothing. Coming to this foreign place, dealing with racism and all these different challenges and obstacles in their way and building this life where they still choose to be happy on the hardest days. In that respect, I think one of my biggest motivators in life has always been doing them proud. I'm very lucky that my parents, I think from an early age, knew that for me, doing them proud and what success would look like would not fit maybe necessarily the traditional mold. I think they actually understand that, because my dad came here, he was a nuclear engineer, the industry tanked, he got fired and then he decided to be an entrepreneur and took this risky path. So when I left my job a week before the pandemic, this great, cushy job in finance, my sister and mom were freaking out about it and my dad was super calm. I asked him one day, I was like, "Why are you so calm about this? You're more calm about this than I am. I'm glad you're calm, but it's freaking me out that you're so calm." And he's like, "Look, I was your age when I came to this country, you are going to be fine." And for that reason and that support and the choices that they've allowed me to make, I do always want to do them proud. I definitely think we've gone to battle on certain fronts. They want me to be a lawyer, they want me to do certain things that check certain boxes, but they're always open to letting me figure that out. I do think deeply about that, but I've never let it be the binding force when it comes to my choices. I do let my parents guide me, I do believe they have wisdom beyond their years, but I also understand what Jerry was saying about entrepreneurship being encouraged and things like that, it looks different than it might have when they first immigrated here. I think they understand that, they grapple with it at times, but it's been this joint decision of me working my way, gathering input from mentors and external forces, and then also taking on what my parents want for me.
Nora Ali: Jerry, similarly for you, does it drive you, what other people think, what do they think as you make your career decisions?
Jerry Won: I think every human being that says that it doesn't is lying, because we are human and we are impacted, whether it is consciously or subconsciously, by such things. I think it's really interesting talking about parents and the acceptance and what do we make of their sacrifice and all that. I think some things that we, as a collective—I was born in Korea so I consider myself a 1.5 generation. But children of immigrants, we often forget because it is not taught to us, because sometimes our parents want to shield us from what they consider difficult conversations. We often don't have context in what our parents grew up with, under what situation, and what their world looked like, which informs the way that they give us advice. For Korean Americans listening, our grandparents were born under Japanese occupation. Our parents were born after the war in really desperate financial conditions as a country. Academics was really the only, and the most reliable way to move past economic class and social class. So there's a specific reason and well intent between that and them coming here and wanting us to do our best academically to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. While we sort of scoff at that stereotype as a joke amongst us now, for three folks who don't do that, it's really fundamental to understand that's where it comes from and that our parents have had to deal with not just an intergenerational change in expectations of academics and career, but an intercontinental shift in culture. So we have to give our parents and our grandparents so much more grace and love than we sometimes give them for not "understanding what we want to do." The jobs that we have now did not exist when I was in college. Having to explain to anybody else, even to myself, what I want to do, why I do it, are titanic tasks. I think my parents have also evolved with me in understanding that there is varying levels of connection or causation between the sacrifices that they made and what I do with that sacrifice. I think a lot of parents expect us to do X, Y, Z because they sacrificed. However, I think many of us are realizing that we want to deviate from that from time to time, and our parents also have to learn what that means for them. When I stepped away or decided not to return to the corporate world to pursue this path of doesn't even exist, what is a professional Asian American storyteller? How do you make money on a podcast? Who hires you to speak? All these questions that—I'd like to think they come from a place of care and wanting to look out for me, but they don't know what I know and they don't know the world that I operate in. It's even beyond what the typical metrics of success are, which has worked out in my case, but I need to do this. Again, we don't do the things that we do for the validation, but when things happen externally, they really help us feel like we've made the right decision. Precisely a week ago, I was sitting in the Rose Garden of the White House, having been invited to participate in the official White House Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month celebration. I shared that with my dad and it was over family text and he said, "I am so happy that you do something that makes you happy, and that I am very proud of you." I'm pretty sure he was crying because I was crying reading it. But I did screen cap it because I didn't know when the next time that was going to happen was. Then I heard from other family and even from my wife, who saw him without me a couple days later, that he was just gleaming and that he was having a very hard time keeping his composure when he was talking about that. I think to that extent, it also means that our parents, given the conditions and the circumstances in which they grew up, have an extremely different ability and capacity or even desire to express themselves emotionally. So that we are so privileged to be able to talk about things like mental health and things our parents didn't get to talk about because they were on survival mode. Therefore, it is on us to leverage that privilege to understand and have a little bit more grace and empathy towards them. As a parent of two children, you get humbled very quickly when you're a parent. I am trying to raise kids as we all will, or are, for those who are listening. Again, I think we're just very humbled that in the last 10 years, the world has changed. How do you raise kids for a world 10, 20 years from now that we don't know what that's going to look like? In thinking about the tectonic changes that change from the days we were born until now, how do we expect our parents to keep up with that? It's very difficult. When you think about it from how you're going to raise your kids' perspective, you just end up with a lot more humility and kindness and patience for what your parents went through.
Nora Ali: Yeah, and sometimes it takes those iconic moments, like you being invited to the dang White House for our parents to realize, you know what, he's really doing something that is making an impact. Again, congrats on that, Jerry. Let's take a very quick break. More with Simi and Jerry when we come back. With both of your platforms, there's a lot of this sense of giving back to the community, providing this platform, paying it forward, and Simi, not only do you highlight overlooked voices with South Asian Trailblazers, but also through Shop South Asian, which is a platform that connects consumers to South Asian-owned businesses, which you launched. What was the impetus behind that?
Simi Shah: When I started working on South Asian Trailblazers in the pandemic, just as a part of being in the online community and meeting all these people, I kept on meeting South Asian entrepreneurs. As I spoke to more and more of them, I realized that a ton of them were building these profitable, high-growth businesses, but didn't always have access to commensurate opportunities to continue growing them. Whether it's access to venture capital funding or even the knowhow of how do I even get started with something like that, to I want to put my product on retail shelves in Target and Walmart, where do I get started? I realized that communities like this existed for a lot of other affinity groups—for women, for example, and things like that. But there was nothing specific for the South Asian community. It really started as just amplifying these businesses, connecting South Asian and other consumers to South Asian-owned and operated businesses, and has since grown into an idea to actually build a resource network for them, connecting them to each other. Last year, we did a series where we did three fireside chats with people that worked in growth marketing, people that were investors, people who were founders who had received funding and made that tough decision, to just have these individuals talk, interface, and learn from each other. That's been a really exciting experience. I think building something like Trailblazers and then getting inspired to build something else, it's just a good feeling to continue to do work in the community. The best feeling is when someone messages you and says, "This helped me so much," or, "This is something that I've never had access to." Or just doing some of those preliminary conversations where I'm like, "Hey, I'm building this platform. It's very early stages," and people being like, "Please build this," and they end up having a 30-minute conversation with you. That's the best feeling in the world, as they like to say in the tech world, product market fit. Been a really, really exciting time, and I hope to get the opportunity to do more with Trailblazers and Shop South Asian down the line.
Nora Ali: That's great. I think it's just so rewarding to make intros and connections. I think the three of us are inherently connectors. Jerry, you do such a great job of inviting people like me and Simi to panels and other events that you're organizing through some of your clients. But what I appreciate the most about this...Well, there's two things: You're very transparent about pay, first and foremost, because compensation, when you're being invited to speak at things, is not always that transparent, especially when you're a marginalized or historically excluded voice. But you also try to make sure that panels for, say, Asian American Heritage Month, are not just East Asian men, which is maybe more common than South Asian women like myself and Simi. Why is it so important to you to project this variety essentially of the demographic and what are you doing about it?
Jerry Won: Because I look like the guilty party, I represent. I'm sure you and many folks listening have sat in on, watched, seen posters of things that are supposedly very inclusive of Asian America and it's literally three guys that look like me, and that does not represent Asian America. Even here we are celebrating May, what was historically called by the federal government as Asian Pacific Heritage Month, now in an effort to be inclusive, is now Asian American, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I wonder if we are adding words and letters to these names to be genuinely inclusive with our intent, or if it's something else. What I mean by that is just state what you're going to do and do it well. Most of my work and content is within the Asian American space, and so it does sometimes provide a little conflict of showing up to a space and they market it as AANHPI Heritage month. I always say, "I'm not going to talk a whole lot about NHPI, because it's not my community, it's not my experience. I encourage you to go seek that out on your own." Two: Asian America is beautiful and rich and therefore super complex. Data nerds get ready: This is your part of the conversation. I mean, according to the United Nations, there are 48 Asian countries, and it depends now on how many of those people actually self-identify as Asian, because there's this whole other region called West Asia and many folks there don't look like us and don't identify as Asian. However, let's just take the very broad regions that we call East, Southeast and South Asians as what we would consider Asian American. Six of our ethnic groups—Chinese, Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean—make up 85% of all Asians in America, so the other 25 or so countries make up 15%. We are at this crossroads of, how do we become representative enough, knowing that we can't be exhaustively representative? We can't have every country represented, or we can't even do it by share. It's super complicated; it is also the result of a lot of narrative over the decades of who's what, and who's not what. But here's the thing, ultimately at the end of the day, we are very complex and we are very wonderful as a result of that. But if we double click and disaggregate a lot of our data points—for example, Indian Americans, on average, 75% of Indian Americans have a college degree or higher in this country, which is also a byproduct of how many people came here. Simi, you mentioned your father came here to get his graduate degree; many of them did. The self-selection process, which is a byproduct of the American foreign policy and immigration policy, resulted in that happening. And that we cannot also then say in the same sentence that refugees from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam were afforded the same opportunity to be equally successful academically or financially here. Who's taking care of that voice? There are about two million Koreans in America. 100,000 of them, 5%—pretty significant—are trans-racially and trans-nationally adopted Korean Americans. What I try to do, and I know I'm not perfect at it and I encourage other people to do so, is to not speak for the community, but speak up for the community. Sometimes that means inviting other people. Sometimes that means sharing your check. Sometimes that means forgoing your own check and your opportunity so that somebody else can get their first chance to share. Here's the secret: My slice of my pie will grow if the whole pie grows. I don't need to worry about the scarcity mindset that we've adopted, that people have told us to believe, that we need to fight for scraps. There are four billion of us in this world, on this planet earth, and a good billion of them speak English, so I don't have any worries about my target audience. We talk about TAM, talking about startup talk. My TAM is good, my TAM is three times the size of America itself. That's what we need to think about and it's so much opportunity there, because why do we do what we do? We did not see ourselves in books, on TV, on bookshelves, in podcasts, in all the things that had the word leadership in it. So we want to define it all and we also have to be mindful that my definition of Asian American leadership varies greatly from everybody else's.
Nora Ali: We've got a huge total addressable market, my friends. Let's take a very quick break. Again, more with Simi and Jerry when we come back. All right, I want to talk about pitching, because pitching is so important for career pivoters, for people who are trying to change their brand or get noticed and network. It's just becoming increasingly important. Give our listeners some advice. What's your pitch? How do you get your role models and high-profile folks to pay attention?
Simi Shah: A shocking number of opportunities I've received have been the cold pitch. I did not have the world's greatest GPA in college, but one opportunity that sticks out is even just the startup that I worked at prior to this role, it came about because I cold DM'd someone on LinkedIn and was like, "I saw this role. I know it's for an MBA position, but I still want to talk to you. I am not an MBA." And she took my call and she was like, "I don't have this role open, but here's this cool startup that we're working with that you could work with." It goes to that thing where a lot of women won't apply to a role unless they check at least 10 of the 10 boxes, and men will apply, I think, if they check five of the 10 boxes. I mean, send the DM, apply to the job, do it. The more chances you take, the more likely you are to strike gold. There are many times where I have had unanswered emails, unanswered DMs, and then that person will be at an event I'm going to, and I will make that effort to go and say hello, and a few weeks later they agree to be on the podcast. I think it's taking advantage of those tiny opportunities that maybe seem really high effort or feel like they won't yield anything. But again, the more times you shoot, the more likely you are to score. I think in terms of the actual presentation, I think it's knowing your "why." One of my favorite quotes of all time, it's a Mark Twain quote, is, "The two most important days in your life are the day you're born and the day you find out why." Why is so important. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? I feel like a lot of people in the South Asian community, when I pitch the podcast to them, it resonates with them. I tell them, "There are young people who want to learn from leaders who look like them, and you are one of those people." I think that's a really compelling story and compelling reason. I will say, tailor your message. You can't send out the same generic email. I know it seems easy sometimes, there's days where we all get a little bit lazy, but going that extra mile, doing the research. I mean, even today, Nora, you've clearly done your research here and know things about us and about our platforms that very few people do. It makes a big difference. Those are my two cents on how these things can really go a long way in the small things you can do.
Nora Ali: Shoot your shot. I can attest, just when someone makes a pitch and it's personalized and they include just one detail about, say, an episode of Business Casual that they listened to, then I pay attention because they took that one tiny extra step. I think that's great advice, Simi. Jerry, you like to hype up what your guests have going on or what they're most proud of, so we'll give you guys an opportunity as well. Simi, anything you want to promote, highlight, shout out that you're proud of right now?
Simi Shah: Yeah. Well look, if anyone out there listening is interested in South Asian stories, South Asian Trailblazers dives deep into the journeys of leading South Asians across industries, across spaces. I mean, we have people like ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia to Paul Grewal from Coinbase, to Indian Matchmaking's Aparna Shewakramani. We'd love for you to check us out. We also have a newsletter if you're more of a reader, at southasiantrailblazers.com, and you can find us on any socials.
Nora Ali: You have your elevator pitch down so well, Simi. Everyone take note, that was very good. Jerry, what about you?
Jerry Won: In hyping up ourselves collectively, my ask to people who are listening is to keep the Asian American narrative going after May, because all of us, we're recording this at the end of May, and we have been busy. We get asked to speak to companies and schools and audiences across the country in May. Our calendars the rest of the months, still good, but not as busy as May. The experiences that we go through, sometimes the challenging ones and the good ones, we experience every day of the year. This is not just for the Asian American community, but those of us who belong to historically excluded communities that have a heritage month. Sometimes we get slotted into those months and those months only. As far as your selection of guests or brands to promote, or people that you're working with, and if you work at a large enough company where you have discretionary funding for speakers or other events, just keep in mind that, and I say this jokingly, I wake up like this every day and not just in May. Any day is a good day to talk about the Asian American experience. Any day is a good day to talk about any of our experiences. I want to live in a world where my kids grow up and question why May was so busy when they were younger. I want to live in a world where we are just as busy in October for no reason whatsoever, about talking about ourselves, that we are in May. We love May, but keep us busy throughout the year too.
Nora Ali: We can talk about ourselves during Halloween too, it doesn't matter.
Jerry Won: Just don't wear racist costumes. Don't do that.
Nora Ali: Yes, yes, please. Please, don't do that. Okay, Simi and Jerry, before we wrap today, we do have a special bonus segment on the podcast that we are calling "shoot your shot." The concept for shoot your shot is pretty straightforward. Simi and Jerry, we want to know your moonshot ideas, your wildest ambitions, your biggest dreams. Whatever you want it to be, now is your chance to put it out there. So go ahead and shoot your shot.
Jerry Won: It may sound silly, but my biggest moonshot dream is for me to be out of a job. Here's what I mean by that. I want the narrative of our experiences to be so normalized that every kid learns about it, that it just becomes what we learn as Americans across the board, regardless of where you go to school, regardless of what you look like, so that I don't have a job of teaching people about this when they're older. That is actually my goal, to normalize this conversation across all generations. The fact that we have to do a lot of what we do to share our experiences in our adulthood to many people who didn't even know about the history of our community in this country and the things that we face daily, is both sad, but also very hopeful that there is so much work to be done. If you're paying attention, states like Illinois and New Jersey have passed laws to include Asian American education in their childhood educational system. I just wish that it becomes normal. I joked earlier, I really want my kids to talk to me when they're older and say, "What was the big deal? Why was it a big deal that we celebrated Chloe Kim? Why was it such a big deal that we celebrated these people? Isn't it just normal that Korean girls win gold medals?" and then that's the goal.
Nora Ali: All right, Jerry wants to be out of a job. I love it. Simi, what about you?
Simi Shah: I don't know if I can narrow it down to one thing, but it's interesting, I attended the Indian American Impact Summit, which is really a movement to mobilize more South Asians, I think broadly Asian Americans, in politics. There was a really strong high school, Gen Alpha, Gen Z contingent. It was fascinating to see how many of them are so amped up about working on this range of issues, be it immigration, climate...but you also see a bit of this existential dread that comes from these massive issues that we're facing as a society. I mean, it's a tough time right now. I mean, again, this is a wild moonshot, but building a world in which we can get rid of some of that, mitigate some of that dread that they feel. It's really coming together on issues like climate, really coming together on issues like immigration. I feel like we're living in a time of such disunity it's almost a bit jarring. I feel like I grew up on this idea of this grand American dream and the community really rallying together in really tough moments. I want us to just get back to basics, learn how to be human again. I don't know, it's a little amorphous, but that's what—
Nora Ali: It's a moonshot idea for sure.
Simi Shah: I'd like to make possible.
Nora Ali: For sure, that's amazing. Amazing. Well, this is awesome. I love that the three of us are in the thick of it, and I don't think I've smiled so much during a Business Casual recording before. My mouth kind of hurts, so I'm just happy to be with the two of you, and thanks for being on the podcast.
Simi Shah: Thank you so much, Nora.
Jerry Won: Thank you for using your space to share our stories, Nora. It really means a lot.
Nora Ali: This episode of Business Casual was produced by me, Nora Ali, alongside Bella Hutchins and Katherine Milsop. Additional production sound design and mixing by Daniel Markus. Sarah Singer is our VP of multimedia and Holly Van Leuven is our fact checker. Music in this episode from Daniel Markus and The Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. If you enjoyed this episode, please follow Business Casual on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. We'd be so grateful if you gave us a great rating and a review. Feel free to shout out any episodes you loved the most. Thanks for listening, I'm Nora Ali. Keep it business and keep it casual.