AAPI Heritage Month Spotlight: Erin Mercer

Recognizing Asian American & Pacific Islander Leaders at Doximity

May 03, 2022 · Doximity Insider

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month celebrates the contributions Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made and recognizes their achievements in a variety of fields. BIPOC@Dox is an employee resource group (ERG) committed to fostering a culture of equity and inclusion for Doxers of color. We had the opportunity to catch up with Erin Mercer, MBA, MA, CCC-SLP, Senior Editor on the Editorial team.

What does being Asian American mean to you?

This is a hard question as I’ve never really thought about the label of being “Asian American.” I never really saw myself in that box. I am just Erin. But to use these labels, I am a fourth- generation Chinese American. My uncle was actually a student at Berkeley when the term “Asian American” was born in 1968. It’s a little hard for me to relate to the label “Asian American” when it literally was born in my parents’ generation while they were at university.

I always considered myself American. Growing up in San Francisco, my friends also considered me just an American because of the generation I am and because I didn’t speak Cantonese or follow many Cantonese traditions. However, over the years, my self-identity has and still is changing. There are elements of Chinese culture that are ingrained in me (but I always thought that these elements were the American norm— everyone's influenced by their culture of origin, right??). But I have learned that it’s not true, it is not the norm, and Chinese culture has influenced me, passed on through generations, to shape the way I think, behave, and respond to the world around me.

But I am just me. I am Erin. I am mindful of the elements of Chinese culture that are within me, recognizing the elements of American culture that are also within me, choosing the elements of both that help shape me while embracing the evolving, ever-changing label/box that we get placed in. However, the difference between this label, Asian American, and other labels of the past, is that we, those of Asian descent, took ownership and created this label for ourselves versus accepting past labels that others have placed on us. So in that sense, being an Asian American is empowering, feeling seen, and being connected.

What does workplace allyship look like to you?

Workplace allyship can come in many forms. Within Doximity, we see it formally being created through DEI. But I see this more as a resource that can help foster and facilitate deeper individual or specific allyship and relationships among and between colleagues. For me, it is informally developed through intimate connections, friendships, and shared experiences; and I prefer the intimate. I have bonded and formed friendships with other Asian Americans at Doximity. They’re people with whom I can share experiences without having to explain why I feel a certain way because they get it too.

But I also think of allyship in relation to others who are not Asian American. I appreciate when others outside the AAPI community express interest not only in learning more about our rich cultures and heritages, but also the unique struggles we have been facing, particularly in light of recent hate crimes against Asian Americans. I think of these relationships as outlets for me to share my culture and experiences with others who want to understand more deeply in order to better support a specific AAPI initiative, mission, or project. I think of this kind of allyship as others wanting to know where we started in that initiative, where we are currently in that project, what we’re striving to do for not just ourselves, but our future generations, and why all of this is important.

Through these connections, relationships, and conversations, regardless of ethnicity, we start to build an authentic and genuine allyship where we can show up for each other in a real way that includes empathy, compassion, and grace.

How are you taking care of yourself during challenging times?

This is an interesting question for me because for anyone who knows me, I don’t necessarily see challenging times as challenging times, they’re just times that I go through. Maybe that’s the safety mechanism in my head to push through whatever challenging time I’m facing. But, when I reflect in hindsight of the things I’ve done during those times, I know I have leaned on different members of my tribe in different ways. I reach out to people, depending on what I’m needing at that moment. Am I needing a friend who can be light-hearted, joking, and carefree at this time? Great, I’ll call up X because we’ll go see a comedy act and grab drinks after to rehash all of our favorite bits. Am I needing someone who I can cry with, with no questions asked because I’m just that exhausted, as there’s nothing else to do but cry? Great, I’ll call up Z because she knows exactly how to support me in silence. This is the main way I take care of myself.

But also, again anyone who knows me, knows I like to stay busy. If I’m in a challenging time, my go-to response is to throw myself into something else. I also come from the mindset that if I don’t have the power to change something, there’s no point in worrying about it. For me, that’s wasted energy. I won’t comment as to whether or not this is a healthy approach, but it is what I do. This serves as a welcomed distraction, an opportunity to try something else, an opportunity to help someone else, an opportunity for me to appreciate the world and not spiral down a sad rabbit hole that I know I could do. So a few of the ways I am currently keeping busy include: home projects (painting baseboards, and expanding a half bath), craft projects (crocheting stuffed animals), volunteerism (Peace Corps, NGOs, Therapy Abroad, mentoring programs), circus training, and traveling (right now between CO and CA, consistently).

How can AAPI communities and all communities of color benefit from solidarity?

The benefits of solidarity can be felt on both the individual level and community level. At a more individual level, I think it’s very important to celebrate the successes of people who have gone through the same or similar experiences. It is encouragement to others to know they’re not alone, to strive forward, and to do the thing that may be terrifying. Showing up for others and celebrating them provides them with confidence, motivation, and reassurance. At the same time, I also think it’s very important to comfort those who may not have succeeded in the way they hoped to, to be there for those who may be in their own trials and tribulations, and to show empathy, patience, and grace. Showing up for others in their time of need is to provide validation for their feelings and thoughts, and to encourage them to continue forward knowing they have their tribe behind them. This, to me, is solidarity in a more intimate manner.

At the community level, we see the benefits of cross-community solidarity from the past and even now. As mentioned earlier, the label “Asian American” came to use in 1968 for the first time in public context, and that was because a group of diverse Asian college students across many universities wanted to redefine their relationship with other communities and have a voice. They called themselves Asian American Political Alliance. And they were able to march alongside the rise of the Black Power Movement for Third World Liberation. We see cross-community solidarity now with Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate. The coming together of different communities in support of each other, their missions and goals, provides a louder voice to be heard, for change to be addressed at a higher magnitude, at hopefully, an institutional level.

How do you honor/celebrate your heritage? (i.e. food, language, faith, arts, etc.)

Much of the celebration and honoring of my family customs is through food; that is one of our main love languages. We eat, we cook, and we eat some more. It is how my parents tell me they love me, “have you eaten yet?” What do you want to eat?”

With one grandparent still alive, my dad’s side of the family has been working on perfecting dishes and recipes that my grandmother, great uncles, and others have created in the past. It’s a challenge as that generation doesn’t write down their recipes. But because my grandmother is still around, we make the food, she critiques it, and we do it again. Through this, I’ve been learning to make Cantonese style foods, her way—fun gor, joong. I’m also learning to make mooncakes and ceen ceng go (thousand layer cake). Ceen ceng go is something that you can’t actually get readily in stores, restaurants, or takeout shops as no one makes them anymore. We make these foods and dishes in big quantities usually around holidays, Mooncake festival, Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese New Year, etc.

Another way I feel I am honoring, recognizing, and embracing my heritage is, as an adult, learning to read and write in Chinese. As mentioned earlier, as a fourth-generation Chinese American, I never learned the language. As I continue to explore my identity, I’ve taken up learning to read and write. Much of my family’s written lineage is in Chinese, and I would like to be able to read and understand it more fully to be able to carry on and pass on who we are, where we came from, and keep our family history alive.

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Interview conducted by Angelica Recierdo
Banner image created by Chloe Chan

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