March 1, 2021 —
Racism against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community has increased drastically since COVID-19 began, leaving many members of the Coast Guard workforce feeling hurt and isolated.
“I take a ferry every day to work in Seattle and it’s crowded like a bus,” explained President of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) and Command Master Chief for the Thirteenth District, Master Chief Jason Wong. “When the pandemic first hit Seattle last March, I would watch people come and sit next to me—only to get up and walk away once they saw my face.”
Wong eventually stopped taking the ferry during the peak of the pandemic because these micro-aggressions against Asian Americans got, in his words, “so bad.” While Wong does not fault the ferry-goers for their ignorance about the origins of the COVID-19 virus, he still felt hurt by their actions.
Providing a safe space to talk about issues that face the AAPI community at work and at home is one of the goals of FAPAC’s United States Coast Guard Chapter.
“FAPAC provides a sounding board, not just to complain, but also to problem solve how you can react differently in the future,” said Lt. j.g. Maria Fiorella N. Villanueva about how FAPAC helps empower their members to speak out against racism.
Most federal agencies and every DHS component has a FAPAC chapter. The Coast Guard’s chapter includes members from across the country. Lt. j.g. Sasha Shibazaki stays engaged from Marine Safety Unit Houma, Louisiana. “FAPAC has been a very supportive organization with valuable networking and learning opportunities,” she said. “Right after I graduated from the [Coast Guard Academy], FAPAC reached out and quickly set me up with mentors. Getting stationed in Houma, Louisiana, with limited diversity, it was comforting to have mentors with similar backgrounds to guide me with my professional development. I hope others will take advantage of the great support system that FAPAC has provided me.”
FAPAC also invests in its members’ professional development, hosting events regularly aimed at building the next cadre of Coast Guard leaders. It is important to the FAPAC executive team that more junior officers and enlisted members can see themselves reflected in leadership, showing them that it is possible to reach their goals.
“I had fantastic mentors in my career, but none of them looked like me,” said Wong. “It was isolating, especially when none of my mentors could relate to my cultural differences and the challenges these differences presented.”
Working to drive systems of change necessary to strengthen our community and improve diversity within the Coast Guard, while remaining focused on sustaining a service culture where everyone is included, valued, and respected is FAPAC’s mission.
Its members live this mission every day, many of whom describe the group as a family.
“FAPAC helped me realize that even if I came from a different country, the Coast Guard is an inclusive environment where I belong,” said Villanueva. “The members helped me be my authentic self, encouraging me to be proud of where I’m from, my accent, the things that I bring to the table that are unique because of my heritage—not despite it.”
As stated in President Biden’s Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, “Despite these increasing acts of intolerance, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have made our Nation more secure during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout our history.”
This is especially true of the 2.3% of the Coast Guard workforce that identifies as AAPI, who have worked tirelessly to ensure mission excellence is delivered even in the most trying times.
If you are a member of the AAPI community, please consider joining today. FAPAC membership is open to all ranks and ratings, as well as civilian and retired personnel, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, and ethnic origin.
You can learn more about FAPAC at their website, or by reaching out a member of their executive team.