Posted at 3:05 PM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda
My mother grew up in Sinait, a small town in northern Philippines, where she did not have much - no bed, electricity, or running water. Her life goal as a teenager was to make it to college and eventually make it in America. Her hard work paid off, graduating first in her high school class and earning a full ride to a local university. Education was her saving grace, and at 22 years old, she moved to the United States, or as she has always called it, the land of opportunity.
As for my father, he experienced a suburban, middle-class life in Southern California. He grew up speaking German in a bilingual household, with an Austrian mother who dealt with discrimination after World War II because of her accent.
While my parents had different upbringings, they both possessed a work ethic and tenacity that they have since passed on to me.
I never had to suffer the economic challenges that my mother faced and conquered, but her experience has always inspired my way of looking at the world and strengthened my view point that the United States is a stronger nation because of its immigrants.
Because of my parents’ values and guidance experience, I’ve always been inspired to serve others. I studied communication with minors in Spanish, theatre, and Gender and Women’s Studies, taking four different internships in broadcast journalism so I could give a voice to the voiceless and hopefully one day become the next Barbara Walters.
I graduated from Villanova University known for its Augustinian values and community service, and then I spent a year in Santiago, Chile where I served as a Rotary Foundation Ambassadorial Scholar. I soon found myself representing the United States, whether I was in the classroom full of Chileans learning about humanitarian crises, speaking to Rotarians throughout South America, or on my personal trips and meeting other foreigners.
I will never forget feeling that sense of pride when President Obama was re-elected in 2012 while I was abroad. I had the sudden urge to serve my country in whatever capacity I could.
A few weeks after I returned stateside from Chile, I started working at the White House, serving as the Media Affairs and Hispanic Media intern and working directly with the Directors of Hispanic, African American, and specialty media. No words can express that privilege, and I will never forget working alongside some of the most hardworking and dedicated people I have ever met. I was there when the Administration worked on gun control, immigration reform, the response to the Boston Marathon bombing...making my 60 hour work weeks worth every second.
After the White House, the U.S. Department of Commerce hired me as a press assistant and I officially joined the Obama Administration as a political appointee. Two and a half years and two promotions later, I am now the Deputy Press Secretary, serving U.S. Deputy Secretary of Commerce Bruce Andrews and working with the Department’s 12 bureaus to amplify their events and accomplishments.
Even with my diverse experiences around the world, nothing could have prepared me for my first official trip as Deputy Press Secretary. It changed my life. We traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia (the country, not the state) for the Silk Road Forum and other bilateral meetings. The most memorable moment was when I was asked to join the table with the Prime Minister of Georgia. That was my A-HA! moment. Usually in only a communications role, I was seen as an advisor during this trip, and I wish I had more input to provide.
After more introspection and realizing in many meetings that I was only the Asian American in the room, I realized I could help serve others more effectively by learning more about public policy.
So with three years in the Administration under my belt, I will head to Columbia University in the fall to pursue my Master’s degree in International Affairs and study humanitarian policy and international conflict resolution and management. While I am still shaping my professional career and the policies I want to impact, my commitment to public service remains steadfast.
I leave the Administration reinvigorated and ready to create positive change, and I can only thank my parents and the others who believed in me to allow me to get to this point.
I am incredibly proud to represent the AAPI community, and I hope that others will join me on this journey towards a day when the value of diversity is a number one priority, a time when different perspectives and backgrounds will be cherished, and that all will be included at the table so every voice can be heard. It is through recognizing and working through our differences that we will find harmony.
As an Asian American, feminist, and former journalist, I firmly believe that our nation’s leadership should represent the very people it represents -- and I am determined to make a positive impact by giving a voice to those who may not necessarily have one. After all, we are the land of opportunity.