In celebration of AAPI Heritage, this month we are proud to recognize one of our Girls Inc. National Brand Ambassadors and alumna, Jane Zou. Jane is currently a freshman at UCLA studying Data Science. Jane shares her experience as an Asian American and how Girls Inc. created a safe space for her to grow in confidence and self-acceptance.
The first time I went to an interest meeting for the 2019 Girls Inc. of Orange County summer externship, I left with a 103º fever and chills, ungracefully shoveling a McChicken into my mouth. I attended the next meeting only begrudgingly. What I did not expect was that Girls Inc. would go on to help me make dozens of new friends all across my affiliate and the nation. I joined another program, then another, then another because of how excited I was to see the faces who always impressed me with their intellect and eloquence.
Why was I so apprehensive about joining earlier? The short answer is the track I set for myself in middle and high school. I went into the externship thinking that a career in medicine is the end-all-be-all. Girls Inc. was a puzzle piece I could not fit into the mosaic of who I wanted to be. As an Asian American, I felt my weight of expectations stopping me from idealizing success beyond wealth and comfort. I did not realize that I was deceiving everyone. I wanted to be a social advocate and data scientist more than a doctor, so I permitted myself to be wholeheartedly myself in a network of other driven, motivated women.
The best thing about Girls Inc. is the ability to join a supportive group of mentors, peers, and community members who all have the common goal of bettering the world. The path ahead for gender equity requires girls to know their worth and know themselves. I love how Girls Inc. empowers us to develop confidence in our abilities.
For Asian Americans, some of us can relate to not fitting neatly within our home culture or American culture. I have experienced microaggressions and blatant discrimination against me. I often feel like I must live up to the model minority myth while simultaneously defy it. Being from Wisconsin and growing up in Orange County, I rarely met someone who looked, thought, or was raised like I was; but, those environmental differences did not stop me from being compassionate to others and myself.
Every program coordinator and mentor has their girls’ well-being and safety in mind, whether through personal check-ins or affirmations. Those check-ins inspired me to stay in touch with my emotions and voice my opinions without fear of judgment. Girls Inc. starts conversations about promoting women of color’s workplace and educational rights.
What every girl needs is self-acceptance. It does not come easy, nor does it come after a checklist of accomplishments. Self-acceptance is ultimately what Girls Inc. strives to deliver. I still utilize the skills I learned from my peers to approach gender inequality issues more inclusively. I put into practice my time management and goal-setting skills, and I still keep in mind that education is still not fully optimized for our future generations. I look forward to how I can make a difference in my community as an Asian American woman.