In celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, we invited Jessica Ho, government and community affairs manager for North East Medical Services (NEMS), to participate in our blog. NEMS, a proud ACH member, is one of the largest community health centers in the United States targeting the medically underserved Asian population.
What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?
When I think of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I think of what it must have been like for Congressman Norman Y. Mineta, Jeanie Jew, and others when they introduced a resolution in the United States House of Representatives in 1977 that would proclaim the first 10 days of May as Asian-Pacific Heritage Week. I think of all the AAPI Champions I have met who have been fighting for AAPI issues for years or even decades. I think of my parents, who immigrated to the United States from Taiwan in their early twenties to pursue higher education and the American dream. When I reflect on the fact that they risked so much to come to America even though they didn’t speak the language and didn’t know anyone, and when I think about how hard they worked and how much they scarified so that we can be where we are today, I am forever grateful. I believe that AAPI Heritage month is a time for us to acknowledge and appreciate all the different contributions that were made – both big and small – to help members of the AAPI community get to where we are today.
How did your heritage influence your career choice?
I still remember the exact moment when I discovered my passion for public health. In 1993, I was watching the news with my parents when I learned that a multi-state E. coli outbreak infected 500 people, killing four of them. I was outraged. As a daughter of Chinese immigrants, I could not comprehend how people living in a first-world country like America could be harmed by something as mundane as consuming allegedly safe food. I made a silent vow to myself then and there to protect the public’s health, and this defining moment has become a touchstone by which I have based my career. As the government and community affairs manager for NEMS, I am thankful that I can advocate for health policies on the federal, state, and local levels, actively engage with community leaders and groups, and help NEMS shine in the media. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area with clinics in San Francisco, Daly City, and San Jose, we offer comprehensive health care services to over 67,000 patients, a majority of whom are uninsured, low-income, and identify as Asian.
How do you give back to the AAPI community?
Through my work at NEMS, we often advocate for issues that impact the AAPI community, such as public safety, immigration, language access, and data disaggregation. Currently, I am also helping NEMS fundraise for our Give in May campaign, which is a national campaign to support organizations serving the AAPI community. Funds raised will support NEMS Employee Wellness & Appreciation programs. In my free time, I participate on a few Boards that focus on serving the AAPI community, volunteer on various AAPI-focused initiatives, and donate to organizations and causes.
What is your hope for the future?
My hope is that even when things are difficult, we have the courage to stand up and fight for what we believe in. And when we fight for what we believe in, I hope that we have the wisdom to know who the real enemy is. When there is so much misinformation and misdirection, it can be easy to listen to the propaganda and blame a scapegoat. But the reality of the situation is often more complex than what it seems. We are in this for the long game. My hope is that we – as individuals – continue to believe that we can make a difference even if progress is slow or even if we lose a battle. I believe that we can always learn something from someone else’s perspective. We need to stay humble; we need to stay hungry. Building bridges among different people and different communities will be the antidote we need against the powerful forces that seek to divide us.