One of my favorite experiences at my internship was dressing up for the Awards Gala, an event that took place at OCA’s National Convention which we helped to run. A formal “black-tie” event with over 800 attendees, the Awards Gala would be the largest event at convention attended by many of the most famous and important people within the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community. We were told by the OCA staff that besides conventional American formal attire, we also had the option of wearing our respective cultural formalwear.
We were split nearly 50:50 in terms of who wore American formalwear versus cultural wear. I wore my Indonesian kebaya outfit, and my friends wore Vietnamese ao dai, Filipino barong, Pakistani shalwar kameez, and Korean hanbok. It was a wonderful feeling to show off our cultural identity, when we so rarely have opportunities to do so in our normal lives. It also gave us the chance to showcase the ethnic diversity within the 19 members of the intern cohort.
Considering OCA’s history, the act of showcasing the OCA Internship Program’s diversity can also be interpreted to have political meaning. OCA was founded in 1973 as the Organization of Chinese Americans, but when they rebranded to their current name, OCA – Asian Pacific Americans, in 2013, they also made a commitment to promote diversity and inclusion within the organization and the communities it serves. However, despite OCA’s move to be Pan-Asian, many OCA chapters nationwide continue to lack significant diversity within their memberships.
Knowing this, it felt good to know that by wearing our cultural wear at the organization’s largest event, we were also helping to in a way embody OCA’s aspirations for diversity, even if this wasn’t staff’s intentions.