The power of narrative and representation

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares his storyteller observations on representation, voice and refugees at AAFAA’s keynote event, May 17. Photo by Amanda J. Richard
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen shares his storyteller observations on representation, voice and refugees at AAFAA’s keynote event, May 17. Photo by Amanda J. Richard

By Matthew Asada

In May, the Department of State celebrated Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month in partnership with two of the Department’s employee affinity groups: the Asian-American Foreign Affairs Association (AAFAA) and South Asian-American Employee Association. More than 400 people attended events throughout the month in Washington, D.C. 

The celebration, held during the month of May, began with a panel discussion on managing conflict at overseas posts. Next, the AAFAA held its 10th Annual Leadership dinner, May 14, at Fort Myer and which featured remarks by the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Michelle Giuda; 120 others—including a third of the Department’s senior AAPI leaders—attended the event.

Giuda shared her own Vietnamese-American story, underscored the power of personal narrative and encouraged attendees to add their voices and stories to America’s diplomatic engagement: “I encourage you to get out there, and tell your story, and share your love of our country. It’s one of the most important messages we have. And each one of you in this room is one of the most important messengers that we have.” 

AAFAA’s keynote event featured Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Sympathizer” Viet Thanh Nguyen. In Nguyen’s remarks and the ensuing conversation moderated by AAFAA President Matthew Asada, the author shared his storyteller observations on representation, voice and refugees. Deputy Secretary Sullivan also provided introductory remarks at the event and expressed his commitment to furthering diversity and inclusion at the Department.

The celebratory month concluded with a screening and discussion of the film “Norman Mineta and his Legacy: An American Story” with the U.S. Diplomacy Center and the Embassy of Japan. AAFAA worked with the producers and distributors to make sure the Norman Mineta film was available to all posts overseas. American Spaces in Cambodia, the Dominican Republic and Kazakhstan were among posts that screened the film during the month of May.

Videos from the dinner, keynote address and other celebratory events can be found on BNET and the Department’s YouTube channel.

Matthew Asada is a foreign service officer serving in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.