In honor of AAPI Month, GG+A is celebrating members of our team and the ways that they, as Asian Americans, enrich our community with their heritage, insights, and perspectives. Today, meet Ed Sevilla, Senior Vice President in Strategic Communications.
1. What is your cultural heritage? In what ways has your cultural heritage shaped your identity and values?
My cultural heritage is Filipino American. I was born in the United States, and my parents were born in the Philippines. We have a long family history with American education, and lifelong learning has been very important for my identity, my values, my career, and even my work at GG+A.
My parents met at the University of Michigan in the 1950s, when my mom was Fulbright Scholar and my dad studied chemical engineering. Both of my grandparents also graduated from U.S. universities in the 1920s, which was rare. My mother’s father, Emeterio Asinas, studied agricultural science at the University of West Virginia, returned to the Philippines, and eventually became the founding president of the University of Eastern Philippines. My father’s father, Exequiel S. Sevilla, studied actuarial science at the University of Michigan as a Pensianado, a program funded by the U.S. Congress to train the future leaders of the Philippines, which at the time was an American commonwealth. He became one of the founders of the insurance industry in the Philippines.
My grandfather received the highest grade-point average in the history of the University of the Philippines . . . so he’s kind of a local legend.
There’s a saying about standing on the shoulders of giants and that is certainly the case for me and my family. Emeterio Asinas was among the tens of thousands of Filipinos who fought alongside the U.S. Army during World War II. He was a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March. Exequiel Sevilla received a perfect grade-point average at the University of the Philippines, a record which still stands today, and so he’s kind of a local legend.
I was a history major at Yale and received an MBA in marketing from Wharton. Particularly in the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed learning more about Filipino history, U.S. history, and my own family’s intersections with that.
2. What are some distinctions and traditions from your culture that are particularly meaningful to you?
Like any Filipino American, I have to talk about food!
There is a steamed pork bun called siopao, that’s super popular. A second favorite is lumpia, which is a pork- or vegetable-filled spring roll. And a third is a flavor of ice cream called ube. Ube is a purple yam. Ube ice cream is a really big treat, and if you ever go to a Filipino street fair, that’s what they run out of. It’s quite often that Asian-American families will drive great distances to look for a certain restaurant or a grocery store where they can fill up on groceries and Asian foods. On a number of occasions I’ve done just this with my family, since the nearest Filipino restaurant is 45 minutes away!
3. Who are your greatest influences? Do you have any role models?
My father’s father [Exequiel Sevilla] is definitely a role model. We called him “Lolo,” and our family recently discovered a TikTok video that talks about his life story.
Our family story approximates the American Dream, and I am extremely grateful. But especially since 2020
. . . I have come to understand that not all Asian Americans have been so fortunate.
Another strong influence was my college advisor, Henry “Sam” Chauncey, Jr. He was the number two administrator at Yale when I was there and was always enormously generous with his time and wisdom. He was a principal figure in the coeducation of Yale and the shift in its admissions strategy to include more public school students like me. When you are a Filipino American from the Midwest and come to a place like Yale, and someone like him welcomes you and asks what he can do to help you, it’s a powerful message that shows you belong here. I have remained in touch with Sam throughout my life and have never made a career move without calling him for advice.
4. What do you value most about your heritage?
Our family story approximates the American Dream, and I am extremely grateful. But especially since 2020, with the rise in attacks on AAPI community members, I have come to understand that not all Asian Americans have been so fortunate. So, I’ve become much more active as a volunteer in the Asian-American community. Recently I joined the steering committee of the Asian Community Fund of the Boston Foundation. It’s the only fund in Massachusetts or New England solely dedicated to the AAPI community. We focus on issues such as #StopAAPIHate, helping small businesses recover from the pandemic and grow, and supporting mental health in the Asian community.
5. Do you have a favorite author or book about the Asian/Asian-American experience that you recommend?
There’s a recent book called, Rise: A Pop History of Asian America from the Nineties Until Now. That’s a fun one because it’s a scrapbook that combines graphic art, short articles and interesting lists. There’s another book by Maria Ressa, a Filipina journalist called How to Stand Up to a Dictator. She won the Nobel Peace Prize because of her courageous journalistic efforts to fight the abuse of power, use of violence, and growing authoritarianism in the Philippines.
Third, there’s a book called, From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry, and it’s about the murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit in 1982, which galvanized the Asian-American movement. . . . It reminds us that it was not that long ago when Americans feared that the Japanese auto industry was taking over and as a result some people in a bar beat up and killed an innocent Chinese-American man.
If you like podcasts, there’s a great podcast I recommend called, “They Call Us Bruce.” And there is a recent study from McKinsey & Company about the challenges and contributions of the Asian community.
6. Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Know that the AAPI community is very diverse, resilient, and strong. Where I live in greater Boston, AAPI businesses power the Massachusetts economy. Over the past two decades, the number of Asian-owned businesses has increased by 156% – a growth rate that outpaces that of all Massachusetts firms. We are very appreciative of opportunities, and many of us believe deeply in the promise of the American Dream.
I say this because there’s a visibility challenge that Asians face. It manifests itself most dramatically in the rise of anti-Asian hate. A national study just published found that over half of Asian Americans do not feel safe in public places. But it manifests in lots of other ways, like the low number of Asians you see in the leadership of organizations and in popular culture. When you look at the top levels of organizations, Asians are starting to become more represented, but that’s only been more recently.
Asian Americans make up the fastest growing segment in the American population – it has doubled in the last 20 years and will double again in the next 20 years. [We are] an incredibly powerful, diverse, and dynamic segment of our country.
Learn more about Ed and his role at GG+A.