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AAPI Heritage Month

May 31, 2024

Celebrate AAPI Heritage Month

 Meet Ryan Louie, PE, PMP

 In observation of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, DEI Committee   member Vivian Yan sat down with Ryan Louie, a Project Manager III at San Francisco   International Airport (SFO), to discuss his Asian heritage and how it has influenced his   upbringing and career.

 Ryan is a California licensed Professional Engineer (PE) in Mechanical Engineering and a certified Project Management Professional (PMP). He has more than 19 years of experience in the aviation industry and has led several key initiatives, including the design and construction of SFO’s Harvey Milk Terminal 1 (HMT1) Redevelopment Program, and SFO’s recent Airport Traffic Control Tower (ATCT) Project.

Outside of his professional life, Ryan applies his engineering and project management skills to various passion projects, including classic car and motorcycle restoration, carpentry, watchmaking, and prototyping.

 Can you tell us a bit about your upbringing?

 I had a special bond with my grandparents. They always showed love through   food and a good story about their past. My Grandfather was a “paper son.“   Because of the discrimination against Asians in the early 1900s, my Grandpa   had to use false documentation with a different last name to immigrate to the   United States, claiming to be related to a family friend who had already   immigrated to the US.

 He immigrated to San Francisco alone at the age of 9. Eventually moving to Los   Angeles where he farmed and ran a produce stand, working hard to provide for   our entire family and later sponsoring over 15 relatives to immigrate to the US. It was remarkable how he managed to buy a house in Los Angeles, considering the difficulty of securing a loan as an Asian immigrant. If there is something to overcome, a community of people will always find a way to do it.

Despite only completing elementary school, my grandfather always emphasized the importance of education. Whenever we spent time together, he would teach me basic math and instill in me the value of learning. His influence inspired me to pursue higher education and to cherish academic achievement.

Who has influenced or inspired you in your career?

Public service runs deep in my family's veins. We all share a commitment to helping others and contributing to the local community. Despite facing their own challenges, my grandparents were always willing to lend a hand to neighbors and other families in need. My dad worked as a bus driver, while my mom and aunt held positions with the state and city government. From them, I learned the value of being involved in the community and giving back.

Living in California, I experienced firsthand the devastation caused by the 1989 Loma Prieta and 1994 Northridge earthquakes. Witnessing the damage to our own home and to my grandparents' residence made me reflect on the importance of building structures that could withstand such disasters. It was during these moments that my interest in construction and engineering began to take root.

Can you share something surprising about yourself that people might not know?

Growing up in San Francisco, I was surrounded by hip-hop culture. My older brother introduced me to hip-hop music, and by the age of 15, I started breakdancing. Initially, I was really into basketball, but I spent a lot of time on the bench. In high school, I saw students breakdancing and was captivated by the solo nature of the dance and the immediate feedback from the audience.

I quickly became passionate about breakdancing and continued to teach breakdancing and actively compete into my early 30s. Through dance, demographics like age, ethnicity, class, or education never mattered. Instead, the dance community values skill above all else. I’m fortunate to have fallen in love with dance because the experience taught me many life lessons and, in a way, prepared me for my career, where I continue to apply the same focus and dedication to my work as an Engineer and Project Manager.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

AAPI Heritage Month holds a special significance for me as it's a time to pay tribute to the generations that came before us. I hold deep gratitude for my grandparents and parents, who worked tirelessly and made countless sacrifices to ensure the well-being of our family. Their stories serve as powerful reminders of the importance of coming together as a community and paving the way for the next generation.

Even though we've made progress in reducing prejudice against AAPI individuals, it still exists. We owe the progress we've made to the relentless efforts of those who came before us. It's important to honor their legacy and continue their spirit of resilience and unity. Social media has amplified our voices, helping us break down stereotypes and highlight the diverse contributions of our community.

Are there any traditions you wish to pass down? What are they?

One tradition I cherish is the variety of Cantonese food and cuisine my grandparents introduced to me. My grandmother would cook large meals for the family, and I loved sharing those meals with loved ones. Food is a huge part of our culture and a way to express love and heritage.

Cooking plays a big role in our family life, and I want to pass that down to my kids. Understanding our love language through food, especially the blend of Chinese influences with local ingredients, is something I find incredibly special.

What advice do you have for AAPI individuals who are exploring a career in aviation or experiencing challenges in their careers?

For interests in Aviation, stay curious and aim to understand the bigger picture that surrounds you.

When looking at career challenges, sometimes it is important to not just focus on your technical expertise; build soft skills and strong relationships.

Lastly, I’ve found a reoccurring thread amongst the AAPI community in approaching career advancements. Recognize your worth, stay humble but never be afraid to advocate for yourself!

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment is just around the corner. We are about to wrap up construction at SFO on Harvey Milk Terminal 1 (HMT1), a project that has been ten years in the making. It’s set to open next month, and it’s something the public will hopefully use well into my elder years (before another renovation). This project, which I’ve been dedicated to for the past decade, is something I’ll proudly tell my kids about for years to come.

Interviewer: Vivian Yan, CPSM, PMP; Senior Marketing Manager at DY Consultants, Member of SWAAAE DEI Committee

Reflecting on my conversation with Ryan Louie in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month, I am struck by the many parallels between his story and mine.

Like Ryan, I am an Asian American who has navigated the complexities of identity, culture, and professional ambition in the United States. I was born in China, came to the United States for my master's degree, and have lived here ever since. Our journeys share common themes of resilience, the importance of community, and the impact of heritage on our professional lives, even though our paths have been unique to each other.

Ryan's dedication to public service and his contributions to the aviation industry mirror my commitment to my field and to giving back to the community. My career is also devoted to aviation, as I have worked for DY Consultants, an aviation consulting firm since 2014.

I am moved by Ryan's passion for breakdancing and how it shaped his worldview. This aspect of his story underscores the importance of finding joy and expression in our lives, and how these passions can unexpectedly prepare us for our careers. His experience in the dance community, where skill is valued above all else, parallels the meritocratic ideals that I strive to uphold in my own professional environment.

AAPI Heritage Month is a time to honor our past and look forward to the future. In reflecting on this interview, I am filled with a sense of pride and gratitude for the rich heritage we share and the contributions of the AAPI community. Ryan's journey is a reminder of the importance of resilience, community, and the enduring impact of our heritage. As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month, let us honor the sacrifices of those who came before us and continue to build a future where our diverse contributions are recognized and celebrated. Reflection by Vivian Yan.

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