Jul 19, 2021

Walk a Mile in My Shoes: April Tou reflects on her Asian American upbringing

April Tou family photo

We all have different paths in life. Our paths, tied to our heritage, culture and experiences, shape who we are and make us uniquely ourselves. PPL’s Walk a Mile in My Shoes blog series highlights the uniqueness of our employees so we can build understanding, encourage compassion and foster a culture of inclusion and belonging at PPL and in the communities we serve.

In this installment, April Tou, steno in the office of general counsel, provides a glimpse into her path as an Asian American.

I am a first generation Asian American and the youngest of four kids born and raised in San Diego, California. From as far back as I can remember, my parents have been hard workers. Immigrants from Cambodia and American citizens, my parents worked most of their waking hours in the donut shop they owned since 1989. They worked every day of their lives, taking only one day off for my sister’s wedding and returning home immediately after the reception.

Their strong work ethic is deeply rooted in their humble beginnings where they fled violence and persecution to forge a better life.

My family’s history is an important influence on how I was raised. Both of my parents were born in Cambodia, but our ancestry mostly traces back to China. And while they didn’t meet until high school, they have very similar backgrounds.

My father and mother both lived through the atrocities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge Communist Party in Cambodia. Their fathers, my grandfathers, were imprisoned and murdered and my parents were forced from their homes as children to seek refuge elsewhere. Their mothers died of starvation, sacrificing their own lives so their children could eat. They both had to walk hundreds of miles to find safety before, ultimately, making their way to the United States.

My parents fought for their lives to get a better opportunity, if not for them, then for their future children. In high school, they were ridiculed for having accents and being different. They did not want that same experience for us; and as a result, we did not learn their original languages because they feared it might confuse us or cause us to have an accent.

As a child, I struggled to fit in at home and with friends. In my parents’ culture, boys are treated better than girls because they carry on the family name. My mom thought I should do their laundry and cook them food. They thought I was being disrespectful when I challenged that thinking and respond to my parents with things like, “they have their own hands and feet to do those things.”

I grew up being Asian and still somehow never really felt Asian enough. I researched the cultures, I joined the Asian Club in high school, but being one of the few other Asian kids in school, I never really felt like I belonged. And, I was always worried people were only my friend because of the free donuts.

With an eye on the future, I seized opportunities created by a program for low-income, minority and/or first-generation college students called Advancement Via Individual Determination. AVID provided study aids for the PSATs, SATs and the ACTs; it helped me research different colleges and write college application essays; it provided opportunities for college campus visits and job shadowing; and it ultimately gave us the best chance at the better opportunity many of our parents want for us.

I attended Penn State University, as I was intrigued by the east coast and was ready to explore and expand my horizons. During my time there, I met exciting people who lived diverse lives. I discovered great communities of people that welcomed me with open arms and open hearts and gained a greater appreciation for my Asian heritage. In 2015, I became the first person in my family to receive a college degree.

Since then, I walked many paths and served many roles from volunteer to career seeker to contractor of my very own tiny house! Looking back over my life experiences, I realize that I am my history.

My parents are survivors. They are hard workers. They are humble. They have and will continue to persevere. They are not alone. We grew up in a world where we did not talk about things. We have tried to not stick out (too much). We are survivors.

Every individual has their own distinct story — it is easy to forget that in a world where we are almost constantly on screens. We can use our commonalities to bridge our differences. For each difference we find in each other, we can find at least two things we have in common. We just need to open our hearts and minds to see it. I am zany. I work at PPL. I am human. I think you will find that we are more alike than we sometimes perceive, so we should embrace the things that make us unique. We make mistakes. We learn. We grow. We are humans. We are
together.

Thank you for taking a walk in my shoes.