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Honoring Mothers This AAPI Heritage Month

AARP employees share Mother's Day stories of tradition, resilience and love

four snapshots of asian american pacific islander families of a a r p staff members

Clockwise from top left: courtesy Tiffany Zhang, Sophie C. Horiuchi-Forrester, Andre Lee, and Bandana Shrestha

Clockwise from top left: Holly Zhang with her daughter Tiffany and sibling, Kenji Forrester with his grandmother Akiko Horiuchi, Andre Lee’s mother Diana Lin Lee, and the Shrestha family

Making mochi balls, developing sewing skills and learning perseverance and resilience. These are just a few of the things that Asian American and Pacific Islander staff members at AARP have absorbed from their mothers.

To celebrate Mother's Day and Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked our AAPI employees to tell us about their mothers and how those women shaped their traditions and cultures. They shared tales of dancing with their mothers, celebrating milestones and soaking up wisdom. Read their stories of admiration and love here.

diana lin lee in a restaurant

Photo courtesy Andre Lee of his mother, Diana Lin Lee

Andre Lee

Analyst, Office of the Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer

Washington, D.C.

I'm a huge, burly guy, and one of my fondest memories with my mom is learning to sew by hand. She was the head seamstress of a factory in Hong Kong, before marrying my dad.

Growing up in Central America, all my clothes outside of American imports were made by her from scratch because the stores didn't sell clothing in my size. Every few months, she would have this routine of gathering every family member's clothes and doing maintenance on them — fixing a busted thread here, a loose button there.

As an adult, I have a sewing kit. My wife tells me one of the reasons she knew I was a keeper back when we were dating was because I volunteered to repair all her sentimental pieces (she lamented that her sorority hoodie was falling apart).

My mom always repeats this bit of advice, which is very Zen for many things in my life: a bit of care early and often makes things stand the test of time.

kenji forrester making mochi with his grandmother akiko

Photo courtesy Sophie C. Horiuchi-Forrester Kenji Forrester making mochi with his grandmother Akiko Horiuchi

Sophie C. Horiuchi-Forrester

AAPI Statewide Lead, San Jose Regional Manager

San Jose, California

Miso and pork go well together. Vegetables should be cut for intended flavor absorption and cooking time. Plate and serve the food at the right temperature.

Through food preparation, Mom shared how much she cared for us and also demonstrated her values. Using fresh ingredients, knowing when to mix by hand versus by machine, and how to chop and mince — there was always a right way in her mind.

She made things from scratch. Much to her chagrin, I have always been a shortcut kind of gal who embellished half-prepared meals (bottle of Prego sauce over here!). But my son Kenji embraced his grandmother's food sensibility. He used to delight her with new spins on familiar dishes, like adding mint chocolate to the mochi.

On Mother's Day — the one day of the year that moms are not supposed to cook — Mom would shake her head with amusement at what we would prepare. She would eat whatever we made, graciously and kindly, knowing that we had tried our best. We lost Mom last year, but the memories of her cooking (and scolding us with love) remain.

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bandana and indira shrestha

Photo courtesy Bandana Shrestha (right) with her mother, Indira Shrestha

Bandana Shrestha

Director, Community Engagement

Clackamas, Oregon

On this first Mother's Day without her, I am thinking about my mother, Indira. She passed away in October after a long decline. COVID-19 restrictions and living on the other side of the planet meant I was not able to be by my mother's side when she took her last breath.

I am thankful, however, that I was able to visit her twice the year before her health declined. One of those visits was the first time my brother, sister and I spent any significant amount of time together — with each other and our mother — since we were young. How I treasure those memories.

My mother exemplified resilience, persistence and service. My mother taught me to never say never, and she always reminded me that women are the bearer of cultures. Indira — maker of music, lifelong learner, writer of books and histories, builder of people and communities, mother, grandmother, bearer of culture — I remember you.

jenny jensen and her mother yupin

Photo courtesy Jenny V. Jensen (left) with her mother, Yupin Singboonton Jensen

Jenny V. Jensen

Senior Program Specialist

Atlanta, Georgia

The best piece of advice that my mom ever gave me when things got tough is: “Sabia sabia.”

Roughly translated from Thai, this means, “Everything is good, and don't let the world get you down.”

I have taken this advice to heart. Even on my worst days, I lift up my head and say, “Sabia sabia,” because things will be better.

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tiffany zheng and her mother holly zheng

Photo courtesy Tiffany Zhang (left) with her mother, Holly Zhang

Tiffany Zhang

Program Specialist

San Diego, California

The first things that come to mind when I think of my mom are nuts and dancing. Let me explain.

Some of my AAPI friends joke that Asian parents show their love by making sure you are always full. When I say my mother's love is nuts, I mean that she is always offering nuts as her unspoken way to show how much she loves me. She offers me a snack bag of nuts to take home after I visit, or she'll hide a bag of emergency nuts in my car in case I get hungry. Now that I work remotely — sometimes from her home — the sweetest surprise has been the bowl of nuts that would slowly slide over on my desk after a long stretch of meetings.

Then there's dancing. My mom loves to dance — line dancing, salsa dancing, even a few viral TikTok dance trends — and she's always ready to go with a good beat. She encourages me to stay active as I work from home, always calling or texting to see if I've tried the dance video she sent.

My mother reminds me that you can be the most hardworking person, no matter what skills you do or don't have yet. I have learned that from her journey of immigrating here from China in her early 20s, to pursue her master's degree in electrical engineering in a language she didn't yet know.

The pandemic has not been easy, but from the start, I committed to isolating from others so I could stay connected to my mom and she could feel comfortable when I visited. We've now had important conversations about everything from race to mental health, and our relationship has deepened.

My mom has always been a beautiful blend of strength, gentleness and fun. She is the most caring person in the room, the first person to ask if you need anything to feel comfortable, the first person to try and find a solution, and the only one in my family to crack an unexpected joke that has everyone laughing. When this pandemic is eventually over, I hope to continue to have these shared moments with my mom, learning more about who I am through our bond, finding the little joys in life, and enjoying some good food and dance!

hoa feng then with a bouquet of flowers

Photo courtesy Hoan Tchen of HER grandmother, Hoa Feng Tchen

Hoan Tchen

Senior Strategist, Digital Programmatic Marketing

Falls Church, Virginia

My paternal grandmother was the only grandparent I ever knew, and I am forever grateful. She was born and raised in Xiamen, China, in the early 1920s and narrowly escaped with her life during bombings from the Japanese invasion. She made her way to Vietnam as a single mother of three children, and started her own successful business in a completely new country. She was forced to give up her business as war rippled through Vietnam. She sought out a better future for her family with her eyes set on the United States.

Immigrating to the U.S. in 1986, my grandmother helped raise my older brothers and me while my parents worked two jobs each. She taught us to be resilient and about the value of hard work, and she emphasized the importance of education—something that females of her generation were denied.

My grandmother made sure we would be proud of our Chinese heritage, and we always celebrated Chinese New Year. I loved preparing food with her for the Dragon Boat Festival. We would wrap zongzi (a sticky rice dumpling), which is made of pyramid-like-shaped glutinous rice wrapped in bamboo leaves. The zongzi had fillings such as pork, shrimp, mushrooms, chestnuts, mung beans, lotus seeds and other delicious ingredients.

We would steam the zongzi in sets of eight or 10 (always an even number for good luck). The process required days of preparation, but my grandmother emphasized hard work. She showed us that when you are passionate about what you do, the outcome is always worth it.