Celebrating AAPI Leaders at Public Storage

Sep 7, 2023 / Liset Marquez

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month honors and celebrates Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who have enriched the nation’s history and are instrumental in its future success.

Public Storage recently held a chat with AAPI leaders to discuss Dilhara Kaluarachchi, Vice President Customer Care Center, and Philip Kim, Chief Data and Analytics Officer. The discussion was led by Nathan Tan, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, and touched on the AAPI experiences they share as a community and their connections to their cultural heritage.

“I am proud to work for a company where our workplace is truly representative of the communities that we serve,” Tan said. “I want to thank all of our Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander employees for their rich and meaningful contributions to our company. We honor and celebrate you!”

How Did Your AAPI Upbringing Influence You?

For Tan, his family was core to his upbringing. His parents came to the United States in the early 1960s with very little to escape the political strife in Indonesia.

Growing up he understood the sacrifices they made so he and his siblings had better opportunities in the US.

“It really shaped who I have become,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you come from an Asian background or another background—there’s a lot of similar stories in the immigrant community—this is truly the land of opportunity.”

Even as a 2nd generation American of Chinese Indonesian descent, Tan said he sees the similarities and differences between his upbringing and those of Kim and Kaluarachchi.

Kim came to Ohio from South Korea in the late 70s at a young age fluent in Korean and his parents were not college educated.

“So we were learning a lot as we came to Ohio,” he explained.

“Back then I had to explain where I came from, where South Korea was and the culture because it was often confused with other types of cultures,” he shared. “Now, fast forward and I can’t keep up with all the references to K Pop.”

But Kim said he valued the experience of growing up in a community that was so different from his South Korean upbringing.

Language wasn’t a barrier for Kaluarachchi when she came to the US at 18 years to study engineering. Kaluarachchi grew up in Sri Lanka—a British colony.

Education was a central focus in her family. Both her parents were the first in their families to go to a university in Sri Lanka, her father is an engineer and her mom was a teacher.

“My mom was the person who encouraged me to look wider and have more experiences,” she said.

How Did Your Family Influence You?

When he looks back at his childhood he thinks of the self-sacrifice his parents made as immigrants coming to a new country where they didn’t speak the language or have higher education. All to give him and his siblings better opportunities.

“I tell my kids today that I didn’t do nearly enough as my parents did for me. I try really hard to live up to that, they are my role models,” Kim said. “I’m not sure I’ll ever be in a situation where I’m called to do what my parents did for me.”

One of the proudest moments he has of his parents was when they were studying for the US citizenship test.

“They’re not native speakers,” he shared, adding “My mother went to sixth grade and my father went to third grade—so watching them study the questions for the citizen test was absolutely a thrill for me. To see them go after something so difficult.”

When Kaluarachchi was in high school she would go to the local American cultural center and it was there she got a hold of a Peterson’s College Guide. She applied and was accepted to several universities after learning about the array of options in the US.

“I want to tell the story of the tenacity of an Asian mother,” she shared.

When she had to decide where to go to college, her mother said decided they should go to the only American they knew of at that time, which happened to be Arthur C. Clarke, the author of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

“He lived down my road so my mom took me and she knocked on the door and told him ‘You got to help my daughter select a university in the US.’” She recounted. “You can only imagine his eyes widening but my mom has a lot of tenacity. So he selected a college—he decided my fate—he decided a college for me.”

So at the age of 18, she arrived in New Jersey ready to go to college.

“I was my own person and I was crafting that journey for me,” she said. “I knew I looked different and maybe I spoke differently but I was very confident because I had already established myself in my environment.”

What Does AAPI Culture Mean to You?

screenshot of panelists during aapi heritage month discussion

Kim noted that even though all three leaders on the panel have shared experiences they are also quite different—and AAPI culture is a celebration of both. 

“I like diversity because I think that’s where innovation comes from,” he said. “We celebrate this community because of what it does to both.”

For Kim, he said it’s a privilege and honor to get a chance to talk about their experiences.

“Explain who we are and establish those connections, but also explain some of our differences that I think we should celebrate,” he said.

Kaluarachchi added that the AAPI community encompasses such a huge region.

“I don’t know if so many people realize there are different ethnic groups, religions, even languages within the same country,” she said. “It’s not just the difference between the Asian community and the rest of the world. It’s within the Asian community there are similarities but it’s really interesting to also see the differences. Just as we’ve shared, we’ve all arrived and started this immigration experience differently and at different points in our lives.”

And she is fascinated by the experience food creates in the AAPI community.

“Food in the Asian community is amazing,” she said. “It’s so flavorful. So that’s one thing, try our good food. I think through good food you’ll get a real insight into the culture and the people.”

Can You Share Your Professional Journey?

Even though his field was nonexistent growing up, Kim has always had an interest in programming, solving problems, as well as disassembling things and analyzing them.

“I love reading and I love math so all those things combined to set the foundation,” he added.

Kim also is thankful that he’s worked for leaders who gave him the opportunity that normally wouldn’t be available for someone his age and background. He went on to work at major corporations such as General Electric and Under Armour before joining Public Storage.

“You go through different levels of your career, different levels of maturity, and you are picking up different things along the way,” he said. “I always think of success as a journey and not an end state.”

Kaluarachchi’s career hasn’t always been linear but rather a “collection of experiences.”  She credits that for helping her identify her passions, strengths and led her to where she is today.

“I don’t think it was a bad way to pursue a journey but it has its own path without me planning too much,” she said.

Kaluarachchi graduated with a degree in engineering and joined the World Bank Group. She was excited to go all over the world and do amazing projects.  During her time there, she worked on projects focused on environmental protection to helping communities impacted by civil war.

While it was one of the best times in her career she went on to do engineering consulting work. She took a year off to care for her two young daughters. Then she got an opportunity to join Princess Cruises where she went on to lead the sales and customer service department prior to joining Public Storage.  

While AAPI Heritage Month may be coming to a close, we celebrate our AAPI community in our Public Storage family all year round.

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