We are featuring stories of DTE employees in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. This week, we are highlighting Felicia Woo and her life as an Asian American.
“I always knew that I was different.” Woo said, while reflecting on the times when implicit stereotypes defined her experiences. “But, most of the time, I did not see being different as a handicap, but an advantage. I had more cultures and ways of thinking to draw upon to understand and connect with others.”
Woo, a Chinese American born in Taiwan, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her parents moved to the United States for a work opportunity when she was one year old with the intention of moving back. Plans changed, and they have lived in the U.S. since.
In her early childhood, Woo stood out as one of the few Asian American students in school. “I remember auditioning for the school play, and myself and the other Asian girl were cast as Siamese cats. We were happy to be selected, but now looking back, I see it differently.”
As a college student, she was referred to as the “smart Asian chick” on multiple occasions. “People expected me to live up to stereotypes, like being studious.” And as an adult with youthful genes, she sometimes feels she must try harder in professional settings or act more formal to be taken seriously.
From a young age, Woo remembers her family having to work hard to both fit in and maintain their culture. “We represented East Asians in our communities, so we had to set a good example, like making sure we picked up after ourselves after dining at McDonald’s and spoke perfect American English.” she shared. “We were raised to be both American and Chinese. At home, we maintained traditions and always spoke Mandarin Chinese. My grandparents lived with us and my mom did not want our home to feel foreign to them.”
Moving around throughout her life, Woo felt she had to assimilate every time she moved, but found she fit in more in diverse communities. “Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was part of a larger established community of Asians,” she said, “but when I moved to Michigan for school and later to settle, I was conscious that I might stand out and needed to decide how different I wanted to be.”
Woo moved to Michigan to complete her MBA at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She started working at DTE in 2005 as a senior strategist for DTE Electric, and has continued in strategy roles for the majority of her DTE tenure in Strategy and Corporate Development, Enterprise Performance Management, as chief of staff of Customer Service, and currently the manager of data science for Customer Service Analytics. She has participated in different DEI initiatives, and is proud of the company’s dedication to leading in this area.
“I think a lot of people don’t think about Asian Americans and their struggles,” said Woo, “it’s like we’ve assimilated so well that we’ve become a forgotten group.”
“Being multi-cultural and having assimilated in America, I sometimes feel distant from my Chinese heritage,” she shares, “but hate crimes against Asians emerging from COVID-19 to political and human rights disputes between China and the U.S. have made me look inward and rediscover what it means to be a Chinese American.”
“I’ve become more vigilant and cognizant of my surroundings and how I come across to others,” said Woo. “I’ve started thinking about how I would react if someone were to say something racist to me, and my family and friends feel the same. We have to be more careful of how we interact with others to avoid confrontation that could be threatening.”
“My values reflect both American and Chinese cultures, but this is my home. I’m American, and that has always meant that anything is possible. I feel free and empowered to fully live my dreams, from evolving as a professional to building authentic relationships,” said Woo. “This almost patriotic regard for what being American enables makes me proud, but we clearly still have a lot of healing and work to do to make this the country of our dreams.”
Woo strongly believes we need to be willing to engage in tough conversations on real issues to combat stereotypes and make America better. “We need to stop thinking about these topics as ‘politics’,” she said. “We must engage in these conversations to build the inclusive collective society we desire. We are all political because we are part of communities, part of society and part of the solution.”
“Overcoming racism and establishing equity happens through interpersonal connections. It’s the small conversations that lead to, and prepare you to have, the larger, more difficult ones,” Woo shared. “We need to start asking ourselves what we would say to someone if it were the last time we ever spoke to them. That changes the nature of the conversation, reminds us of our shared humanity, and encourages kindness and connection through true honesty.”