Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Southcoast Health celebrates the contributions, cultures and traditions of those with origins across the continent of Asia and the Island Nations of Oceania.

Meet David Chang – Pharmacist and Epic Clinical Analyst

David Chang has been with Southcoast Health for eight years, first as a pharmacist at Tobey and Charlton Memorial Hospitals, and now as a pharmacist for DHS on the Epic Ambulatory team. “Having graduated pharmacy school in Boston in 2015, working at Southcoast has been an experience that I never could have imagined after growing up in New Jersey as a first-generation Asian American,” David says.

His parents emigrated from Korea to the US in the early 80s – at a time when the Korean economy was seeing rapid economic shifts. “As a child, Korean culture was an ingrained part of my life,” David recalls. “Korean food was plentiful in every neighborhood, and it felt like a quarter of the kids were Korean. Every aspect of my life had Korean influence and a sense of community was always found no matter where my family went.”

There was never a day that went by that David didn’t see another Korean child – either at school, a shop or at church. “I remember spending all day Sunday at my Korean church running around playing games with my Korean friends from all over New Jersey.”

But going to college in a city as varied as Boston, David found it challenging to maintain that same sense of community. “Keeping my Korean culture front and center was the hardest part of defining my adult identity,” he says. “Even to this day, more than 10 years later, I struggle with holding onto it.”

He adds, “There are so many other cultures in Massachusetts that it’s hard not to take part in their traditions and food. Food was such a big part of my childhood that – to this day – I cook Korean food every week to keep that part of traditional Korean culture alive in my life.”

Food has always been an important part of David’s cultural identity. “I try to share that with as many people as I can. Using food as a gateway, we can see where the journey takes them.”

Meet Linda Hevenor, DNP, MPH, RN – VP of Clinical Operations, SPG

“My full name is Linda Keiko Hirota Hevenor. I am currently the Vice President of Clinical Operations in SPG – my third position in my eighth year here Southcoast,” Linda says. “As a mixed-race individual, I have been asked innumerable times about my heritage and where I come from.”

Linda’s father was Japanese and her mother was Belgian and Norwegian. Not only were her parents of different racial backgrounds, they also practiced different religions. “A Buddhist shrine and a sacred heart Jesus statue decorated my parents’ bedroom,” Linda explains. “Each allowed the other to live their own faith without disagreement. From this, I learned the gifts of understanding and acceptance.”

Linda’s father grew up in Hawaii where she and her siblings are referred to as “hapa houle,” a Hawaiian term for half-white. Her paternal grandparents emigrated from Japan to Hawaii and made a living making and selling charcoal. “While my father (born in 1927) was lucky to have avoided being placed in an incarceration camp, as a Japanese American he was a victim of prejudice and discrimination.”

Despite these experiences, he joined the military just after World War II to defend his country. During his military tenure, he was sent to the Bikini Islands to work on nuclear weapon testing. “He was a man of few words, but did share some horrific stories of that experience,” Linda says. “I can’t help but think that the respiratory disease he ultimately died from was linked to the toxic exposure from that work.”

Linda’s mother grew up a single child in rural Minnesota, helping her grandparents run a country store in the middle of farmland. At age 16, she developed neurological symptoms and was diagnosed a few years later with multiple sclerosis (MS). “After graduating college, she moved to southern California to work as a librarian,” Linda recalls. “That’s where she met my father, who left his family in Hawaii to pursue opportunity on the mainland.”

Both parents were from poor families, and they worked hard to make a living and raise their family. This was complicated as her mother’s MS progressed. “She became wheelchair bound and ultimately bedridden,” says Linda. “By necessity, my older sister and I became caregivers for our younger brother. My experience with her doctor and nurses while she was under hospice care is undoubtedly the reason I pursued a career in healthcare.” 

Reflecting on her childhood, Linda states, “I vividly remember my metal Scooby Doo lunchbox (I’m aging myself!). On some days I packed it with bologna sandwiches and other days rice balls. But it wasn’t until I was teased about eating seaweed and asked why my skin was so dark that I realized I was different from my classmates.”

Driven by a desire to be accepted by her peers, combined with the values of education and hard work instilled by her parents, Linda excelled in academics and sports. But it wasn’t until she attended a diverse liberal arts college (Occidental College) that she began to embrace her Asian-American heritage. 

“I made a few Asian-American friends, joined an Asian-American club, took Japanese language classes, participated in dragon races and earned my brown belt in karate. I took a year off from college and backpacked throughout Asia with my older sister and a friend.”

Linda’s husband is of mixed European descent, making their children one-quarter Japanese and three-quarters Caucasian. “Cooking is one of my hobbies, and I’ve taught my children to cook a variety of foods including homemade ravioli, pad Thai and Chana masala. My daughter says her favorite is ‘ese’ food, by which she means Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc., and her favorite dish is ramen.”

Linda also loves to travel, learn languages (currently working on Italian) and seeks to understand more about her family’s heritage. She’s been to the villages in Belgium, Norway and Japan where her ancestors emigrated from, and has brought her children in some cases. She has also taken them to Hawaii to meet their Japanese relatives.

“I am proud to be an Asian-American woman and delighted to work for an organization that is embracing cultural diversity.”

Meet Lucas Dexter – Marketing Strategist

Meet Lucas Dexter, a Marketing Strategist here at Southcoast Health. Born in South Korea, Lucas was adopted by his parents when he was four months old, moving from Seoul to Acushnet, Massachusetts. “I also have a younger sister who was adopted three years after me,” Lucas says. “We were raised in a very Portuguese neighborhood by my parents who are of German, French, English and Irish descent. Even though they had no direct knowledge of Korean culture, they learned and researched as much as they could prior to our arrival.”

One of the main Korean traditions his parents embraced was the Doljanchi, which celebrates a baby’s first birthday. The baby wears a traditional outfit, called a hanbok, and a jobawi hat. “The highlight of the Doljanchi is the Doljabi, where different objects are placed in front of the child that symbolize different paths for the future – such money (financial success), a ball (athletic success), a paintbrush (artistic success) and so on,” Lucas explains. “The object chosen by the child is believed to foretell their future.”

In the past, death rates for Korean children were extremely high with many dying before their first birthday – a main reason why the Korean first birthday is held in such high regard. “This ceremony is extremely special to me as it not only celebrated my Korean heritage, but my son just celebrated his first birthday and my wife and I were able to pass the tradition along to him,” Lucas says. “My parents kept my baby hanbok and jobawi, and my son was able to wear them for his Doljanchi.”

Aside from that first birthday tradition, Lucas’ family did not engage in many other activities related to his Korean heritage. “Growing up in a European household in a predominately Portuguese neighborhood, I indulged less in Korean foods and more so in our local cuisine,” he says. “After getting married and having our son, my wife – who is of Cape Verdean, Native American and European descent – has made it a point to dive deeper into Korean traditions and culture and has learned how to make Korean dishes that we can pass down to our son. He has developed a strong affinity for Korean barbeque and Korean fried chicken, but he’s not a big fan of Kimchi just yet!”

Growing up in the greater New Bedford area, Lucas explains that there was a very small Asian population, and even smaller Korean population. “My sister and I had a hard time relating to anyone growing up, so as adults we have made a strong effort to instill some of our Korean traditions and culture into our children so that they understand where they came from and embrace their differences!”

Meet Reverend Victoria Nguyen, DMin – Tobey Hospital Chaplain and Southcoast Volunteer

Victoria came to America in 1990 from Vietnam when she was 17 and grew up in Long Beach California. When she arrived here, she did not speak any English. Two years later, she graduated high school with honors as a top-ten student of the class of 1992. Her accomplishments from there have been both impressive and inspirational.

As she furthered her education, Victoria served the Vietnamese-American community in Orange County California. “I went on to earn an associate’s degree in physical science, a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in education, a master’s in divinity, and a doctor of ministry degree,” she says. “My educational and spiritual journey is to search for the best version of myself while encouraging others to reach their full potential and have the best quality of life.”

Besides studying and continuing to serve as a spiritual healthcare provider, Victoria also advocates for the poor and weak. She is the founder of CaoDai Today (CDT), a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO), which virtually unites Caodaists from around the Vietnamese diaspora and supports at-risk CaoDai congregations inside Vietnam.

“I was the first CaoDai chaplain in the USA and have served thousands of patients of diverse spiritual backgrounds,” Victoria says. “I am also a Veteran because I wanted to pay my appreciation to this country and to understand the military culture. I wanted to understand the truth about the Vietnam War.”

To become a better listener and communicator, she joined the International Toastmasters and has completed five pathways. She remains involved with the Vietnamese community and is planning a Night Market in July in Dorchester to imitate the Night Market in Vietnam where – because of the heat during the daytime – people like to go out at night and enjoy the food served on the streets.

Last, but certainly not least, Victoria is also a wife and the proud mother of two daughters. “As a Vietnamese-American mother, I wanted my children to remember their ancestors and recognize their cultural background. I took my daughters to create a documentary, which we named, My Mother Here and There!

Today, Victoria’s journey has landed her at Southcoast by way of Rhode Island, where she was working at Women & Infants Hospital. It was there she met Deacon Bob Craig who saw her resume and asked her to join the Catholic Diocese in which all Chaplains and Deacons in our Pastoral Care Program are affiliated. “Tobey Hospital was searching for a new Chaplain,” Victoria explains. “And the rest – as they say – is history.”

To learn more about our commitment to embracing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all, please visit Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Southcoast Health.