Wynne Leung Kim
Wynne Leung Kim shares her eye opening experience traveling to China and her incredible work with data.
A: Tell us about yourself.
W: I was born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens with my older sister. My parents were
immigrants so they were away working more than they were at home- and when
they were home, they were busy with matters other than family. When I compare
notes with some of my friends now, my childhood seems largely unguided,
unsupervised and learning what not to do rather than following a path that was laid
out before me.
My parents played a key role in my childhood and imprinted beliefs that I carry
forward in everything that I do. Like most Asian parents, they demanded good
grades and obedience... and like many immigrant parents, they simply didn’t have
the bandwidth to focus on being parents. As long as they didn’t receive any phone
calls from the school dean, I was good to do whatever I chose to spend my time
doing. And it was always better to ask for forgiveness rather than ask for permission.
I grew up in New York City - the whole city - and for much of my high school
experience, I played stickball in the alleys, billiards in smoke-filled clubs, video
games in candy stores, and tennis in the parks in each of the five boroughs. Doing
well or attending school was not a priority as long as my parents were not called in
to address my truant behavior.
Playing sports kept me in school and, in hindsight, saved my life. My tennis coach
agreed to let me play in the high school matches on the condition that I show up for
class. I competed against the best junior tennis players in the NYC area and went
undefeated in my senior year despite all the clubbing and practical application of
physics on a cue ball. Thanks, Mr. Allan Weiner!
Through a minority enrollment program, I managed to attend college outside of the
city. It was exactly the diversity that I needed and it was eye opening - a small
homogeneous upstate town, dairy farms, rolling clover hills, and curious neighbors
who thought I was the most exotic thing they’d met since soy sauce. The fresh grass
and sweet smell of cow dung in the morning air was different from anything I had
experienced in New York City. I learned about patriotism passed on from generation
to generation along with institutionalized racism and poverty.
I serve on the Board for two community nonprofits in the Lower East Side of
Manhattan, Hamilton-Madison House and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, that
provide mental health and social services to people who live below poverty.
Changing the socio-economic status of a person is as much an individual choice as it
is a collective decision to adapt working together to address different needs.
After college, I landed a job with DoubleClick - the technology company that
pioneered online advertising and behavioral targeting. I remember when we didn’t
have enough websites to put advertising banners on, we offered to build them! This
introduction to data and technology in the advertising world inspired me to learn
new skills, fused my left brain with my right brain, and helped me realize that it is
absolutely possible to shape a new medium, a new currency, and change the way
that we work, live and interact. And that sometimes, you have to meet people
halfway and lend a helping hand to get them to see and be part of your future vision.
My professional journey took me deeper into technology and data. At Microsoft,
DISH Network, American Express, IBM and The Weather Company, I ingested
foundational data to a search engine, digitally transformed analytics platforms and
created the largest business-to-business data set based on location and behavioral
targeting. Data sells... and my job was to build the most precise, highest quality data
sets to enable all sorts of digital targeting.
During the pandemic, I made the decision to pivot to healthcare, while remaining
committed to data, to build better user controls for personal data - from what data is
collected, how it’s being used, to how it’s shared and managed. My dream is to scale
these digital controls to every human using services online. Let’s see how far we get!
A: What language did you speak growing up?
W: I grew up speaking Cantonese and conversing in Taishanese with my grandmother.
A: What ethnicity and culture do you identify with? What was your experience
like in China?
W: I really wanted to understand what others saw me as - I had no idea what it meant to
be Chinese or Asian American. Attending college in rural America introduced me to
people who had never interacted with an Asian before, let alone an American-born
Asian. It was disorienting and having the vocabulary to push back against the
constant stereotypes or racial slurs didn’t seem to make a difference.
In my 20s, I traveled to China - I think I was more foreign than the non-Asian
foreigners getting off that plane. My Mandarin was awful and my Cantonese didn’t
seem to convince anyone that I was Chinese or American. I quickly realized that I
simply didn’t have the right mindset.
Along the way, I met people who are truly global - they grew up in multiple countries
with no single cultural identity while being able to identify with multiple types of
people and ethnicities. They helped me understand that ethnicity and culture are
not about the artificial boundaries that society wants to box us into- rather, it is
about genetics and learned behavior.
A: Did your parents ever teach you Chinese culture and did they have certain
expectations of you?
W: My parents were from Hong Kong and the main thing I remember about Chinese
culture was eating Cantonese food, with the occasional steak. My father was a
calligraphist, tinkerer, and storyteller. My mom worked as a nurse. They weren’t
your typical Asian helicopter parents who insisted that I play piano for 3-hours a day
or study until my eyeballs throbbed. My mother, however, did believe that my only
purpose in life is to serve and support her into her old age. We’ve calibrated her
expectations so I think we’re on the same page now.
A: Did you experience any of the anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic?
W: Not so much during the pandemic because commuting was pretty minimal but there
has definitely been an increased anti-Asian sentiment along with mental illness.
Recently, a homeless woman accused me of bringing killer viruses to NYC and that
my kids are little assassins working for the Chinese government.
A: Do you consider yourself an atypical Asian or not?
W: This is not going to answer your question. While I am biologically Asian, I’ve never culturally identified myself as Asian. I am American-born and this is my culture.
I am an advocate for reshaping boundaries and changing the conversation so that we
can focus on collectively moving humanity forward.
A: What do you think of the term 'people of color''?
W: It wasn’t until I was in college that I came across that term and I think it’s incredibly
outdated. In a way, it unifies all the groups that experience inequality so I guess it
depends on how we use the term. If by default, the term “people of color” sets us at a
lesser status then maybe we need to do better.
Relevant article here https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/02/people-color-are-protesting-heres-what-you-need-know-about-this-new-identity/and historical reference here, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/03/30/295931070/the-journey-from-colored-to-minorities-to-people-of-color
A: What message do you want to impart?
W: Instead of letting the bottle shape the water - like a condition that defines your
socio-economic status - why not be the water that carves and shapes the earth?
We have the power to demand a seat at the table to decide how we, as a society, should interact-whether it is because we are Asian, American or both.