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Reflections on Identity and AAPI Heritage Month with Tammy Kiaʻāina

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Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the vast diversity of cultures, traditions, and languages within the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities and their contributions to the United States.

As Intel kicks off Asian American and Pacific Islander Month, hear from Tammy Kiaʻāina, an engineering technician in Logic Technology Development in Oregon. Kiaʻāina shares her journey of finding her passion and navigating her identity—and emphasizes the multicultural depth of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.

What inspired your interest in engineering?
I was raised in a multigenerational household by my mom and grandparents in Kailua, Hawaii. My grandfather fixed electronics at Pearl Harbor and would tinker with ham radios (amateur radios) in his spare time. Whenever anything broke, he found a way to fix it. He is why I became interested in computers, and I followed in his footsteps.

After high school, I joined the Army Reserves, where I worked in communications until 2004. During this time, I was inspired to study electronics and joined Intel in 2002. The Army Reserves is part-time, and I was in the Army Reserves during my first years at Intel.

I’m still passionate about learning: in addition to working at Intel, I’m pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science through Oregon State University’s e-campus program and am using Intel’s Tuition Assistance Program. My goal is to become an engineer.

How did you join Intel, and what was the transition like?
I was raised on food stamps, so when Intel came to Hawaii to recruit, I saw an opportunity to step out and make a career for myself. There was quite a culture shock—Oregon is faster-paced than Hawaii. But coming into Intel with a group of other Islanders from Hawaii helped. We were able to rely on and support each other. I’ve now been with Intel for 20 years.

How have your culture and heritage played a role in your experiences at Intel?
It has taken me a while to define my identity. As a multiracial Pacific Islander — I am Hawaiian, English, Scottish, German and Chinese — how I am perceived can shift depending on who I am talking to at any given moment.

At Intel, I’ve engaged with employee resource groups as an opportunity to find my communities: the Pacific Islanders of Intel (POI), Women at Intel (WIN), and American Veterans of Intel (AVI). I’m a communications chair of POI — there aren’t that many Pacific Islanders at Intel, which gives us a strong sense of solidarity. POI has been a source of mentorship and leadership training, a way to stay connected to my culture, and an opportunity to give back to my community.

What does it mean to be a Pacific Islander?
For me, being a Pacific Islander is a celebration of multicultural identities. I belong to a large group of many unique, independent subcultures that are connected by common resourcefulness and community pride. Within that, I’m Hawaiian, which brings the privilege and responsibility of passing on the culture and history of the Hawaiian people to future generations.

This sense of interconnectedness and responsibility to the community is important to me. During COVID, for instance, I participated in a crafting group led by Tongan women to learn about crafts from another Pacific Islander culture. The purpose of this group was to prepare goods for upcoming cultural events, such as the Kato Teu, which is a decorated ceremonial basket. I grew up crafting a lot with my Hawaiian hula school (hula halau), making instruments and leis to dance with, so it was fun to learn about Tongan crafting.

I also try to stay connected through volunteer work and supporting initiatives to promote Pacific Islanders in STEM. I’ve volunteered with Operation HOPE to write cards and pass out gift bags at a local high school. I’ve also been involved in drives to increase COVID testing and vaccination because COVID has disproportionately impacted the Pacific Islander community.

What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
AAPI Month is a chance to be seen and heard. The AAPI community is not a monolith, and people tend to forget that. This month of national recognition brings attention to the diversity of the AAPI community—to our individual histories, the different challenges we face, and our varied experiences.

What advice do you have for new Asian American and Pacific Islander engineers?
Always continue learning. Tech is always changing, so you’ve got to keep your passion to learn.

 


Fast Facts with Tammy Kiaʻāina

What being a Pacific Islander means to me: Being a Pacific Islander means belonging to a large group of many unique, independent subcultures that are connected by common resourcefulness and community pride.

Favorite POI event: An art session about tribal tattoos and their meanings.

Favorite Hawaiian tradition: First birthday parties, especially the hula-dancing portion.


 

 

At Intel, we are committed to advancing diversity and inclusion at every level of our company and the broader industry. Read about our initiatives, employee stories and more at intel.com/diversity.

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