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Moments that Matter | Meet emerging Kentucky leader Amber Ma

While AAPI Heritage Month is supposed to bring knowledge and history to others, one special person and home-cooked food keeps Amber Ma connected to her roots.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI Month), WHAS11 News wants to introduce a Chinese American woman that calls Kentucky home.

An emerging leader in the Louisville community, Amber Ma was born in a small city in the northeast part of China called Shenyang. She and her mom moved to the United States in 2007.

Ma said she learned English by watching the Disney Channel with subtitles. As a young child, she decided to change her name so she could fit in, but she found it difficult to find her comfort zone and her voice.

"I identify myself as a Chinese American, and as a first generation Chinese American that's living here in Louisville, Kentucky," she said. “I oftentimes, I'm conflicted about my identity. As a lot of other Asian Americans here too. We find out we find ourselves in between two cultures, you know, not white enough to be white and not yellow enough to be Asian."

However, as an adult, she wished she hadn’t made that choice just to fit in and make others comfortable.

“My birth name is Ma He (马赫)," she said. "We say our last name first, and then first name, last. Yeah, we always are honoring our family."

Now, she serves as the program director for the Asia Institute -- Crane House.

Less than 3% of Louisville’s population is Asian, and less than 2% of Kentucky’s population is Asian; that’s why Ma said it’s important to celebrate this month.

While AAPI Month is supposed to bring knowledge and history to others, one special person and home-cooked food keep her connected to her roots.

“Home is where mom is, and my mom is a great cook,” Ma said. “So, for my birthday every year, she will make noodles for me. And the longer the noodle is, the longer that I will live. So, in anything, when it comes to dumplings, pancakes are those, are all of her specialties. And when, whenever we have family traditions, we're always, it's always dumplings.”

Ma has plans to return to Asia for the first time in 11 years and she said she is excited “to be more connected with my roots that summer.”

“I'm an aunt now so I'll have to have some red envelope money ready for my nieces and nephew,” she said.

Red envelope money is a way for elders to celebrate the younger generation during the big holidays or life events she said.

When asked if she had any advice for young Asian Americans, Ma said this:

“As an emerging leader, I believe that we have to be genuine, we have to treat each other nice, nicely. And I'm a strong believer in teamwork. So, there are a lot of resources here in Louisville, Kentucky to for people who are struggling with the language.”

►Contact WHAS11’s Sherlene Shanklin at sshanklin@whas11.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

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