Pilots Discuss What it's Like to Be of Asian Descent - United Hub

Pilots discuss what it's like to be of Asian descent

By Matt Adams

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, San Francisco-based Captain Stan Snow, Houston-based Captain Lance Lau and San Francisco-based Captain Charlie Curammeng sat for a panel discussion at the Chicago Corporate Support Center where they talked about what it's like to be a pilot of Asian descent.

"I always thought you had to be a white movie star to be a pilot," said Lance, describing how stereotypes hindered his career pursuits early on. As he put it, growing up on a plantation in Hilo, Hawaii, you're not taught to think beyond the island, and you certainly aren't told that you can do something like fly an airplane. Lance's own father was a U.S. Army colonel who had served in World War II but had been told he couldn't fly because he was Asian. He cautioned Lance against such aspirations, but his son wouldn't be deterred.

As a young man, Stan, whose family immigrated to the U.S. mainland from American Samoa, said he felt he could do anything. He had his heart set on becoming a fighter pilot, but when he told his father about his dreams, they were similarly quashed. "I wasn't the right color and didn't have money, so I thought I couldn't do it."

Charlie, who grew up on Oahu in Hawaii, said he had a relatively easier time, with supportive parents. He has never looked at himself as different from any other pilot, believing that it all comes down to whether you can safely fly the plane you're in. "Aviation is the great equalizer," he said.

Houston-based Captain, Lance Lau

But when they did face discrimination, it often came from within Stan's, Lance's and Charlie's own communities. Stan called them self-inflicted challenges. "People would say, 'Are you trying to be better than us?'" said Stan, as an example of a common social obstacle some Polynesians face when working to achieve their goals.

"A lot of us suffered from our own stereotypes and our own perceptions of what we were adequate or inadequate at doing," Lance added. "But we can break through that if we put our minds to it."

Now at the pinnacle of their profession, Charlie, Lance and Stan all focus on cultural outreach and mentoring. All three have spent time visiting schools and urging kids to consider aviation careers, regardless of background, and all three are committed to ensuring that the next generation of Asian and Pacific American pilots have good examples to follow.

"It's about persistence," said Charlie. "I tell them to keep going; don't let naysayers say otherwise."

Following that advice has served these captains well. The panel offered enlightening insights into their lives and careers, as well as some of the issues that our Asian and Pacific American colleagues face.

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