Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) celebrates Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month by recognizing the contributions of AAPI airport employees.
American Airlines Crew Chief Buntha Chan has been at PHL for 18 years. Her job duties include leading a team that ensures flights depart on time and that passengers’ luggage arrives at the correct destinations. Chan is also the first Cambodian and Chinese female committee chair for the aviation union International Association for Machinists (IAM).
Since 1992, AAPI Heritage Month has recognized the achievements and contributions of AAPI individuals throughout the country. “This month places a focus on us Asians, where people are more interested in learning about the different cultures that are out there,” said Chan. "It makes me happy when people outside of our race and even some of us who are disconnected from the culture learn and experience the different cultures that are out there. This month helps with the ignorance that is out there where at one point everyone was considered Chinese. I am very proud of both my Cambodian and Chinese heritage.”
Chan is fluent in Cambodian and jumps in to assist passengers who need assistance with translation. Although Chan does not consider herself religious, she believes being around the Buddhist traditions in both cultures makes her who she is today. “Knowing and seeing what is going on in this world, I am proud to say that it has taught me how to be humble, caring, giving, understanding, and kind,” she said.
Chan considers herself to be a people person and is excited to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds. She enjoys her job and enjoys working with her coworkers and management. “While being an employee for American, I take pride in protecting our union brothers and sisters,” said Chan. “Knowing that I’ve done everything I can to inform the membership and the company that we are working together for the passengers, is a good feeling.”
Although Chan has worked in the retail, hospitality, and legal industries, she considers the aviation industry to be her most fulfilling one. “It was probably the best decision I’ve made, career-wise,” she said. “The industry taught me things I never knew existed or even things I never thought I would be interested in. Things like, the many types of aircraft and the different places in the world I never knew about.”
When it comes to inspiration in life Chan looks to her family. “I’ve listened to many interviews from authors, actors, and politicians, but none are as inspiring as the stories I’ve heard from my parents and their friends who fled Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era,” said Chan. “The story of immigration during that time is sad but inspiring. They’ve dodged death. I was an infant, that was part of that story as I was born in a refugee camp. I am proud of our story. Even though I don’t remember the experience, I feel the pain. I grew up with no grandparents and never got a chance to meet any of my other aunts. My parents did what they could to get us to where we’re at today. They left with nothing but their lives and were able to build a life here in the United States. I am only here to make them proud, that their sacrifice is worth it.”
Chan hopes that people become more educated and understanding of the different AAPI identities during this month. “I feel like people will care and be more cautious when they speak when they understand the history behind every culture,” she said. “We all have stories and mine is just a small chapter. This month shows us that the world is growing and becoming more open minded.”