Skip to main content

Jessica Pegula | 'Happy to follow in her footsteps'

PSES-10902 - AAPI Heritage Month - Jessica Pegula Feature Bills 1280 x 720

Growing up, I was never really in touch with my Asian roots. That started to change with a family trip to Seoul for the Korean Open in 2019.

My mom was born in Seoul. She was left by her birth parents outside of a police station, spent time in an orphanage, and was adopted by my grandparents and brought to Fairport, New York when she was five years old. She had never gone back – I don't think she ever would have if not for tennis.  

I played in that tournament mostly because I wanted my mom to go. We visited her orphanage and learned about the process that brought her to the United States. It was a special experience we were able to share with my whole family, and it was tennis that brought us together for it.

My mom's influence and success as an Asian American woman in sports was a major reason why I was proud to join as a founding member on the board of directors for the Asian American Pacific Islander Tennis Association last year. With May being Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, it's a good time to reflect on why cultural representation matters in sports.

My mom is fearless. That's always been her biggest strength. I'm not sure she ever cared about or even saw the barriers that were in front of her entering the sports world, a male-dominated field without a ton of Asian American representation. She broke these barriers without even knowing it.

It's funny, it was only when others started pointing out the "firsts" that she started realizing what she had done. She became president of both the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres – not only the first Asian American woman to hold that title in either league, but the first woman in general.

Once she did realize what she had accomplished, she became a voice for representation in sports. She became a member of the NFL's Workplace Diversity Committee and the NHL's Executive Inclusion Council. Both were geared toward making their sports accessible to as many people as possible.

We have the same goal with the AAPITA. The AAPI tennis community is large but underrepresented. We hope to empower leaders, grow visibility, and create programming that encourages youth participation. We see a huge opportunity later this summer at the U.S. Open to connect with the Asian American population in New York City.

As I've advanced in my career these past few years, something has started happening that still catches me off guard but is always meaningful. Young girls will come up to me – maybe they are from Korea, or maybe they have one Asian parent like me – and their message is usually something like this:

"We love you and your mom."

I am so proud of the way my mom has inspired others, and I am happy to follow in her footsteps.

Related Content