Member Spotlight: Vaishali Rao on Recognizing Diverse Voices

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month
Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Rao, partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, affirms the importance of recognizing and uplifting Asian voices, accomplishments and contributions during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

05/11/2022 2:30 P.M.

5.5 minute read

ACA International’s membership and the accounts receivable management (ARM) industry are increasingly diverse. In May, ACA is highlighting member voices as part of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (AAPI).

The U.S. has recognized Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders nationally in May since June 1978; however, the full month as we know it today was not recognized until May 1, 2009, when former President Barack Obama signed a proclamation declaring May as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, according to whitehouse.gov.

For Vaishali Rao, partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson for over five years, AAPI Heritage Month is a time to recognize and uplift Asian voices. With parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Mumbai, India, in the 1970s, Rao recognizes the impact that it’s had on her career and accomplishments in the ARM industry.

Rao leads Hinshaw’s financial services regulatory and compliance practice, and helps counsel those in the ARM industry to ensure they stay in compliance with laws like Reg F.

“I am very grateful that my law partners have been wonderful at introducing me to clients and the industry as a whole. Together, we have been able to represent the industry in a diverse array of issues,” Rao said.

Vaishali and her husband, Jay, celebrating a night out with no kids.

Rao shares more about her heritage and career here.

Q. How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?

A. It has had a huge impact on who I am. As time goes on, I’m more and more grateful to have parents who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1970s. Being a first-generation American, I was expected to be extremely grateful for opportunities, taught to conserve resources, made to work hard, and encouraged to connect to the place we came from. Those are all things I want for my kids. It is harder to achieve now, one generation removed. But regardless, I’m really glad I have the luxury of understanding an Eastern culture as well as a Western one because it allows me to connect to all different kinds of people.

Q. Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you? Why?

A. I have an even more diverse family now. My husband is Caucasian and our children are biracial. We love that we can celebrate holidays from both our cultures. Indians have LOTS of holidays—I don’t even know them all. We couldn’t possibly celebrate them all or I wouldn’t have time to work! We make a point to celebrate two in particular: The first is a holiday called Raksha Bandhan. It is where a brother and sister vow to take care of each other. My daughter and son are 7 and 6—and always fighting! I think it is a wonderful chance to clear the slate and help them appreciate one another. The second is the holiday, Diwali. Diwali is the festival of lights and represents the power of good over evil and lasts for five days. We try to get together with family, get dressed up, see fireworks and make a nice meal. What I have learned from having a biracial family is that no matter what you call it or where it originates, all holidays contain the same basic elements and are intended to bring us together.

Rao’s children, Sonia and Kiran, putting lights out on their front porch for Diwali.

Q. Who are the role models or mentors who have influenced you or helped guide you in your career?

A. Before I joined Hinshaw, I spent close to a decade in the Office of the Illinois Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. The 30+ year division chief, Deborah Hagan, was my mentor. While she was practicing, she had a knack for getting at the heart of an issue in just a few minutes. She was also one of the best at building relationships on all sides of an issue to fully understand it. It was a very difficult thing to switch to the defense side after being a consumer advocate for so long, but Debby was so gracious. Although a tough advocate, she was never entrenched in a particular position and didn’t think companies or the people running them were evil. She was simply trying to get two sides to make improvements for the betterment of consumers. I feel so fortunate to have worked with someone who was balanced in her approach; we don’t see it a lot anymore. Having Debby as a mentor allowed me the freedom to grow as a lawyer and bring my skills to bear in the defense of my clients.

Q. What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

When I was growing up, I remember wanting to be a news anchor, but there was no one who looked like me on TV. I didn’t think mainstream America would accept Indians as TV personalities, comedians, or in high offices in state and federal government. I remember when an Indian person would show up in a magazine or on TV, my mom would tell me all about it and would burst with pride. But now look at us! Things are so different. There are Indians who are visible and performing at high levels in almost every walk of life. It makes me very proud to think of the progress we have made in one or two generations. When I see people practicing yoga, doing a color run (where colors are thrown to celebrate the onset of spring, which originates from the Hindu holiday, Holi), or enjoying Indian food, it makes me smile. There are so many wonderful things Indian people are contributing to American culture.

Q. What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?

Sonia and Kiran dressed up in Indian clothes.

A. It means taking a moment from all the day-to-day business and valuing the contributions of Asians to our country. It is also a reminder that although Asians tend to assimilate more easily than some other cultures, we have a lot of work to do to ensure our cultures continue to be appreciated, our contributions are valued, and our voices are heard.

Do you know a member you would like to see featured in ACA Daily’s Member Spotlight or Collector magazine’s Origin Story? Would you like to share your story? We are also looking to highlight our international members and new members of ACA. Reach out to our communications team at [email protected] with your ideas. We’d love to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

If you have executive leadership updates or other member news to share with ACA, contact our communications department at [email protected]. View our publications page for more information and our news submission guidelines here.

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