May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, an annual celebration of Asians and Pacific Islanders across the United States. It aims to celebrate the diverse makeup of the AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community who can trace their origins back to East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific Islands. Each ethnic group brings its own immigrant experience and heritage to the United States, enriching the cities and communities in which they live.
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight Airbnb host and San Francisco resident Kenix Zhong.
“One of my first guests was a very nice guy originally from Mexico. We talked a lot while he was here: about life, about our reasons for coming to the US. They were meaningful conversations. We’ve kept in touch since then, and we’re so close now that I call him my brother. I went to his wedding in Texas!” says Kenix Zhong, 34, a host in San Francisco’s Mission Terrace neighborhood.
Kenix lives with her husband Kevin, their 5-year-old daughter Katrina, and their 3-year-old son Kaden. Originally from Guangzhou, China, Kenix moved to San Francisco in 2013. She loves the cool weather and the presence of so much cutting-edge technology. “I have many friends in tech,” she says. “I love being in a city that lets me keep up to date with what’s happening in that world.” She also says her neighborhood is fun and diverse. “It’s like the United States in general,” she says. “You can reach many different cultures within a small area.”
Kenix started hosting when she needed a way to make extra money—during an uncomfortable pregnancy. “In China, I was a supply chain manager at Phillips, and our family owned a hostel. When we moved to the States, I was prepared to take any job to start, like working in a restaurant or supermarket. But when the friends we’d been sharing a house with moved out, we were left with more rent to pay—and I learned I was pregnant! Thankfully I was healthy, but I felt sick almost every day.”
Kenix realized she could earn income from home as an Airbnb host, a decision she thinks worked out well for both her and her baby. “I was less stressed, so my baby was less stressed,” she says. “Becoming a host is one of the very best decisions I’ve made in my life. I’m not only getting extra income, I’m getting extra time—for my kids, for my studies, for me. It makes me so happy.”
Being a host is “an amazing experience,” says Kenix. “My guests are always awesome: friendly, respectful, and clean. Sometimes they even make the bed at checkout and line up the coffee mugs in the kitchen! I feel so grateful for that. I hope to give them the feeling that they’re living here with us, not being guests. They fill our place like home.”
The extra income Kenix makes hosting goes to rent, necessities for her kids, and school tuition for herself. “I’m from a country where people believe that hard work can change your life,” she says, “but in America, I think there are more chances to work hard and do what you want; to have the life you want. That’s why I’m going back to school, because I believe education can change my life for the better.”
Beyond the financial gains, Kenix says her family benefits from hosting in a social way. “In Chinese culture, my kids used to be very shy,” she says. When she began hosting, she would introduce Katrina to her guests, but the little girl was reserved. “Now, after a couple of years, she’s so open and brave. My kids hear the doorbell and go running to meet our guests! And the guests love them, too. My kids are so confident now.”
“I think every immigrant believes in the American Dream,” Kenix says. In the short term, her dream is to get another degree, then for her family to buy their own home—” and continue hosting, of course!” In the long term, “I want to make myself a better person,” she says. “ ‘Like father, like son’—my kids are learning what I do. The only way to educate them better is to make myself better. I hope they will be proud of me and what I’ve done when they grow up.”