For AAPI Heritage Month, FN is spotlighting Asian American and Pacific Islander executives, entrepreneurs and designers as part of its ongoing commitment to champion diversity across all areas of the footwear business.
For Virginia Rustique-Petteni, the conversation surrounding race and ethnicity is inescapable — and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
At home, she belongs to multicultural family, which includes her husband, who is Italian, and three kids: 16-year-old Felix, 14-year-old Sofia Lilah and 6-year-old Olympia. At work, she’s the global VP of purpose communications at sportswear powerhouse Nike, where she leads the company’s efforts around diversity and inclusion, among other initiatives.
“I’m a Filipino American woman, and from a very early age, my heritage has always been very clear to me,” Rustique-Petteni, the daughter of Filipino immigrants, told FN. “I’ve been aware of it and the power that it holds.”
As a child growing up in a small town in Kansas, Rustique-Petteni expressed an interest in history — particularly in the philosophy of identity. That curiosity took her to the University of Chicago, where she earned a bachelor of arts in the subject, focused on race and gender. She started her career in politics, taking on the role of special advisor for nominations at the Office of Legislative Affairs, which serves as the president’s primary liaison to Congress, during the Clinton administration.
“When I was working in the White House, one of the things that I will never forget is my parents not wanting to embarrass me coming to my office,” she shared. “And I thought, ‘You don’t understand.’ It would be the biggest source of pride to show off where I come from.”
Since then, Rustique-Petteni’s resume branched out beyond history and politics: She ran her own consultancy practice, as well as introduced philanthropic initiatives for corporations, international nonprofits, global foundations and private individuals. She eventually moved to London — where she grew her family and had lived for the past two decades until just a few years ago — and was tapped as the director of global partnerships at The Nike Foundation, where she helped launch the Girl Declaration, an alliance in partnership with the United Nations Foundation.
“The way that we’ve used our brand voice to spark these global conversations and really break those barriers and address the areas where we most need change has been such a privilege,” Rustique-Petteni added about the Swoosh, which pledged a total of $500,000 to 20 nonprofits that help advance Asian American, Middle East and Pacific Islander communities. Nike also recently signed on as a founding partner to the Asian American Foundation, with Rustique-Petteni playing a key role in the athletic company’s commitment.
Throughout the course of her career, Rustique-Petteni explained that her background has served as a badge of honor of sorts, offering her some form of “strength and distinction” in rooms where she was “different” — not just because of her age and gender, but also because of her race.
“My Filipino identity has been clear to me since Day One,” she said. “Over the years, I have very often been the youngest person in the room. I have very often been the only woman in the room. But I am almost always the only Filipina in the room. I have actually taken for granted that I wear my identity quite literally on my skin.”
Now, as she approaches her eighth year at Nike amid a confluence of crises for the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, Rustique-Petteni is reflecting on the significance of this moment for her and her children — one of whom is in the middle of her formative years.
“They have a really unique experience, coming from so many different cultures,” she said. “We’ve come from London to the States, and there’s a completely different sense of what the kids feel it is like to be Asian, particularly living on the West Coast.”
She explained, “I think we presume there’s this kind of monolithic understanding of race and ethnicity. A positive to this year, which has been full of sadness and grief and frustration, is that we can actually now use it as the time to share identity … It’s a moment that’s forced us to have this open dialogue and engage.”