May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. With the challenges currently facing the AAPI community, there isn’t a better period to reflect on the many positive contributions that AAPI community members contribute to society, culture, and the economy. While AAPIs have the highest rate of business ownership of all minorities, and those businesses account for half of all minority business employment in the United States, AAPI business owners continue to face a unique set of challenges.
Both members and non-members of the AAPI community should note the myriad and substantial contributions that they and other minority-owned businesses make to the culture, economy and local communities. Diversity is one of our economy’s greatest strengths, and facing down challenges that stand in the way of success is a part of the fabric of the American dream. Here, we’ll address some of the most significant challenges AAPI entrepreneurs face, and actionable steps they and others can take to overcome them.
Rising Anti-Asian Sentiment and Hate-crimes
Unfortunately, amid the negative impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a dramatic rise in hate crimes perpetrated towards members of the AAPI community. With the impacts on business in general, this issue is compounded for AAPI business owners, creating tension and presenting a huge challenge to overcome. The environment has been hazardous for women in the AAPI community, with a recent study from the National ACE determining that 1 in 3 Asian American women has been a victim of racial bias. Business owners who have been experiencing a downswing in business compounded by racial bias can look to organizations like the National ACE (National Asian American/Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship) for resources and a sense of community and support.
Linguistic and Cultural Challenges to Access
Access to federal programs can have a huge impact on small business owners looking to make their way. However, it can be difficult for members of the incredibly diverse community of AAPI to get the information they require in a way that suits their needs. With over 50 ethnic groups that speak up to 100 different native tongues making up the AAPI community, not all materials may be available for each specific language. This makes it a struggle for members of the community to access the information they need in order to thrive, or navigate the process of opening their business with every advantage. Fortunately, many cities, for example, Washington, D.C. offers specific programs designed to assist members of the AAPI community with language access.
Lack of Outside Community Support
As previously mentioned, the coronavirus has aggravated an existing problem: waves of discrimination, suspicion or general lack of support for any immigrant communities has been particularly prevalent as of late for the AAPI community. Support from outside the AAPI community itself is valuable. Former U.S. Ambassador and current interim president of Bellevue College, Amb. Gary Locke, recently spoke on the issue- saying, “We need leadership from the top saying whatever our differences with [China], we should not be scapegoating Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans.”
Government, business, and community leaders can and should speak up on behalf of the AAPI people in their state, city, and neighborhoods, showing support for AAPI-owned businesses, speaking out against anti-Asian sentiment, and highlighting the value and humanity of AAPI members of their community. Everyone can speak out and should be engaged in these conversations, and not only during this month but year-round.
Building Valuable Inter-Community Relationships
Often being a part of a minority community can mean developing a sense of isolation or reliance on other members of your small community for support. While there is a great deal of value to be found in fostering intra-community relationships, it’s important to build relationships with members of other communities as well. Diversifying your interactions and support systems means a stronger sense of establishment in the community, but some business owners may be at a loss as to where to start. Need access points? Look to these sites and organizations for assistance.