ABEC – as the new board will be known – comes from the Boston Foundation’s Asian Community Fund, which provides start-up money for its launch. The goal, said fund director Daniel Kim, is for the council to become a stand-alone non-profit organization within three to five years.
Kim meets with BECMA and Amplify Latinx leaders for advice on how to set up ABEC. Although there are other organizations that support the local Asian-American community, Kim believes that ABEC is the first to focus on the development of a number of Asian companies, from access to capital to public procurement opportunities.
“When we say business capital, it should include the Asian community,” Kim said. “We know that Asian business owners have noticed such a disproportionate impact since the pandemic; all in terms of economic loss from continuing racism and harassment. ”
One study found that 16 percent of Asian small businesses in the United States experienced a drop in revenue of 75 percent or more in 2020 compared to with 2019 – a proportion that is higher than for companies owned by blacks, Latinos or whites. This is at the height of the national rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, with many of these incidents occurring in Asian businesses.
Kim said other color business groups welcomed ABEC, telling her, “We were waiting for an Asian colleague at the table with us.”
Fulfilling ABEC’s vision will be Qingjian “QJ” Shi, who has been hired as its director and will start this week.
Shea has spent much of her career in the nonprofit space, most recently as chief operating officer of Tech Goes Home, a Boston-based organization that is bridging the digital divide. She previously served as CEO of English At Large, which provides free English language training for immigrants and refugees, and as director of education and contacts for the Asian Working Group on Domestic Violence.
For Shi, ABEC’s mission is personal. Her parents briefly owned a Chinese restaurant in Chicopee in the 1990s after coming to the United States without money and speaking no English. Shea recalled how her mother felt exploited while working in the restaurant business, so she decided to open her own place just to face racism and other obstacles.
“At one point, their window was covered in racist graffiti. “They didn’t know where to turn to ask for support, resources and capital to support their business,” Shea said. “Their history still reflects the anti-Asian racism that Asian American businesses face today.
This is where she hopes ABEC will intervene by helping immigrant owners navigate the system to obtain the necessary technical assistance, as well as by raising the profile of Asian businesses.
At the same time, Shea believes there is scope for cooperation between BIPOC communities.
“There is much more synergy that can be generated around building fair and inclusive economies to enable the color business,” she added.
With the launch of ABEC, Asian restaurant owners are also gaining momentum.
In 2019, a group of Asian restaurant owners came together to form the Massachusetts Asian Restaurant Association, MA-ARA. Soon after, they decided they didn’t want to do it alone. Then the pandemic struck.
What has emerged now is a new partnership with the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Owners of Asian restaurants have not usually joined the MRA, but now, if they join the MA-ARA (pronounced “mara”), they have a dual membership, including access to all the benefits and resources of the MRA.
The groups are finding other ways to work together, such as working together to provide translations into different languages of food safety and workforce development materials, among other topics, according to Steve Clark, chief operating officer. MRA.
Andy Quang, co-founder and co-chair of MA-ARA, said Asian restaurants are looking for ways to raise their brand, navigate regulations and pool their collective purchasing power, as many use the same ingredients.
“We can make a better deal,” said Quang, who has run restaurants for 30 years and currently owns the Samurai Express in Back Bay.
Bobby Wong, the other co-chair, said Asian restaurant owners have traditionally had no time – or need – to be part of a trade group, but he believes times are different.
He and Quang traveled to the state meeting with groups of restaurant owners and have so far recruited nearly 50 members. They estimate that there are at least several hundred, perhaps nearly 1,000, Asian restaurant owners in Massachusetts.
“I have a lot of uncles and aunts who had restaurants and they bowed their heads and just worked hard, worked hard and that’s how they became successful,” said Wong, whose family owns the Kowloon restaurant in Saugus since 1950. “But now I see a generation, as things go, where the advantage is to be able to organize and have a voice together. ”
These are vulnerable times for Asian Americans, and they find their voice at a time when they need to be heard the most.
Shirley Leung is a business columnist. It can be found at [email protected]