#AAPISTRONG Heritage Month Business Summit was an exemplary display of camaraderie between diverse communities on how being together creates an impact that inspires people to take action. Asian American Pacific Islander American Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship (National ACE) spearheaded this event, tackling the situation of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) business industry amidst the ongoing pandemic and the untoward actions the community has been dealing with.

Government officials, corporate representatives, and young entrepreneurs took part in this virtual event held last May 4 via Zoom, which was also broadcasted live through Facebook. This was moderated by National ACE Board Chair Karen Eng, starting with the opening remarks of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. She expressed her solidarity with the community, recognized their contributions to the country, and assured that the Biden administration is dedicated to eliminate racism and discrimination.

Secretary Raimondo (Screenshot from Facebook Live)

After some special remarks from distinguished guests, National ACE President Chiling Tong introduced the next leg of the summit, #StrongerTogether panel, a discussion about the different views on anti-Asian crimes and its impact on the industry, as well as their collaborative strategies for lasting change in the community. This was led by Chief Financial officer Tracey Doi and joined by U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. President/CEO Ron Busby, U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Ramiro Cavazos, Strategic Alliances and Outreach of U.S. Chamber of Commerce SVP Rick Wade, and National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Co-founder and President Justin Nelson.

#StrongerTogether Panel (Screenshot from Facebook Live)

They started off with sharing their views on the rising violence against the Asian community. Rick Wade expressed his indignation against the actions and his desire to “continue calling on businesses and industries across America to not just talk about denouncing hate but invest and engage in real action.”

Ramiro Cavazos also shared that this problem entails an ongoing mission for “we must continue to respect and provide input into justice and equity, and do it with respect and kindness, and not do it because it’s a popular reaction to a situation that has occurred.” Tracey Doi agreed, underscoring that it’s indeed something that should be consistently given focus.

Agreeing that a community is stronger together, they shared their respective ideas on a collaborative strategy to overcome these challenging times. Ron Busby then voiced his appreciation of both the government and private sector as it takes collective action for everyone to sustainably move forward. “We’re gonna have to create good policies but you’re also going to have to make sure that corporate America, as well as the traditional American citizens, understand the importance of moving our collective agendas forward,”  he said.

This panel session was truly more than a conversation between business leaders from different chambers of commerce. It was a give-and-take of ideas and a promise with a plan to action. Justin Nelson shared that this event is what gives him hope for the future. “To hear elected officials be able to talk about an opportunity for all of us, seeing young people getting excited about becoming entrepreneurs, about bringing respect to public service gives me hope.” 

Before the second panel discussion, messages of action and alliance were heard from AAPI Audience Strategy Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for AARP VP Daphne Kwok and US Small Business Administrator Isabella Guzman. They also featured a video of stories from different AAPI businesses that were affected negatively by the pandemic and how they are slowly trying to recover through their resilience and the support of their customers.

The #DefyDefinition panel discussion started with an introduction by ACENextGen President Angela Chang. American author and chef Candice Kumai, Jaeson Ma of 88Rising, Mari Takahashi (a.k.a. AtomicMari), and Andrew Chau of Boba Guys then exchanged their ideas on how business owners can use their voice to elevate their businesses.

#DefyDefiniton Panel (Screenshot from Facebook Live)

Firstly, they shared their feelings with the most serious concern, the anti-Asian violence, and how their Asian American identity affected their businesses. Jaeson Ma found it heartbreaking but believes that it’s all the more reason to speak up and use our platforms to be an advocate of justice. “I think for too long, Asian Americans have kept their heads down, stayed low, not said anything. We can’t afford that anymore. People are dying, our community is suffering. It’s under attack and this is the time we have to stand up, fight back, and use our platforms which are our businesses to actually give back, support, and make a voice.” Candice Kumai echoed this as everyone should speak their truth and be an ally to the marginalized.

Mari Takahashi also pointed out the effect of social media in this conversation of anti-Asian hate. “When awful news like this hits on Twitter our tendency is to see it have a reaction and then—because it’s more so not our humanity, but more so because of how the platforms work—we’re all of a sudden looking at a cat video or a game,” she said. 

In helping the small AAPI businesses, Andrew Chau shared two impactful ways for them to elevate their social media presence and how they can showcase their authenticity. He encourages entrepreneurs to reach out and connect to their audiences. It’s not just the product or service that they are buying, it’s the experience. ”In my world, there’s Starbucks, there’s Philz Coffee. They can’t replicate a boba shop because it’s not authentic to them.” He also added that authenticity is “anybody’s secret sauce,” because it is what no one can replicate from you.

Ma also emphasized that it’s a truthful story that creates the change. “I think that is the message that is coming out of the AAPI community right now, is that our stories have not been told and they have not been told correctly. Whatever platform you have, tell your story.”

Before the program ended, National ACE Board member Thear Suzuki shared the organization’s upcoming campaigns and events such as the Small Business Recovery Center, AAPIStrong Californian Roundtable, and Have You Eaten Yet campaign. And with final words of gratitude for the audiences from National ACE Board Chair Karen Eng, the event has finally concluded.

We are far from a society where diverse communities, government officials, corporate representatives, and normal citizens gather and show alliance for a great purpose like what happened on this occasion. But to see that it is possible through this virtual event means that it is not a dream, but a future that requires a persistent mission of strides to get there. And this business summit is a step where we realize that it takes a consistent action plan with collective participation from all sectors and communities, and from the old and new generations to obliterate hate crimes. There were more proactive and inspiring ideas and points made in this event, view the whole summit here.

May 23, 2021

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