By Joshua Holland
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A recent report by the Asian Pacific Policy Planning Council found 350 direct incidents of discrimination against Asian Americans since March 19, more than a month into the COVID-19 pandemic. For many Asian Americans, the current health crisis has unleashed a new boldness in how openly people are displaying harassment and discrimination.
The general anti-Asian sentiment has seeped its way into a number of Asian-owned businesses, including restaurants, bars, and even your local fish market. This has impacted communities in traditional Chinatowns around the United States, leaving many owners and workers—who are often first-generation Americans—in a bind.
“The immigrant community tends to be much more a small business community,” said Sung Yeon Choimorrow, Executive Director of National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. “Not many of them are coming to the U.S. to work in large corporations and…the economic impact is felt very deeply because of the concentration of immigrants who have invested in small businesses, and later on top of that, the racism that some of our community are experiencing because of COVID-19.”
While Asian Americans make up a smaller portion of the U.S. undocumented immigrant population in comparison to people from Central and South America, they do exist. For instance, a report from the Department of Homeland Security revealed 1 in 8 Koreans are undocumented.
This same undocumented population faces barriers to health care during the pandemic with much of the U.S. healthcare system connected to employment or citizenship status. A report by Kaiser Family Foundation revealed nearly half of uninsured Asian Americans are not citizens and 23% of lawfully present immigrants are also uninsured.
With the evolving nature of the pandemic and government rules changing frequently, information has become a lifeline for small businesses struggling to stay open. Much of these resources and support given to immigrant communities often don’t come in all languages spoken, leaving many confused about what is permitted or not.
“In Chicago where I am based, the governor of Illinois made an announcement on a Friday, that Monday, close of business, all restaurants could not run dine-in service anymore,” said Choimorrow. “Monday afternoon, I went down to a Korean restaurant with my family and ordered takeout. While there, I started talking to the owner and he didn’t understand the term ‘close of business.’ He thought he couldn’t have dine-in service during the day, so he turned away all of his customers who came in for lunch that Monday.”
The economic impact on owners and employees is particularly hard with many surviving on small profit margins and paychecks. Every day they remain closed and every day people aren’t out and spending money is hurting small businesses. It’s also having a disproportionate impact on Asian American women who are often overrepresented in the most poorly paid jobs in the nation.
Immigrant activists are calling for more to be done to support vulnerable members of the Asian American community.
“With language access issues, it’s important that as opportunities come up for relief and support and all that, if the info isn’t available for them in their language, especially for small businesses, it can be really difficult for them to navigate and understand how to take advantage of programs,” said Choimorrow. “If folks are looking to support organizations that are supporting smaller businesses and organizations, they should look at donating to organizations that are providing direct support to Asian Americans.”
Joshua can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.