By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
“They talk about COVID being the great equalizer. But in many ways, it’s not.”
Gloria Shin, ACRS board member, spoke on May 28 in “Pivot and Perspective: Asian Americans Pacific Islanders in the time of COVID.”
“There are a lot of people that have different access to health care, a lot of different folks that aren’t safe to shelter at home…it isn’t the great equalizer for many…anything we can do to just do a little bit more during this time to support those that are not in that safe space would be really amazing. This is the time to give…if the majority
of the community gives a little bit…then it’ll really make an impact…we’re in it for the long haul.”
Co-hosted by ACRS, Comcast/NBC Universal, and Comcast’s Asian Pacific American Employee Resource Group, this virtual event on May 28 gathered business owners to discuss how they have adjusted under constraints caused by COVID-19. The event followed a national live stream by Gold House, featuring AAPI leaders such as Andrew Yang.
“We wanted to take that conversation and move it down to the local level because a lot of things are happening here locally,” explained event moderator, and KING-5 anchor and reporter, Michelle Li. “We’re going to [be] hearing from people who’ve really had to ‘pivot’ because of COVID-19, and we want to hear their perspectives, including their hopeful perspectives…We know a lot of people who are business owners have been impacted quite significantly because of COVID-19.”
The impact has been significant. According to James Lim, owner of Watson’s Counter, revenue is down 70% to 80%. “I expect this to hurt for a while,” added Uyen Nguyen, co-owner of NUE Seattle. “But it’s a reality…The entire society has to sacrifice for this, in economic outcome, for health.”
The impact has been more than economic; it’s been mental and emotional. Attorney Jeff Liang said, “What worries me is my fear. I’m scared. First, I was scared of getting the coronavirus. And now, I’m scared of being a victim of a hate crime…For the AAPI community, what I worry about is what the fear will do to us.”
Jade Garden Restaurant owner Eric Chan, who has been targeted by an internet “troll,” spoke about the vandalism and harassment his family has experienced.
“Cyber threats, cyber bullying, cyber harassment, should be addressed because it’s 2020, you have COVID-19, you have a lockdown, everybody’s at home, on their computer, you have those lunatics out there that are on the computer, and who knows what they’re doing. Right now, especially, it’s really scary.”
You could feel the catharsis in the air, in what was a much-needed forum for stressed community members to gather and benefit from each other’s support. This mutual support is part of what event organizers hoped to create.
“What gives me hope right now is you guys,” said Chan. “The support that people have come and shown me. I have you guys to thank right now because you guys listen to me, hear me out, believe me.”
“This whole experience has given us an opportunity to reset and think about ways we can catalyze, not going back to the old ways of doing things,” said Seattle Times journalist Naomi Ishisaka, who also emphasized that minority groups band together. “It’s not just about what happens to someone at Home Depot — that’s a terrible thing, we need to call it out — but it’s also the things that happen to other people and other communities…because the reality is that we’re all part of the same community.”
When overwhelmed, it’s okay to ask for help “even though we’re technically in competition with each other,” Lim said. Many business owners are stymied because they or staff do not speak English, or because they are unfamiliar with the technology necessary to “pivot” from dine-in to using delivery apps.
Nguyen explained, “What I know from my experience is that there are many people out there that are just looking for ways to help, but they actually don’t even know how, so if you just throw it out there and say, ‘You know what? I don’t know how to do this’…There are a lot of folks within the community that will jump up to do it.”
The ways that businesses and nonprofits are “pivoting” to meet the needs of the COVID-19 crisis is inspiring. ACRS has essentially turned its headquarters into a mobile food bank, delivering food to vulnerable seniors, in partnership with Food Lifeline and King County Metro. Because civic engagement is still important during times of crisis, ACRS has shifted its efforts to the digital realm, text and phone banking to make sure word gets out about the 2020 Census and other relevant issues. “When people are distracted…we have to be extra attentive and vigilant around what’s happening, especially under this current administration,” said Shin.
Everyone has gone digital. Lim offers weekly cooking classes online, and NUE Seattle has enhanced a delivery menu that includes themed meal packages and meals for two. Chan talked about the time he spends on the phone with delivery services, something he has had to take on because much of his staff does not speak English, or are not familiar with how to use a tablet. Liang gives online legal advice to business owners for questions they have about loans — which pose problems to the AAPI community not only due to language barriers, but because statistically, lenders are less willing to give loans to minority-owned businesses.
Comcast Washington, who has worked in conjunction with ACRS for many years, pivoted their entire giving budget to focus on coronavirus relief.
“We just had to toss out all of our plans…what we did is essentially repurposed all of our sponsorships, our grants, our entire community giving budget towards COVID relief in Washington state,” explained Diem Ly, Comcast Washington’s Director of Community Impact and External Affairs.
“This is one of the biggest crises of our lives…this is probably…the best time…for everyone to become a leader,” said Nguyen. “You don’t have to have a designated leadership title…anyone can make a difference if you’re willing to look outward. Pick one random small thing, really focus on it, and just do something because leadership is so needed in our community right now…it’s within us, we just have to do it.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.