HomeAsian AmericansMassachusetts AAPI business owners feel "overlooked"

Massachusetts AAPI business owners feel “overlooked”

AAPI business owners in Massachusetts struggle with language and financial access in operations, according to an article in The Boston Globe.

A survey by the Asian Business Empowerment Council (ABEC) found that AAPI business contributions to statewide wages have increased threefold since 2002. Despite this, business owners reported feeling “overlooked” and “underrepresented” in the world of business funding allocations.

The report’s data comes from a survey of 221 individuals along with 62 others who took part in focus groups.  The urban areas represented in the data include Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Malden, Quincy, Springfield and Worcester.

Much of the data highlighted language, economic, institutional and educational barriers to business funding and grant programs.

“A lot of these applications are really, really hard to do (if) you don’t have a background in writing grant proposals,” one restaurant owner from Springfield said. “It’s extremely overwhelming … for somebody who is English as (a) second language.”

Those who opted to take the survey in Chinese, Vietnamese or Khmer were also nearly three times more likely to answer that business conditions over the past 12 months have become worse or much worse than those who took it in English.

Cultural and institutional values also appeared to clash for AAPI business owners. Hesitance towards banking activities in the community often leads to little to no lending history, and AAPI business owners tend to rely on their own funding or ask family, according to the study.

“I think particularly in the Asian community, you don’t go to a bank because you don’t have a lending history,” one small business owner from Boston’s Chinatown said. “So you go to Auntie and she gives you some of her, you know, retirement; you go to Uncle and he gives you something from the shoe box in the closet, you know, and then when you have an opportunity to apply for something, you don’t have the paperwork to go with it.”

41 percent of AAPI business owners have found business funding from personal savings, while 24 percent acquired it from family and friends, according to the survey. Only 27 percent received government funding and 16 percent accepted bank assistance.

Part of the issue may lie in immigration and home country experiences, Sampan reported.

On top of intimidation from the language barrier, undocumented immigrants may be worried that opening a bank account can put them at risk of deportation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Immigrants may also come from nations where financial institutions are volatile and not to be trusted, according to Sampan.

Questions that may be innocuous in one culture may also be harmful in another. Banks and loaning institutions, for example, may ask a client about the money they have on hand or at home, and for some cultures, that question can make a person feel like a target for theft.

For communities with fewer or less concentrated members, a point of inaccessibility can be the numbers themselves.

In a study by the Pew Research Center on the AAPI community living in poverty, one Burmese immigrant said, “We didn’t have a large Burmese community to ask for (financial) help. It was not yet present.”

Other communities place a stigma around asking for help. Members indicated fear that the news would spread within their community or family, and they avoided seeking assistance out of fear of shame or embarrassment.

Robin Wood, a program manager in banking and finance careers at the Asian American Civic Association, said to Sampan that one solution is hiring more bilingual and multilingual employees who can assist with the language barrier.

“It’s building trust, getting one person in the community to come and bank with me, then another, and another,” Wood said. “Finding people in my branch that spoke the language. Once word gets out, they will all usually come to that one branch and that one person.”

Some state-funded minority-owned business initiatives also require citizenship or permanent residency. The ABEC report wrote that eliminating this requirement could lift barriers for AAPI businesses.

The ABEC listed other policy recommendations specifically focused around breaking down cultural barriers and increasing access to financial resources to the AAPI community.

“While AAPI- owned businesses have taken root, it’s crucial to recognize and address different realities and needs that exist and build equitable opportunities for all,” ABEC Director Qingjian Shi wrote.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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