People Behind the Business: Asian American Pacific Islander Month

Happy Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month! Supporting local businesses is creating human scale economies that celebrate our unique identities and attributes. Did you know that “there are more than two million Asian-owned businesses, making up nearly 8 percent of businesses in the U.S., according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Combined, these small businesses earn revenue of $700 billion annually and employ around 3.5 million people, according to business consultancy McKinsey” (Stash.com). Read on to learn more about the awesome AAPI leaders in our community!  

Bing Goei, the owner and CEO of the Goei Center and Eastern Floral, moved to Grand Rapids with his family in the 60’s. It was Goei’s goal to embed his cultural practices of nurturing relationships into his business. “Most Asian cultures have the foundational value versus how some other cultures are more transactional in their approach to how they live their lives. How that affects my business is that I’ve always done the work to focus on customer relationships. We have a great staff, we have great managers, and all of us are dedicated to ensuring that our customers experience customer satisfaction beyond their expectations. That’s our goal.” Providing customer service and using it as an integral aspect in your business means putting people first!  

As relationships shape our lives, so does our identity! Goei stated that AAPI “has gained much more importance as I became older. During my childhood, it was not always the greatest asset to be an Asian American in this community. Growing up in the 60s, there was a lot of negative feelings towards people of color. As a defense mechanism, I did not try to highlight my Asianess. As I grew older, I began to realize the richness in tradition and the rich wisdom that has come from being part of an Asian culture. In the last 20 years, I’ve really begun to appreciate my culture [and] share my identity more with others who may not know about the richness of our Asian American, Asian Pacific American traditions. In so doing, I’m helping other people become less impoverished in their own lives. We only know what we know, and we need to share what we know with others so that they can be enriched by the broader knowledge and awareness of the kind of world that we live in, the kind of neighborhoods we live in, and the kind of communities we all live in. I’m excited to be part of that Asian community. I’m excited to promote it. My goal is to do what I can to raise our visibility and to raise our voices so that our children and future generations won’t have to fight. Hopefully, our future generations can enjoy the richness of this country and of our communities and neighborhoods just like anybody else can enjoy that. I’m proud to be an Asian American here in Grand Rapids and I have been certainly blessed with many opportunities in Grand Rapids.” Being able to reclaim your pride in your identity is a form of activism for your community.   

Showcasing your pride for your identity can take shape in many ways! At the Grand Rapids Asian Pacific Foundation, they have made it their mission to build strong relationships with the communities through their AAPI celebratory events! Eric Van, the Marketing Director at GRAPF, shared that the “Global Water Festival and Noodle Fest happened post COVID. Our goal really was just to bring people back together in the community. The Global Water Festival was the idea of bringing a community to the water and celebrating how water affects every culture that we know of. What better way than to host a dragon boat race and celebrate a 2000-year-old tradition? We partnered with indigenous groups and local businesses. We have food vendors; merch vendors and we spotlight water and how it is impactful for everyone. The Noodle Festival is just our fun take of a chili cook off competition. We try to make it as competitive as possible and as fun for the participants and for the vendors. First Prize has bragging rights, and we make sure that every dish is unique and showcases something that the attendees haven’t seen before. As a surprise. We’re planning Dumpling Fest in October, so lookout for more information there.” GRAPF recognizes that pulling together local vendors to support their events leads to strong relationship connections! By putting people first in business or at your events, you’ll find that community support is impactful! 

You can feel the excitement and pride building as more events take shape in celebrating AAPI month and Asian American and Asian American Pacific Islanders throughout the year. Van stated that “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month means opportunity for [our community]. There’s so much visibility and support coming from different community organizations that it’s on us to lean into that visibility. We try to showcase as many untold stories as possible. [GRAPF tries] to make sure that everyone knows that being Asian isn’t just one country, one dish or one type of story. We’re made-up of 50 countries and territories and there are so many diverse stories that we would like to share.”  

So, what stories is the GRAPF showcasing this year in our community? “During the month of May, we’ll be working with a few community partners and individuals. One series we’re doing is called Amazing Stories, hosted at the Amazing Myanmar Restaurant on 28th Street, where individuals will be talking about their individual experiences. Two examples are being a Korean American adoptee, and another is Asian Americans in the military. I’ll be speaking about the Asian community involved in Peace Corps. We’re also working with Grand Rapids Public Library and they’ll be hosting a handful of our heritage boards. A couple of the boards tell some untold stories, like Wong Kim Ark, who essentially fought for civil rights and shaped birthright citizenship in America. We even have a fun board that speaks about Asian immigrants influencing donut culture in America.” 

Immersing yourself in new experiences where you can get to know your fellow community members is the heart of building new relationships. Relationship building is a core aspect of the Asian community that has been respected for generations. Relationship building is also a core theme in supporting local businesses! Supporting their businesses is a part of supporting local! Take the time to get to know the individual behind the business because localism is what makes the small business community flourish.

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