Posted at 1:50 PM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to an Economy Built to Last.
Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month is a celebration of the culture, traditions, and history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. It is an opportunity to reflect on the diversity of API immigrants’ journeys to come to America. Like many immigrants that come to the United States, my parents left their home country to escape governmental oppression. When my parents were kids, my father who is from the Manchurian area of China, and my mother who is from the Shang Dong Province each escaped to Taiwan. They attended college there then came to the U.S. My father pursued graduate work in microbiology and met my mother in New York City while enjoying their favorite hobby, Chinese opera.
I was born in Connecticut and soon after, my parents moved to Pullman, WA so my father could pursue his PhD in immunology. He eventually went to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served there for his entire career. My sister was born in Pullman and we worked in our mom’s small gift shop, and later her Chinese restaurant in downtown Pullman. It was because of these small businesses along with my father’s career as a federal employee that my sister and I had the opportunity to go to college at the University of Washington, in Seattle. I graduated with degrees in Chemistry and Environmental Science.
Upon graduation, I worked in the environmental consulting industry and on many of the Northwest’s Superfund projects. After a few years, I developed an entrepreneurial desire to start my own business and eventually owned a small civil engineering firm specializing in project and construction management on airport capital projects. As my business grew, I realized that it was equally important for me as a minority business owner to give back to the community with fiscal and leadership resources. I served on the boards of directors for several local non-profit organizations in the Asian American community. During the 2008 recession, I became very active with policy advocacy for minority businesses at the local, state, and federal level. As a minority business owner, I experienced firsthand the inequities of running a minority-owned firm. I began to convene various minority business enterprise (MBE) roundtables for our federal and local elected officials to educate our policy makers on procurement and access to capital issues. In 2012, I received the Minority Champion of the Year Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration Region X. Concurrently, I found a voice and passion in the education community when Washington State’s Governor Christine Gregoire appointed me to the Seattle Community College Board of Trustees where I eventually became Board Chair.
In 2013, everything came together for me when I decided to run for Seattle City Council. Running for elected office was an experience every American should try because it acquaints you with all the details of how government really works and what its impact is on everyday taxpayers. For me, it was an opportunity to do something that my parents could never do in their home country and it was because of their journey to America that I had the privilege to serve the public by running for office. Though I did not win, I took away many lessons about myself and a great appreciation for public service workers at all levels of government.
My pathway to the Department of Commerce would not have happened if I were not on the Board of Trustees for the Seattle Community Colleges. The colleges held a regional API Heritage Month event on campus – that is where I met keynote speaker Chris Lu, President Obama’s Special Assistant and Cabinet Secretary. Sharing a passion for public and community service in the Asian American Community, Mr. Lu and I became friends and after my unsuccessful run for Seattle City Council, he encouraged me to work for the Obama Administration. Without Mr. Lu’s (now Deputy Secretary of Labor) inspiration and guidance, I would not be where I am today.
It has been an exciting nine months since I joined the Minority Business Development Agency (MBDA) as the National Deputy Director. In this position, I’m the principal advisor to the Agency’s National Director and oversee many aspects of MBDA’s operations. I am charged with utilizing my experience as a business owner and policy advocate to build relationships among MBDA stakeholders and strengthen and expand partnerships that will help minority-owned businesses succeed and grow. With the vast amount of civil unrest we have seen across America recently, we can no longer ignore the reality of economic disparity that desperately needs a solution. I believe that solution is found in future generations of social entrepreneurs. These emergent leaders will need mentoring and encouragement but I look forward to their involvement in their communities at all levels. It is my hope that these future business owners will use their innovative talents to break down institutional barriers so that MBEs can be the wealth creators of tomorrow.