Council for America My Country

"To Empower to Practise Good Citizenship"

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422 T: (610) 277-0149 F: (610) 277-3992

Jerry Boucher
C Peter Cho
Edward S Dennis, Jr.
Mary Etezady
Julia K Han
Sung Jin Joung
Il Hwan Kim
Director for Systems Management
Director for Voter Services
Director for Outreach
Sang Joo Kim

Tae Shick Kwon

Choon Ki Yoo
Chung Soo Lee
Ae Sook YoonYoon
Director for Social Services
Deputy Director for Community Relations
Director for Data Management
Deputy Director for Outreach
Director for Public Affairs
Director for Ageing & Elder Care

Testimony to
President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Tuesday, July 20, 2004 Philadelphia

Statement of Julia K Han

Good afternoon, Madam Chairman and members of the Commission. I am Julia K Han, Secretary-General for the Council for America My Country (aka CAMC), and thank you for your invitation to speak today on issues affecting the Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community.

I would like to start out with a brief background on my personal experience as a business- woman of an AAPI heritage in today’s economy. In 1996, my family asked me to run the family business, the Sports Connection, a retail sneaker store. My job was to lead and manage the business in three different locations. As with most small businesses, the job description encompassed all aspects of running a business. From payroll and human resources to buying products and inventory management each responsibility was placed on my shoulders.

I often wondered how my immigrant parents managed to sustain the workload for over a decade before I joined them. I used my training in economics and law to help me find the right advisors and keep my business in check with IRS, state and local filing requirements. At times, the tasks seemed endless.

From these experiences, I saw a need for helping my community, folks like my parents, to navigate the business world.

Business is relationships, relationships with your customers, with colleagues, with suppliers, with the community in which you serve. Each relationship is defined by the goals of each party and the rules in which each party plays. However, the AAPI community lacks relationships in many areas that mainstream business owners enjoy. For instance, the first organization I joined as the head of Sports Connection was the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce had many resources to help my company. They provided resources in the areas of insurance, marketing, and networking.

However, speaking with fellow Korean-American business owners, most were not a part of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. Therefore, the Korean-American business owners did not take advantage of the discount programs nor other programming that I had found useful. Their major source of outside support for their business was from their respective "Korean-American" business groups. Whether the Korean- American Dry Cleaners Association or Korean-American Business Association, each had a working relationship with professional agents, such as accountants and insurance brokers. However, each organization hardly had the breadth and depth of resources as the Chamber of Commerce.

A similar situation became apparent in the City of Wilmington. Due to efforts by the City of Wilmington to revitalize the downtown business district, I joined the Downtown Business Association (DBA). Little did I know the association did not have representation from the Korean-American community or other minority communities. The board of the DBA asked me to join their efforts. Part of my role was to keep the Korean-American merchants in the downtown business district aware of the issues that stemmed from the City of Wilmington’s revitalization efforts. When I approached the merchants, none were aware of the DBA or its role within the business district. The more I learned from the mainstream merchants and the Korean-American merchants, I quickly saw the huge disparity from the two communities.

When an issue arose that effected the DBA members, the DBA would speak with city officials and other groups to help resolve issues such as parking, crime and pan-handling. However, the Korean-American merchants would not take a proactive step, but remained silent to community problems. Only when each merchant was personally affected would they come to join the DBA.

The Korean-American merchants were more inclined to take risks in opening small businesses in "high risk" areas. While the "mainstream" business community was concentrated in the suburban malls and shopping complexes, the Korean- American business owners were inclined to start in the neighborhood market and move to downtown businesses. At first glance, the Korean-American small business owners were praised for possessing the entrepreneurial spirit. But later scorned for taking away from their respective communities and not giving back. Just think of the NYC boycotts of Korean-Americans owned businesses in the early 1990’s.

When I approached the Korean-American merchants in my downtown business district, the conversations were almost the same. I would ask the merchants to join the DBA and the response from them was invariably that they could not attend the meetings because of time conflicts or because of the language barrier it would be useless for them to attend. Of course, the merchants encouraged me to stay with the DBA. But, when I stressed that I needed to recruit members to keep our DBA diverse, they often said they had to attend to their families and churches. Some others were just willing to pay the dues without actually participating.

From these personal accounts, I have learned that our community’s economic development have become stagnant. Starting out strong and willing to take on risks, but soon later becoming stagnant and leveling off to a plateau. Why is this the case? The language barrier is a large component to the stunted growth of business. A lack of confidence in their English language skills altogether creates a sense of anxiety, fear, terra incognita, and insular mentality in the AAPI community. The Korean- speaking business owners seek out Korean speaking advisors and Korean-speaking business groups. Regrettably, the resources are limited to the Korean-speaking community.

The language barrier or lack of language skills discombobulate people and subjugate them to ignorance of utility of law, of opportunities, and of resources already in place.

I have been approached many times by business owners who have endured long disputes with government agencies stemming from incompetent advice from allegedly trusted advisors. Whether a legal or tax dispute, many Korean-American business owners often fell the victim twice over. First from their lawyers or accountants, then from the IRS or the local government. In most cases, their stories sound quite similar. "I trusted that my advisor had me file all the required papers, but then I received the notice. Then my advisor just told me to seek out a specialist." Usually the story would end like this. "If I had known, I would have done it the proper way." By that point, the owner/victim has already paid the price for the bad advice.

Many fall victims of bad business deals as well. Complaints from overdue account receivables to predatory lending transactions are part of conversations within the Korean- American business community.

Opportunities are being missed every day because of our insular attitude and thus lack of working knowledge and experience. I have been approached by Chamber members if I knew of Minority certified contractors or businesses. Certification is the initial step in receiving government contracts. Preference is given to the certified companies to keep diversity in the bidding process. However, I have yet to see a great impact of the diversity policy in the AAPI community.

How many AAPI small business owners utilize the Small Business Administration (SBA) programs? Whether through SBA loans or mentoring programs, the SBA is the initial resource for many people seeking to start a business. How can we increase participation in the SBA and other government resources?

With the resources from this Commission and the support from the leaders of the AAPI community, I would like to see greater efforts made to connect people to programs. Not only is education for the future for our children but also for our own business development and growth. Acquiring fundamentals through educational processes is a sound pre-requisite in all levels of business start-ups, sustainability and to a next level growth and development. Can an AAPI-owned company become the next Microsoft? It will have every potential if it has a solid foundation supported by good working knowledge and good information from sound resources.

CAMC will submit a full report and analysis at a later time for the commission.


  1. Changing the mindset of the AAPI business community to accept resources from the mainstream. Better marketing of available programs and sound business education of the fundamentals of business ownership in the United States.
  2. Educating professional associations (eg ABA, AICPA) on the needs of the AAPI community. High professional standards encourages better service to the underserved.
  3. Educating the business community about the ethical obligation of professional advisors. Professional advisors serve an educated client with higher standards.
  4. Acknowledging the vast diversity of the AAPI community in terms of fundamental business education. Some businesses do not need assistance from public resources, but others are greatly underserved.

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CAMC is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan, civic and educational organisation. It promotes ways to enhance good citizenship and its practice. It is solely supported by voluntary contributions.CAMC strives to provide public service pro bono publico in the public interest. All staff members are non-paid volunteers.

This page last updated 7/22/2004 jdb