Thank you to My Lan Tran, Executive Director of the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce, for answering some of our questions!
Where were born and raised and, if it was someplace else, when and why did you come to Loudoun?
Two years following the great exodus of North Vietnamese to the South of Vietnam, my parents who were Chinese entrepreneurs from Guangzhou left their hotel businesses in historic Ha Noi and emigrated to South Viet Nam and re-established their enterprises at one of the region’s most vibrant boroughs called “Cho Lon”, a diverse commercial center largely dominated by Chinese entrepreneurs.
Raised in a business family with diverse sector capabilities ranging from customs protection services for the aviation industry to food services, hotels, and hospitality services, to civil engineering services in both North and South Vietnam, I spent most of my career working with domestic and global businesses of all sizes.
The reason VACC NOVA Office based in Chantilly had selected Loudoun County as our next top NOVA location to develop our AAPI business membership and community visibility was because even the number of AAPI businesses in the county is high, there is no AAPI economic development leadership speaking on behalf of AAPI communities when it comes to their civic and economic needs.
There was no one in the late 1990s at that time to help educate the mainstream Virginia community about the unique needs and possibilities presented to our diverse communities as Virginia’s “newcomers.”
We chose Loudoun because the County is a dynamic location known for its beautiful scenery, rich history, expanding business opportunities, good neighborhoods, and high-quality public services.
In 2018, our Northern Virginia Office based in Chantilly reached out to the Economic Development office in Loudoun County with the mission to help develop the visibility of both AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islanders business and AAPI community in the area.
With a strong support of the County Economic Development Department, we hosted dozens of educational events, workshops, forums, Buyer Days, and business networking events first in Leesburg, then Ashburn, and Springfield.
We also conducted outreach events and offered one-on-one counseling services to AAPI immigrants from various Asian countries. Our growing AAPI community and business network and membership from Loudoun include small businesses from the professional, management, technological sector to those in non – professional sectors such as food services, retails, educational, and construction services.
When did you launch your first business and how did you get into your current line of work?
After about five years in 1999, functioning as group of civic volunteers throughout Virginia, the Asian American Business Assistance Center (AABAC) was officially incorporated as a C6 business membership organization in 2004 by Mr Tinh Phan. Mr Phan is an active Vietnamese American social entrepreneur who owns the PNC Group of four companies which is based in Ashland. Like me, Mr Phan also emigrated to the United States as a refugee at the end of the Vietnam war in 1975.
AABAC became the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce (VACC) in 2011 and began hosting events, opened satellite offices staffed by local AAPI Directors from different Asian countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, and Persia, owning businesses in Chantilly, Herndon, Ashburn, Richmond, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, Chesapeake, and Virginia Beach and other Virginia locations.
During the early 2000s, the wave of Asian refugees and immigrants arriving to the United States began to grow and after 1975 with the arrival of more than one million Vietnamese and other South-East Asian countries coming to the US and called it home, millions more from other countries such as China, India, and other smaller nations continue to arrive to the United States and began to grow their families, communities, and enterprises.
Due to their traditional hard work ethics, experiences with enduring hardship coming from a mix of various life circumstances such as wars, civic reasons, educational, religious, civic, or 3 economic reasons, they chose to come to America where opportunities are endless and if one works hard one can achieve any dreams if they are willing to put their efforts and commitments to make their dreams come true.
Through the statewide AABAC/VACC programs, we as an AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islanders) Advocacy agency, we as immigrant business leaders, we work hard the past 18 years to fulfill our mission to help sustain the iconic story of the Asian American immigration civic and economic success story in the United States.
In that sense our work goes beyond a business chamber of commerce. By default, because of the way we were incorporate and because of our core mission, we are rather an AAPI Community and AAPI Economic Development agency with the moral responsibility to promote our community sustainability as one of the fastest growing demographic population of the United States and a strong economic force fueling the vibrant and diverse American economy as a world power.
As AAPIs we unite (despite our diversities) to build dreams for ourselves and for our next Asian American generations, to immerse ourselves in our second country to rebuild our lives.
The results years later came to no surprises for us as we work hard in building our dreams through many sacrifices, resulting in many of us attaining high education level and prosperity was created as part of that dream.
Have you had any special mentors or inspirations that influenced your career?
I was fortunate to have had many mentors throughout my career, mostly in high government sector. Many are high level professional women and men in public administration as well as in private industry sector.
I sought these mentors out and selected them. Many were direct supervisors, members of the academia, and research institutions where I taught as a college professor, and or peers in high level of leadership in state government and education sectors in several U.S states.
What is the best part of your job and why?
Being able to continue to learn to create, innovate, and change myself in order to be continuously new intellectually and spiritually in order to offer new innovative solutions to our AAPI local and statewide communities, VACC membership, the Commonwealth, and nation, and to be able to adapt with what’s most contemporary while retaining my agency mission and work focus and my highest personal sense of moral principles (business and professional integrity).
These principles are taught to me by my students, peers, clients, customers, supporters, enterprises, think tanks, institution leaders, as well as competitors and life everyday challenges.
What is it like owning/running a social enterprise business in Loudoun?
An amazing Virginia location with a dynamic community and business sectors, that is Loudoun County, where many our AAPI community as a truly diverse with diverse needs, possibilities, and aspirations are attaining success and achieve their American dreams.
Many others continue to experience barriers to attain good job, business opportunities, resources, due to a myriad of barriers such as language, immigration status, and cultural isolation reasons, all the things that go along with being “immigrants”.
In addition, since the past fourteen months many county AAPIs are not doing well as a result of Covid as AAPI businesses are hit hard the past fifteen months both economically but also socially due to bias and ignorance, lately translated into acts of violence inflicted upon us not just in some part of the County, DC area, the Mid-Atlantic region, but nationwide.
But they are patient, flexible, and overall retain a positive and optimist spirit.
Many on the other hands are doing better as they are capturing and maximizing the power of technological changes and availabilities as well as adopting new innovative ways of doing business or even changing or expanding their business lines. Robberies, bullying, and harassment are of great concerns.
At VACC we promote and advocate for law enforcement community to gain a better and more correct understanding of the AAPI community cultures in order to better help them cope with these situations. They can do this by building more trust relationship with the community.
We also encourage AAPIs to speak up more regularly and openly when being harassed or threatened.
What does Asian-American and Pacific Islander History Month mean to you?
An opportunity to celebrate my culture and heritage, both as a proud Chinese -Vietnamese ethnic citizen of this great country as well as a proud advocate and community leader on behalf of more than 85,000 businesses of Asian heritage from throughout all the Virginia regions per the Census’ latest Survey of Business Owners (SBO).
It is a month to celebrate but year-long we stay focused on issues such as business safety, mental health and wellness issues, a serious lack of access to capital, and the lack of access to most government resources.
The “Minority Myth” and language diversity issues have also marginalized our community.
Meanwhile, the number of AAPIs ability to win businesses with the Commonwealth of Virginia continuing to be low, under 2%, similar to all our other minority business population counterparts, which needs to greatly improve, and with our peers like you all at the Loudoun Chamber and the supply chain community, I look forward to help the Commonwealth increase this percentage by continuing to engage with the government in this area.
What are some of your favorite things to do when you are not working?
Cultivating rare exotic orchids (My Lan means a beautiful orchid “My”, beauty, “Lan” (Orchid)
I hope my answers suffice. And that it will be used as an educational tool to encourage Asian American Pacific Islanders no matter which country they come from, what state their businesses are in, or which entrepreneurial success level they have achieved, and both young and not so young AAPIs to embrace the spirit of giving back to their community as we all come from the community. Without the community we are nothing.
Learn more about the Virginia Asian Chamber of Commerce here.