Asian Business Collaborative founder Kristelle Siarza conducts a meeting at Pho Garden with her team, including Operations Coordinator Xiaodi Wang, right. Courtesy photo.

A nonprofit is looking to support businesses owned by people of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage in a culturally competent way.

Kristelle Siarza of Rio Rancho founded the Asian Business Collaborative and is the CEO of Siarza Social Digital. Through her experience of owning a business in COVID times, she noticed a need that was not being met in the Asian-American community.

“I have gone through a lot of challenges, wins and sad moments in the company; it is just difficult to be a business owner, no matter how big or small your organization,” she said.

Siarza had recourse and connections in Albuquerque, and applied for grants and the Paycheck Protection Program that allotted her enough funding to not lay off or furlough anyone at her company.

“I was really fortunate to have the help of so many people in the community and so many entities that we were able to work with and weather the storm,” she said.
However, she noticed not all businesses were getting the help they needed.

“I noticed there was a certain tone to the amount of federal and local aid that I had a funny feeling that a lot of our Asian businesses were in deep distress and needed relief,” she said.

More than 25 percent of food and accommodation services like restaurants and hotels represent Asian-American businesses, while over 15 percent of retail and about 13 percent of health care businesses represent Asian-American businesses, according to a report from ABC News.

In addition, Asian-Americans make up 20 percent of doctors and 10 percent of nurses and nurse practitioners, according to the report.

“If you look at every strip mall in Rio Rancho, there is at least one Asian business owner there,” Siarza said. “I don’t think people in the community realize it until someone brings it up in perspective.”

She became aware of a Rio Rancho Asian-owned business receiving racist phone calls regarding COVID.

“Saying, ‘This virus was here because of you, you should close, you’re spreading the virus,’ and they were Chinese-owned. That is not acceptable,” she said.

After alerting local officials at the county and city of the phone calls, elected officials urged the phone calls to stop.

“I go back to the same business after the closures have happened, and I said, ‘Hey, you doing alright? Did you get the Paycheck Protection Program loan; did everything go OK?’ And I noticed she had a sadness in her voice, and she said, ‘No, I just got a loan. I think that I didn’t get any of these loans to help me because I am Chinese.’ I was like, ‘Really? You’re actually succumbing to the fact that people think that they can’t help you because you’re Asian?’ I felt so defeated and it broke my heart.”

This was the moment Siarza knew something needed to be done.

The ABC nonprofit is a 501-c-3, status pending, and is hitting the ground running, she said.

The nonprofit is aiming to break language barriers in collaboration with New Mexico Asian Family Center, offering translation services when needed to help businesses get the resources. ABC offers assistance in accounting, taxes and human resources, and has helped distribute personal protective equipment to many Asian-American-owned businesses.

Siarza grew up in a Filipino family and was raised in the San Francisco Bay area before her family was recruited by Albuquerque Economic Development in 2001, she said.

“There are other Asian businesses that I have met specifically in Rio Rancho that don’t ask for the help because culturally it is just not what we do,” she said.

With this understanding, the nonprofit is structured to work with cultural values instead of against them.

The collaborative is creating a network of Asian-American-owned businesses to support each other, while ABC provides representation and highlights diversity in New Mexico.
Through mentorship, the collaborative hopes businesses can support each other, Siarza said.

“After talking to some business owners, the way they want to serve the Asian business community is to pass on their knowledge, but on the flip side some business owners don’t know they need a mentor until the timing is right,” she said.

Siarza served on Rio Rancho’s Business Community and Economic Recovery Task Force. While serving on the task force, she presented to members about diversity in the city.

“If Rio Rancho was ever recruiting a company and they ask the question, ‘What does diversity look like?’ we can be a part of that conversation of ‘Here is what the Asian community looks like,’ but most importantly, ‘Here are the businesses in the Asian community,’ and we can be a part of the recruitment and retention plan in bringing people from out of state,” Siarza said.

For more information, visit asianpibc.org or call 877-552-7426.

Staff writer at Rio Rancho Observer