Affirmative action is for immigrants

By Anna Byon

My parents have run a small printing business for the last decade. They make banners, signboards, window decals, and until last year, transported their oversized wares in the disintegrating minivan they purchased in 2001 for installation by my father’s hand. It has always been a small operation–my parents its only workers, a customer base of mostly other yearning immigrants like them. They printed a lot of GOING OUT OF BUSINESS and CLEARANCE signs when they first started; this was in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Once when I was in high school, a gelato shop dropped off a tub sealed in cling-wrap–the confection inside adorned with chocolate shards, the vessel molded to nestle in a commercial glass-topped freezer rather than the domestic appliance we had at home–as an apology for their yet-unpaid invoice. It was a sweet gesture, but I think my parents may have preferred a check.

Both of them have degrees in Korean literature. They weren’t mechanics, accountants, or graphic designers, but in order to keep my family renting and fed and clothed in America, they learned to be all three. I don’t know if they ever had a desire to grow their business, but our reality was that it was a bare-bones means for survival. Print orders were so inconsistent that my parents learned to budget an invoice across several months out, knowing that it could be their last for some time.

By reinstating affirmative action in California, ACA 5 would ensure that opportunities for success, like state contracts for small businesses, are awarded fairly and help immigrant- and people of color-owned businesses grow.

As a non-essential business, my parents have had to shut down the shop because of Covid-19. I’m grateful that my father has additional income from driving trucks despite the health risks, because like millions of other small businesses across the country, I’m not optimistic that my parents’ will continue to be viable as the public health and economic crisis persists.

That’s why I celebrate California’s ACA 5, which will provide opportunities to succeed in the workforce to more people of color. By reinstating affirmative action in California, ACA 5 would ensure that opportunities for success, like state contracts for small businesses, are awarded fairly and help immigrant- and people of color-owned businesses grow. People of color and immigrants continue to have unequal access to employment and public contracting opportunities because of long-standing discrimination based on race. To address unequal opportunity, policies must account for the full breadth of people’s experiences, which are shaped by systemic racism.

While my parents live on the East Coast, I think of the thousands of Californian Asian Americans and immigrants for whom, like for my parents, their businesses are their entire livelihoods out of survival and necessity. The Covid-19 crisis has jeopardized their futures, if it has not already devastated them. Public policies in the coming months and years must expand opportunities for all people, including immigrants, to rebuild from the crisis. ACA 5 is a critical part of that promise.

Anna Byon is SEARAC’s Education Policy Manager and can be reached at anna@searac.org