Asian Americans have long been referred to as “the invisible community”. Due to their hard work and humble demeanor, their achievements often go unnoticed or under-appreciated in society. However, this community is far from invisible. According to an analysis done by AAPI Data, Asian Americans are the fastest growing population in the U.S. In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, join us as we showcase the talents of 4 entrepreneurs breaking the silence and proving to be unstoppable even as the global pandemic presses on.

Lakhi Siap

Founder/ Super Connector of Chicago Asian Network (CAN)
Lakhi Siap

“This is the one month where I feel we are seen and recognized and the more I celebrate this month with like minded advocates, it further validates that one day we will see representation and executive leadership of Asian Americans across various industries.”

Lakhi Siap is a former healthcare industry professional and volunteer for the Filipino American Youth Leadership Program. In 2010, he founded Chicago Asian Network in order to bring the Asian American community closer together through collaborative opportunities. As the “Super Connector” and Community Relations Manager, he dedicates his time to helping emcee events and informing other thought leaders in the Chicago area about what is happening in the Asian American community.

How are you making a difference in your industry?

We are a multicultural marketing agency that caters to the Asian American community. I have been in this industry over 10 years and started out as a community organizer. It was then I realized the Asian American community lacked leadership and representation. There was no media organization, agency, or platform that helps bring the community together by providing updates about the amazing stories, organizations, achievements, and the people in Chicago’s Asian American community. We fill that need. Not many people and businesses saw the value at first, however, times have changed and data reports that the Asian American community is the fastest growing minority group with the highest household income.

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

All minority communities have their month. This month makes me proud to be Asian American, not just because I’m part Indian and Filipino, but it is very special to me because Asian Americans have been nicknamed the invisible minority. Our community is known to be hard working yet silent. We’re known not to “rock the boat”, speak up, or brag about what we have done. This is the one month where I feel we are seen and recognized and the more I celebrate this month with like minded advocates, it further validates that one day we will see representation and executive leadership of Asian Americans across various industries, like in politics and government, media and entertainment, and corporate America.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

Aside from COVID-19 being cured and the quarantine being lifted, I am looking forward to filling out my Census form (because representation matters) and going back to putting together and emceeing community events. Aside from that, I am definitely looking forward to traveling back to my hometown of Cebu, Philippines to spend time with my mother and do some volunteering and mentoring out there as I’ve been helping various startups and creatives to turn their passion into businesses.

Morris Jamlang and Phalkun Phoeng

Cofounders of Equilibrium Urban Survival Gear

“Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are just a few of the many different people in between white and black. This grey area is usually forgotten or pushed aside because it is not a platform that people can easily grasp since the variations are endless.”

Morris Jamlang and Phalkun Phoeng are the cofounders of Equilibrium Urban Survival Gear, a modular gear and accessories company founded in 2005. After two years of research and product testing, they were connected with their first retail opportunity in Chicago’s Wrigleyville area and later expanded overseas in 2011 in order to keep up with customer demand. Due to his extensive background in graphic design, Morris serves as the Designer and Creative Director while Phalkun serves as the Director of Operations.

How are you making a difference in your industry?

We are revolutionizing the bag and carrying gear industry with our patented Portable All-purpose Containment (P.A.C.) System. The P.A.C. System is a modular solution which adapts to any situation you’re in. Much like “Legos”, you can configure your P.A.C. the way you want by selecting components from 4 categories (BASE, PAYLOAD, ORDNANCE, SKYN). All the pieces are interchangeable, so no matter the size or style you choose, you can create different variations for your ever-changing lifestyle. In addition, every component of the P.A.C. System are stand alone containers and can be used as individual bags. No matter the situation or the job, your P.A.C. System can be reconfigured in multiple ways to fit the task at hand.

The BASE is fitted to your frame which will help distribute the weight of the various PAYLOAD designs and sizes that you can put on it. I’m sure most people have never been measured for a backpack. The sizing makes a huge difference in the carry. To further customize your load out, you can add any of our ORDNANCE, they are like configurable pockets that you can place in the interior as well as the exterior of the bag to take the customization even further. The most versatile component is our customizable, interchangeable, and reversible SKYN. From designs that blend into the crowd or environment to a branding platform, many individuals from business owners to artists use this unique canvas as a way to promote their brand and craft. We challenge you to stand out from the crowd and see why our bag is better than yours!

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

As individuals, we would like to highlight that there is more than just two ends of the spectrum. There is a multitude of shades in between. Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are just a few of the many different people in between white and black. This grey area is usually forgotten or pushed aside because it is not a platform that people can easily grasp since the variations are endless. Ideally, in a world of black and white, we’d like to see our talents judged, not the color of our skin. With the endless variety of people who have different lives and experiences, the result is a huge talent pool that has limitless possibilities and more than likely differentiates itself from the norm. I’ve benefited by taking our skills to the next level—not by wanting to compete based on our nationality, but with the best of our industry regardless of race and status. Growing up in Southeast Asia and in America at the same time has given us a better cultural understanding that, as immigrants and refugees, you have to work harder, sacrifice more, and overcome more racial biases to play on the same level as those who were born here. The want to succeed is a lot stronger so the reward is more meaningful.

On the entrepreneurial level, this gives us the opportunity to showcase our invention and design to a bigger audience to show the beauty of a fully dynamic modular bag system designed and manufactured in Morris’ hometown in the Philippines. We always joke to our customers that there are more than just boxers, nurses, and singers that come out of the Philippines—actually good products as well. We want you to see that we can also compete with good design and high quality products. We’ve always wanted to find a way to give back to our home countries. Not only have we been blessed to give opportunities to dozens of families over the course of 15 years, this company allowed Morris to reunite with his father, whom he was separated from for almost 10 years, visit the Philippines annually, and continue his grandfather’s legacy of owning our own business. Orange and black are the colors we chose to pay tribute to his grandfather’s pioneering sporting goods company in the Philippines from the 70’s to the 90’s.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

We can’t wait until the pandemic ends and for life to go back to some semblance of normalcy. With our current business, we’re focusing on our online presence during this time. There’s opportunity to restructure our business plan and prepare for future events that may not allow us to sell our bags at conventions. This is also a great time to pick up some new business skills.

Japhlet Aranas

Founder/ Co-owner of Brew Lounge

“As an entrepreneur, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month sheds light to what my race and heritage can achieve by setting aside any doubts and fears that I once had.”

Japhlet Aranas is an operating room nurse turned entrepreneur who decided to pursue his passion of coffee and boba. In 2019, he founded Brew Lounge in Des Plaines, Illinois which dedicates itself to creating exceptional beverages and building a sense of community by hosting various meetups. Even through the current pandemic, Japhlet is determined to take care of those in need as a nurse, while still providing high-quality products in a safe and friendly manner.

How are you making a difference in your industry?

Brew Lounge is more than just a coffee shop that also serves boba. Residing within a huge restaurant, we took advantage of the large open area and created a lounge atmosphere. We utilize all this space by providing a venue for events such as Super Smash Bros. tournaments, trivia nights, karaoke nights, and even Cars & Coffee meetups in our spacious parking lot. We are constantly finding new ideas for events to provide a good outreach to the community. What separates us from other businesses is the engagement with locals around the area. Our role in this business goes further than just making great drinks!

What does Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month mean to you?

As an entrepreneur, Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month sheds light to what my race and heritage can achieve by setting aside any doubts and fears that I once had. It proves to other Asian American entrepreneurs that we are strong-minded individuals that can get things done despite any external (and even internal) struggles that may cross our paths. As an individual, this month means everything to me. Being born in the Philippines, my family did everything in their power to get into this country and make a living. The fight and struggle on the rough path to success will always be on my mind. I will forever be blessed to have the opportunities that I have now.

What are you looking forward to most this year?

Making a name for ourselves. We opened our doors in June 2019 and, over the course of a year, we have grown exponentially as the spot for decadent espresso and savory boba. Our social media following has blown up and we have reached an audience everywhere. We are nowhere near the finish line; this is just the beginning of the race. This year is about building up our name and providing our customers the highest quality drinks they can get their hands on. We want people to realize that there is more to coffee than your retail store drinks, and that there is more to boba than just ice, sugar, and tapioca.

Who are some other Asian American entrepreneurs we should know about? Let us know down in the comments.

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This article originally published on GREY Journal.