[OPINION] For Filipinos, our small businesses are on the ballot

The author, Nora Formento (center), with her family at their restaurant, Manila BBQ in Henderson, Nevada | Contributed photo
Community Perspective by Nora Formento

For our family, our restaurant, Manila BBQ, is everything.

It is a place where we work, gather, celebrate each other, and where we go to support our community. As immigrants who came over from the Philippines in 1990, owning and operating our own restaurant was our American Dream. We are proud to showcase our family’s authentic Filipino BBQ recipes to the local Las Vegas community, as we have done for the past two-and-a-half years.

As Asian Americans, we know that Filipino cuisine is vastly underrepresented in the Las Vegas community, and becoming a go-to stop for locals and tourists alike has created a sense of pride and purpose we can pass down for generations to come. Our customers and the community we serve are an extension of our immediate family. In fact, many of our customers, especially those of Filipino descent, actually call me Tita Nora or Auntie Nora, and travel great distances for our family-style Papaitan and Pancit Malabon dishes.

For our family, our community, and our restaurant, times have been hard. The COVID-19 lockdown closed us down for two months. Hearing the news was hard, yet our landlord still required full rent, and we still owed utilities and insurance for a restaurant no one could dine in. To date, we’ve lost over 50% of our revenue, and were forced to let go of more than half our staff — people who feel like family. We miss our customers dearly, and have been thankful for the support of our community. The most frustrating part of this whole ordeal is that it did not have to be this bad.

Simply put, our American Dream is under attack. We know that Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic is worsening the conditions that make it hard for so many immigrant families to get by, because our family feels it each day. Which is why, we all need to rally together to ensure we elect a president who stands up for Filipino Americans and working families like ours.

Since the onset of the pandemic, President Trump and his administration have missed chance after chance to help businesses and communities like ours. They dragged their feet in setting guidelines to keep us safe, misinformed the public, and let the virus spread. That ineffectiveness meant thousands of people died, small businesses like ours were forced to shut down, and millions got sick.

Meanwhile, big businesses and Trump donors were able to receive massive bailouts and to keep their businesses going. These policies unilaterally hurt small businesses like ours and took money and jobs away from our communities. If we had real leadership from the beginning, they would have protected the American people and many of our businesses would likely still be open. In Nevada, our state tried its best, but, when Trump calls the virus a hoax, millions feel justified acting in an unsafe manner threatening others, and keeping businesses closed or working under limited capacities.

In our family, we often joke how it’s easy to complain, but much harder to act. The same can be said for voting. Many Asian Americans, especially those in Nevada, know this president and our country are letting us all down. We see it in our neighborhoods, and we hear about it when we serve you in our restaurant. We hear people complain that he is being racist to Chinese Americans, choosing to give massive tax breaks to billionaires instead of helping out the little guys like us, and creating great uncertainty about how we handle this pandemic. There is one way to help bring change to our communities this fall, and that is to vote. As my son used to say in the restaurant, “You do not have the right to complain if you don’t participate.” The same holds true for these elections. For our voices to be heard, our communities need to register and vote in large numbers, to ensure we hold those in power accountable.

If Donald Trump is re-elected to the White House and does not get a handle on the coronavirus, we will likely lose our business and our livelihood. We cannot continue to operate under these circumstances. Our community cannot take another four years of this administration. Time and time again, we see Trump fail small businesses, Asian Americans, our communities, and our families. We all deserve better leadership. We need someone in power who will fight for our livelihoods like it is their own. We need a sensible leader who does not bail out the giant corporations, but fights for the little businesses here in Henderson.

That is why I will be doing everything I can to ensure our communities are accounted for at the ballot box. I hope you join me. Because you don’t have the right to complain if you don’t participate.

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Nora Formento is a Filipino immigrant, and her family owns Manila BBQ in Henderson, Nevada.

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