What it's like opening a business when you’re young, a woman and Asian

  • Opinion
  • April 5, 2016
  • Deanna Yang
What it's like opening a business when you’re young, a woman and Asian

Something I get asked a lot is, “Did you find it hard opening a business because you’re so young?”

My response: “Mate. I got the big three against me. I’m young, female AND I’m Asian.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t take myself too seriously, so I have a good laugh about all the things that happen to me. I am absolutely head over heels in love with New Zealand but there is no doubt that we do have a bit of a dark underbelly; on two separate occasions walking down the streets of Hamilton, I’ve had car loads of people shout “CHING CHONG CHINAMAN” to which I was highly offended because:

a) I mean c’mon, I haven’t heard that since primary school and I expect adults to at least be more creative in their racist remarks and

b) shouldn’t you at the bare minimum be shouting “CHING CHONG CHINAWOMAN”? Do I look like a man to you? That was definitely the most offensive part (unless maybe they think I look like Mulan who dressed like a man because that girl is legit my idol).

I remember when I first opened Moustache, I used to groan when the rosters somehow meant that me and another person of Asian ethnicity were working together. Every day, I kid you not, every damn day, someone would after looking at Dan (my Asian barista) and me (the Asian stuffing her face with peanut butter) ask us “Sooo…is this like…a family business?” Followed by “Did your family give you money to start this?” and I politely say no but inside I’m like “ACTUALLY I COME FROM A SOLO MOTHER FAMILY OF THREE AND I WORKED FOUR JOBS TO SAVE UP ENOUGH TO START THIS BUT SURE….MY ASIAN SUGAR DADDY GAVE ME MONEY FOR THIS.” followed by “That’ll be $5 thank you. Have a good day, please come again!”

And then as soon as they leave, Dan and I would crack up for ages counting all the times we’d been asked that question and debate between us, “But when I go into a shop and there just happens to be two white people or two Pacific Islanders working, I wouldn’t be like, Yo! Dis be a family bizness amirite? Amirite?”

My favourite animagus, Sirius Black once said in Harry Potter: The Goblet of Fire, “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

And this is something I believe immensely in. I once dumped a guy because my cat didn’t like him. Sorry. But the way you treat animals, children and “inferiors” is revealing of your true character. Anybody can be nice to somebody famous they want to suck up to. What truly matters is how you treat people who are of no use to you or how you act when nobody is watching.

I always take huge notice in how bankers treat “inferior” people like me. The other week when I called ASB Bank to talk about business banking, they barely bothered to get to know me (banks such as ANZ/Kiwibank actually took time to come out to talk to me and get to know me as a person not a number) and even though I asked specifically to talk to someone in real life, ASB wouldn’t even allow me to set up a meeting. Then when I wanted to tell them more about myself so they could find a banking manager that suited, they rang me back with an Asian banking manager who just started speaking to me in Chinese straight away because they saw my last name was Yang and assumed that talking to me in a language I don’t even know (I was born and raised in New Zealand so English is my first language) was the “most suitable banker for you”. I’ve been banking with ASB since I was 8 years old but I knew straight off the bat, that to them, I was like a ‘Changing the NZ Flag’ referendum. A waste of time and completely useless.

I remember a well-meaning customer once asked me at Moustache, “Wow, your English is really good! What English school did you go to?” to which I said “Avondale College bro….but thanks your English is good also”. She turned bright red but I laughed it off and said it was okay, she wasn’t to know that I was born and raised here.

To be fair, prejudice against Asians is the funniest to deal with. I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog before, but the hardest one by far is being a woman in the shark tank of business.

"Do I hate the game that I must play just so I can compete? Do I hate that I have to jump through a million hoops just to prove that I deserve to be talked to? If I negotiate for what I feel is fair, I am a demanding bitch. If I have any downs, it’s because I am a stupid little girl who doesn’t know what I’m doing. If I am successful, then it is credited to good luck.

Sometimes, I have to sit pretty and play within their rules because that is the only way I can survive. But. This is not the world that is becoming. This is not the world that we are creating. Slowly, we are creating a world without those glass ceilings."

– Excerpt from my blog dated April 15th 2015

But look, people point out my inadequacies all the time and I laugh because well… you think you’re the only one who sees them? I have to live with them.

"Let me give you some advice bastard. Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour, and it can never be used to hurt you." – Tyrion, Game of Thrones.

I know exactly who I am. I know my strengths. I know my flaws. Better than you. And I will wear it like armour. Go be you despite all those things. Stumble. Fall over. Pick yourself back up. Keep going. Everything bad that happens to me, I count as part of my education. Lose a bit of money with a bad business decision? Alright, those are my tuition fees.

I took mum to see Oprah Winfrey earlier this year because it’s always been mum’s dream to see her in the flesh. And this is the biggest point I took away from it:

Excellence is the best deterrent to racism.

Excellence is the best deterrent to sexism.

Be excellent.

 Deanna Yang is the founder of Moustache, a former milk-and-cookie bar turned milk-and-cookie bus. The bus is currently parked up and in business at Sylvia Park Shopping Centre. Follow Moustache's movements on Facebook here. This was republished from Yang's blog, youngtrepreneur.

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