Aiming to increase their collective political clout and economic opportunities, Asian American business owners representing tens of thousands of mostly immigrant entrepreneurs in Southern California launched a collective chamber of commerce Tuesday.
In a signing ceremony at a Koreatown hotel in Los Angeles, representatives from Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai chambers of commerce in Southern California established the Asian American Chamber Assn.
The participants, who began meeting at an annual "friendship" golf tournament two years ago, said they hoped to begin sponsoring joint trade and business seminars, cultural events, field trips and other activities.
Representatives said the new chamber would stay away from international politics but seek to maximize its voice in local politics. Chang Y. Lee, president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of Los Angeles, said the group would work, for instance, to ensure that its communities got a fair share of economic opportunities -- including public development dollars.
"As immigrants, we're afraid at times to speak out," Lee said. "But if we speak out, it will benefit our local businesses and residents. The chamber will be an organization that people will lend their ears to."
Lee said his community's 20,000 small-business owners welcomed the new accord as a chance to expand beyond their own ethnic enclave. One example cited of cross-Asian business integration was the food industry, in which an estimated 80% of Japanese restaurants in Los Angeles are now owned by ethnic Chinese and Koreans.
Chester Chong, president of the 500-member Chinese Chamber of Commerce, said there were an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 small firms owned by ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China in Southern California.
Sommai Patamakanthin of the 100-member Thai chamber estimated his community's small-business owners at about 4,000, mostly restaurateurs.
Ted Wakao of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California said it had 270 members, but he could give no estimate of small-business owners.