Albuquerque business owner Kristelle Siarza was channeling her Filipino mentor – and unofficial aunt – when she launched the Asian Business Collaborative over the summer.
Siarza, who has dual U.S. and Philippines citizenship, was witnessing the pandemic gutting small businesses. She met with Asian business owners who talked about racist phone calls. She read about the vandalism and spray-painted slurs at Santa Fe’s India Palace restaurant. She talked with a Rio Rancho restaurant owner who was convinced she hadn’t received government pandemic assistance because she’s Chinese.
It was time, Siarza says, to step in and help.
“We just noticed that there’s so many challenges of Asian business owners, including the pandemic, operations, finances … labor law, all kinds of stuff,” says Siarza, who owns Siarza Social Digital, an internet and digital marketing agency. “The information is either not being given to them, or they’re not comprehending it because of the language barrier.”
Siarza says the multitude of Asian and Pacific Islander languages and dialects has made it difficult for business owners to benefit from traditional chambers of commerce.
While Siarza is working on getting the new business collaborative off the ground, it has taken on such jobs as contracting with the city to distribute personal protective equipment to businesses from a location at Talin Market. Siarza is volunteering as executive director and has three others helping her.
Siarza started her own business through an incubator in 2014, and has watched it grow from just herself to 15 employees, half of whom are in the Philippines.
The woman Siarza calls her aunt (“Filipinos always call each other aunt or uncle”) was a powerhouse among the local Asian population. Adelamar Alcántara, who died last year, had founded the New Mexico Asian Family Center and was Siarza’s role model in getting things done to help the Asian community.
Siarza met Alcántara (Auntie Dely) shortly after she and her family moved to Albuquerque from San Francisco when Siarza was 15.
“She was one of the first people I met here,” Siarza says. “My dad met her through a Google search. He literally wrote ‘Filipinos in New Mexico.’ She was at our house the next day for dinner. Little did I know that she would be my mentor and really just help me become who I wanted to be.”
How does your cultural background as a Filipino-American influence your business?
“Filipinos and family are very interwoven, and I think that that’s very important as not only a business lesson, but it’s how I lead. My work family – they’re my family. And even yesterday as we’ve built this new team (at Asian Business Collaborative), we do these Zoom calls, and I’m (thinking), ‘This is fun. This is exactly what I wanted to create – family.’ I know people come and go, but we’re becoming a good family – young family, too. That just feels electric and energetic, and I love that.”
What do you envision for the Asian Business Collaborative?
“The pandemic was really the catalyst. I spoke to the Asian Family Center and said, ‘Have you guys been getting calls or inquiries from small businesses?’ And they said, ‘Yes, and we don’t know how to help them. We don’t have services or capacity to help small businesses.’ The Asian (business) community needs support. We just need a collaborative project where we work to educate each other and to support each other. So if a client comes in and says, ‘I would like help on taxes,’ we connect them to the right resource. And if we need to provide a translator on top of it, we will. We’re in the process of creating our own Asian business directory. Our focus meetings with our business owners are helping us focus on business support, representation projects and mentorship.”
What do you do in your free time?
“Oh, boy. I have to purposely make free time. My mental health depends on it. My boyfriend and I actually met playing kickball, and so for six years, we were sub-par kickball players. But because of the pandemic, we can’t play kickball. I ended up taking up golf and in my free time, I’m playing golf. I am helping my son with the Bosque School golf team. We have a practice net in our backyard, and we’re chucking balls all the time. I play videogames. I just have to sometimes.”
What are your favorite foods?
“Oh, Filipino food, 100%. We love sharing food at Siarza (Social Digital), obviously pre-pandemic. Lumpia is what I’m known for. Every Filipino has a dish that they can’t screw up. My lumpia – Filipino egg rolls – is delicious and made with love. Every time I travel … I have to go to the local Asian scene and find a Filipino restaurant. Before the pandemic, I traveled to Tennessee for a conference and the tornado had hit outside Nashville the day before, and there’s this Filipino lady out in the sticks, like an hour and a half away from Nashville. She was donating a lot of her food to first responders, so I went because not only did I want to give her money for helping out and stuff like that, but I’m like while I’m here, might as well just eat some Filipino food. I actually ate at a Filipino restaurant in Tennessee. Who does that?”
Any pet peeves?
“People who eat … really loud. When they eat, and they’re smackers. It’s funny because there was a guy that I was dating. Full disclosure: I dated a lot of people until I met the one, which is my (current) boyfriend. I was dating this guy, and I hung out with him once or twice. But there was something about him that, I just can’t do it. And I was trying to figure out what it was. He was eating like this (makes smacking noises). So it was a bad date that made me realize I had a pet peeve. Even my cat, even when she drinks water it’s like I can hear the slurping. Cat, stop.”
As a small business owner, do you have any advice for your peers?
“There’s going to be a lot of business owners right now, especially, … they’re going to owe a lot of things, and I’m telling you out there, ‘There are people willing to help you save your business.’ Part of the reason I wanted to start ABC (Asian Business Collaborative) is because a lot of these Asian businesses feel like they need to close. They don’t. There’s going to be a lot of people that will help you, whether it be the government or whether it’s an individual like myself helping them to stay open. And I think that’s the critical piece, and the critical message that all of us need to know. Yes, we’re going to make a lot of really difficult decisions now. … But those difficult decisions are going to be things that you will have support to help you through it. If not now, then in the future.”