Current Town: Essex
Years in VT: probably ~25
Business Name: Uncommon Coffee
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born & raised in Vermont. My mom is a native Vermonter and my dad is a Vietnamese Refugee who settled with a foster family in Essex Junction when he was a teen.
What do you enjoy about being a business owner/professional of color in VT?
I enjoy connecting with other people who share my values and often also hold intersectional identities.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a business owner/professional of color?
I often felt passed over for opportunities…eventually, once I was able to prove my worth, I would get them, but a lot of the time when you’re new somewhere, it feels like they don’t consider your experience because of who you are. My experiences are a bit different because of my intersectional identity and the fact that I’m pretty white-passing as an adult. However, my industry is an extremely white and male-dominated industry, which doesn’t allow for many opportunities.
I also really struggle with marketing my identity. It feels really almost self-exploitative to market that and it’s something I’ve always struggled with. I think part of it is that I have gone through phases of life where people choose which facet of my identity is convenient for them to assign as my dominant identity, so I never feel “enough” of one thing or another. I imagine that’s a universal experience for people who have intersectional identities.
How have you worked to overcome the challenges?
Prove my worth. Work hard, do extra things to add value that other people aren’t doing. Also it’s important to me to try to under-promise and over-deliver. Sometimes I’m too ambitious for my own good and I take on too much. This way, I can be too ambitious and if I succeed, it’s all extra, but if I don’t succeed, I’ve still delivered on the expectations set forth of me.
Re: Intersectionality: I connected with people around the country in my industry who have had similar experiences as me. I made space for myself and allowed myself to apply for things that are open to only people who hold marginalized identities and I discovered that a lot of people feel a similar push/pull to what I feel.
What opportunities do you see for your industry in the future?
I feel really happy where I’m at now and I’d like to continue to operate my singular cafe/roastery. I’d love to grow our wholesale program and our e-commerce, but most importantly I’d like to work to establish myself more in this community.
In what ways could the community or state of VT support BIPOC in your line of work?
Come get a coffee! Have a meeting here! Bring someone to Essex. It’s weird being outside of Burlington sometimes, since people who live in Burlington have everything they need right there and they don’t leave very often. Essex isn’t that far away and there is actually a ton of cool stuff to do here now.
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a VT professional of color/business owner before arriving?
Work with people who look like you. Work with people who share your values and figure that out before committing to work with a new person.
What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?
Vermonters love to pretend that racism doesn’t exist here. Vermont is 94% white, so many people who live here don’t ever see conflict related to race and identity. It’s a real challenge. Our lawmakers, our representatives, our business industry leaders–a lot of them are part of an extremely cis/white/male dominated era. They don’t always love working with people who don’t fit into that narrative and they can have a lot of unconscious bias that they haven’t dealt with, but because they haven’t seen or participated in explicit and open racism, they couldn’t imagine that they’re participants in maintaining an unhealthy status quo.
Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?
I guess this is specifically for people in the beverage industry, but I love talking about coffee and specialty beverages and I am open to connecting with anyone. I will share information and opportunities. I want to collaborate and meet people who share similar values to me.
Why are you a member of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network?
Though I am not a member, I support the work and hope to become a member!