Kim Sauer

Immigration was the focus of A Human Workplace Olympia on September 27 and included this story by Kim Sauer who works for Washington State’s Liquor and Cannabis Board.

Approximately one in seven Washingtonians are immigrants, and there is no dispute that they are an integral part of our communities and workforce.  Per the National Immigrant Forum, immigrants are twice as likely to start businesses than the U.S.-born. 61% of gas stations are owned by immigrants, 58% of dry cleaning and laundry service, 53% of grocery stores, 45% of nail salons and other personal care services, and so on. But what about business laws and rules? Have they been flexible enough to encompass unique and diverse cultural needs? In my over 20 years in state government, this is the most receptive and accommodating time toward changing the once seemingly untouchable, non-wavering laws and rules impacting immigrant-owned businesses.    

The Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) recently worked with the legislature and stakeholders to change laws regarding service of soju (Korean spirituous liquor).  The Korean restaurant owners have been wanting to serve soju by the bottle for years. When I got hired as a Korean bilingual specialist at the LCB, service of soju was the first inquiry by the Korean community to the agency.  The service and consumption of soju carries significant importance in the Korean community. The pouring, handling, and drinking of this beverage observes ancient social customs and protocols that honor age and relationships for those at the table. It is customary for it to be poured from a communal vessel (bottle), which was against state liquor laws. Restaurant owners (many of whom do not speak English as a primary language) often served soju hidden in teapots, as the law did not allow them to serve soju by the bottle.

This year in 2019, the law has changed. LCB leadership responded to the legislative proposals and worked with the legislature, soju industry members, and business owners to adopt the new laws while addressing the agency’s concern over public safety with education and restrictions.  The Korean community has welcomed and celebrated the changes wholeheartedly.

In 2018, LCB also changed rules to acknowledge that ethnic food like pho as a “complete meal” along with other food like street tacos, and tikka masala. Before this rule change, dishes without side dishes like pho were not considered a complete meal which denied certain liquor licensing privileges. 

These types of changes are signs of leadership encompassing diversity, equity, and inclusion in their actions reflected in government policies.  While we acknowledge the current climate in the US toward immigrants and how it impacts people, our talks and combined efforts to improve the climate is making a difference.  We need to keep at it, keep caring for one another, opening hearts and minds toward making a climate where no one is frustrated feeling voiceless or invisible.  Where businesses no longer need to fight for laws and rules that violate their cultures, and where we no longer treat diversity, equity and inclusion as something only good people do.