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Sadly, 'This' is America #StopAsianHateby@marinatranvu
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Sadly, 'This' is America #StopAsianHate

by Marina Tran-VuOctober 28th, 2022
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The comment that my team had received on a post/ad that we ran to drive awareness about our brand EQUO, was quite surprising. The user stated “This is America. We speak English here. If you want your language and customs, go back to where you came from.” I think there might have been some sort of mistake when Facebook showed our Vietnamese language ads to this user by accident. However, the comment was absolutely uncalled for. A member of my team saw this and was particularly upset about it. With my team being entirely based in Vietnam, some of them have never left the country, let alone Asia, so were not exposed to racism, xenophobia or discrimination due to their ethnicity or language they spoke in anyway. Therefore this came as quite a shock to them. As the CEO of the company, I addressed this with them and noted that it was important for us to respond to comments like this and not remain silent. Therefore, I responded back to the user by not trying to make a snappy comeback or insulting them back, but by trying to take this comment as a chance to educate them and get them to re-evaluate their actions.
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Context

Questions from HackerNoon

Thanks for sharing your important story on xenophobia, Marina! As a Vietnamese founder myself, I’ve experienced xenophobia in the past, as well as misogyny. Your story resonated with me, as an immigrant and a woman founder, and I would like to share your story far and wide to our audience at HackerNoon.


Feel free to answer any and all of these questions, or add your own questions. These are only meant to get the conversation started.


Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Marina, the Founder & CEO of EQUO. My career started in Marketing, specializing in Consumer Packaged goods. I have over 10 years of brand management experience at companies including Unilever, Bacardi, LG Electronics, and Spin Master. The journey started when I first came to Vietnam and visited various coffee shops. It was the first time when I found out the green item in my drink was actually a grass straw. I was surprised and curious, which encouraged me to research and learn more about this whole world of sustainable alternatives. With the inspiration of trying to build a sustainable future for my nephew, working to support local economic growth and job creation from my parent’s hometown, and the desire to elevate Vietnam's profile as a global leader in sustainability and innovation, I decided to venture on my own to bring to the world truly eco-friendly solutions through the sustainable brand, EQUO.

Could you tell us a bit about your company, EQUO Co.?

EQUO is a sustainable brand delivering easy solutions for everyday single-use plastic items. First line of products is drinking straws made from grass, rice, coconut, and sugarcane that are 100% plastic-free, biodegradable, compostable, and non-toxic! Our products decompose in months, not centuries. Additional categories will include utensils, dishware, and stationery. They are easy, no-brainer switches so simple, you may not even notice them - even though Mother Nature does.


You don't have to change your lifestyle or behavior - no washing, no carrying around. And they help to promote a circular economy by diverting waste from landfills in order to produce them. Now you can use it once, throw it away - without any of the worries and none of the guilt.


Could you elaborate on the story you shared on your personal linkedin page? Was it the first time you experienced direct racism/xenophobia

The comment that my team had received on a post/ad that we ran to drive awareness about our brand EQUO, was quite surprising. The user stated “This is America. We speak English here. If you want your language and customs, go back to where you came from.”


I think there might have been some sort of mistake when Facebook showed our Vietnamese language ads to this user by accident. However, the comment was absolutely uncalled for. A member of my team saw this and was particularly upset about it. With my team being entirely based in Vietnam, some of them have never left the country, let alone Asia, so were not exposed to racism, xenophobia or discrimination due to their ethnicity or language they spoke in anyway.

Therefore this came as quite a shock to them. As the CEO of the company, I addressed this with them and noted that it was important for us to respond to comments like this and not remain silent. Therefore, I responded back to the user by not trying to make a snappy comeback or insulting them back, but by trying to take this comment as a chance to educate them and get them to re-evaluate their actions.


My reply was, “Hi (user), my name is Marina, the Founder & CEO of EQUO (born and raised in Canada, now living in Vietnam). We apologize if you saw this ad by accident in the US (this can sometimes happen on the internet, which is so global nowadays). Very aware that English is spoken in America, along with 349 other languages. We’re trying to bring amazing, sustainable products made in Vietnam and Southeast Asia to the world. We hear your comments and just hope that you don’t feel the same way about the goods you use and purchase every day, as I can assure you not all of them are made in the USA. I hope you re-evaluate your words as they represent an ignorance that I am certain you don’t display on a daily basis.”


In what way did the response from the community help (or hurt) your company and your founder journey?

The response from the online community ranged from shock to congratulations on how we answered. I definitely showcased the support the business and general community had for our business and how we handled the situation. As a founder, I am extremely aware that in my role as CEO I am setting an example of how to behave to my employees and the community on how to react to situations, business or otherwise, and I wanted to make sure that it was a good one. I believe that sometimes situations or circumstances cause people to react in ways outside their normal behavior, and I try to put myself in their shoes. Maybe they were having a bad day, or just had a bad experience that shaped their way of thinking. Retribution and punishment can only go so far to correct viewpoints and attitudes, so I think the response I shared was welcomed by a community that is so used to seeing “an eye for an eye” or “bite back” as knee-jerk reactions to situations like this.


This situation definitely helped myself and my team grow personally and professionally and showed that regardless of how people talk to you or treat you, always try to take the high road. A famous quote said, taking the high road is more difficult, but it’s a lot less crowded.

Do you have any words of advice for the next batch of founders with a background like yours?

Example: to my fellow Vietnamese/immigrant/female founders etc…

Be authentic, be yourself, and let your work, your experience, and your results speak for themselves. Society will always have something to say about what you do, how you behave, the way you look – people who critique are everywhere. Ignore those things and focus on delivering what you commit to and prove people wrong with results versus your words. You can’t argue prejudice with logical words or thinking, so focus your time and efforts towards your business. No one will remember how you dress or how humble you are when you’re running a million-dollar business.

What’s next for you and Equo?

We're starting with straws and utensils but the market is so much bigger. We have a full product line of dishware, stationery, and bags that we plan to launch to address the over $70 billion dollars single-use plastic category. We are working to drive mass awareness fast and get people to really give us a chance. We are confident that if people try our product they will love it and advocate for change in their neighborhood restaurants, cities, and government. We are also planning to also expand our distribution into different regions, countries and also expand our product line offering to provide a number of solutions for single-use plastic.

Thank you for your time!


Linh Dao Smooke - COO of HackerNoon