The morning of the very first Colorado Dragon Boat Festival in 2001, Ding-Wen Hsu was worried no one would show. Hsu had accomplished a lot since immigrating to the United States from Taiwan, including founding a successful company that makes roughly $10 million annually and employs 75 people. But the boat festival presented a unique challenge. With it, Hsu was trying to institute a 2,000-year-old Chinese boat-racing tradition in the most unlikely of places: Denver, Colorado, a state where Asians make up only 3.2 percent of the population. “I’d never taken any risk like this,” says Hsu. But she was determined to increase the visibility of Colorado’s Asian-American community and highlight its cultural contributions.
As a successful businesswoman, Hsu is adamant about the contribution that Asian immigrants like her make to the United States. “Not only do we contribute on the technology side, not only do we contribute to the workforce, but also, because of our connections to another country, we bring resources into this country,” Hsu says.
Because of our connections to another country, [immigrants] bring resources into this country.
Originally from China, Hsu grew up in Taiwan and came to America in the 1970s, accompanying her husband, who was attending graduate school at the University of Iowa. Hsu earned an Executive MBA from the University of Colorado Denver and, in 1987, nine years after moving to Colorado, she and her husband started Pacific Western Technologies Ltd., a company that cleans up federal Superfund sites, areas deemed contaminated by hazardous substances.
Despite her initial concerns, the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival became a success. The first year, 15,000 people attended. Since then, the event has grown to draw 130,000 people a year, drawing people from around the Rocky Mountain region to partake in the Asian Marketplace and eat Asian cuisine. With more than 80 retail stores and 20 restaurants selling to the weekend crowds, the festival creates a significant economic boost. “A lot of people come because they’ve never traveled abroad, let alone to Asia, so this is an eye-opener for them to see a culture that’s very different from the American culture,” Hsu says. “For our community, I think the impact is even bigger, because they feel very proud to be Asian.”
When it comes to immigration reform, Hsu would like to see less stringent regulations for highly skilled workers. She says current policies make it far too difficult for talented entrepreneurs like her and her husband to bring their skills to the United States. “This country was made by immigrants,” she says. “And when there are still so many talented and highly educated people who want to come to this country, why make it difficult for them?”