For this month’s constituent spotlight, we spoke with Michael Liu, a member of the family that owns and operates the Fubonn Shopping Center on 82nd Avenue. Aside from running his family’s business, Michael is a leader in Portland, serving on boards and committees aimed at finding solutions to homelessness or making improvements to 82nd Ave.
During the interview, Michael shared memories from his childhood in Portland and growing up in an Asian American family. For college and graduate school, Michael moved away from Portland to pursue a degree in Business. In the early 2000s when Michael’s parents opened Fubonn, Michael saw an opportunity to both support his family and make an impact in his community.
Fubonn is a special place, serving as a shopping hub, gathering space, and supermarket stocked with culturally-diverse food. Being able to safely access Fubonn and other great spaces along 82nd is a priority for Michael, which is why he is serving on a committee looking at making improvements to one of Portland’s busiest roads. It goes without saying, Michael is passionate about looking out for his community, whether that be in advocating for safety and justice for communities impacted by Anti-Asian hate or securing investments that reenergize our businesses struggling while coming out of COVID.
Thank you, Michael, for speaking with us for this month’s Constituent Spotlight and for stepping up to serve your community.
How has being born and raised in Portland motivated you to take on leadership roles?
Portland is a wonderful city. I have so many memories growing up in this area. The community members were so welcoming to my family when we immigrated here in 1977. I was the first person in my family born in the United States. I attended Santa Clara University for my undergraduate degree and received my MBA from the University of Washington before returning home when my family opened Fubonn.
Portland will always have a special place in my heart and that is partly what drew me back to the area. I felt the city was welcoming and provided opportunities for its residence. Portland has dealt with its fair share of issues but I believe we can all work together to make the progress needed for the next generation of Portlanders.
As Fubonn became more established in the community, I was able to free up some time to invest back in the community. I was always looking for organizations that I could support. I did not join these organizations looking for specific roles but was looking for opportunities where I felt I could make an impact. If a project interested me, I would see if I could join the group and be a part of the conversation. Ultimately, what motivates me is to improve the experience we all have with our city. I am raising two daughters in Portland and I want them to have a similar feel and experience with Portland that I had growing up. Any work I can do to ensure that feeling and tradition is passed down is the ultimate goal.
What has owning and operating Fubonn Shopping Center taught you about the community that lives, works, and gathers around 82nd Ave?
We are all very proud of our heritage and community. I learn something new all the time at Fubonn interacting with the patrons of the mall. When my family opened Fubonn, I wanted the center to feel like a community spot where we could come together and learn from each other. That is the environment I hope the center provides. It also provides a place where the residents in the area can meet and catch up.
We know that 82nd Ave has long been neglected, how has this impacted your business and those who shop there? How would you like to see this major road improved?
Safety is always a concern when operating a business. The condition of the road at 82nd Ave is not what you desire as a business owner. But with the road now under the jurisdiction of PBOT, I think the community members will have a bigger voice in creating a more user-friendly road for all modes of transportation. I am happy to see more time and investment put into 82nd Ave to lower and hopefully stop all the unnecessary deaths that have happened in the corridor.
82nd ave is a very important road that connects the city from Clackamas to the airport. As we think of improvements to make the road better, we need to think about all the constituents that are impacted by the decision and make sure their voices are heard before a final plan is approved.
Fubonn serves people from many cultures, with restaurants, ingredients, and retail spaces of great significance to Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, as well as Hispanic and Slavic communities too. How do businesses and organizations benefit from embracing cultural diversity?
Fubonn has hosted many field trips! I am always grateful to the teachers and staff who use our center to show others different cultures and experiences they otherwise would not be exposed to in the area.
I like to tell people that food unites us all and learning about traditions of dishes or how certain items are used in food preparations has been such an educational experience for me. The preparation of the same ingredients into a completely different style dish makes me want to try different methods in the kitchen.
I have had customers ask me why we carry certain products or why anyone would eat a certain item. When I explain the symbolism or just the importance of not wasting any part of an animal because of the scarcity of meat, people get a better understanding. Food, clothing, and certain treatments or services are another opportunity to share a cultural experience and I believe our mall provides many conduits to have those discussions and explanations.
Commissioner Vega Pederson toured the Jade District in April 2021 following attacks and vandalism targeted at Asian-American owned businesses. We stopped by restaurants like Ocean City Seafood Restaurant, a Chinese restaurant located right next to Fubonn. When hate crimes occur in your neighborhood, what effect do you notice it has on the employees and patrons at Fubonn, and broadly the larger community? What is needed to restore safety and justice to our AANHPI communities?
We are all Portlanders and Oregonians, when hate crimes happen and people get singled out for being different, there is a feeling of helplessness. It puts everyone on high alert and just does not make people feel safe.
To restore safety and justice, we need to make sure those who commit these acts of violence are held accountable for their actions. Listening sessions within the community with action plan items will also help build the trust back in the community. All experiences in life are different and they view law enforcement and crime in their own lens. So understanding why AANHPI members feel the way they do about certain topics will allow law enforcement to approach and handle a perceived common issue with more thoughtfulness and concern.