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  • South Korea to Hays; the Asian-American Influence in Texas

    BY SAHAR CHMAIS ON MAY 24, 2021 From South Korea to Texas, Jimmy Ferguson has lived through war, segregation, Asian-American hate and peace. The Asian-American business man has truly lived the American Dream and found his home in Texas 30 years ago. “I did not speak any English,” Jimmy Ferguson recalled coming to the U.S. at about 8 years old. “My father was in the [U.S.] army. After the Korea war, we went to New Orleans and there was some adjustment there.” When Jimmy Ferguson came to the U.S., his mother had to teach him English. She did such a good job that he eventually lost the ability to speak Korean. But it was not so simple for the now-owner of 22 McDonald’s to assimilate to American culture. At a time of segregation in 1958, it took months of litigation to find out which school he could get into. Over the years, Jimmy Ferguson moved around the country as his father went from one military base to another, and in his high school years, he met the love of his life and wife, Cindi Ferguson. The couple will be celebrating 43 years together this November, but it was not always smooth sailing. They were subject to racism and received backlash for being an interracial couple. Nothing stopped the love these two shared from being together and growing their future. More than half of their relationship has been spent as part of a team, working together to nurture their McDonald’s franchise ownership. They own locations all over Central Texas and one of their most recent locations was in Kyle which opened nine years ago. “Cindi is an entrepreneur,” Jimmy Feguson said about his wife. “It was her leadership and entrepreneurial spirit I followed.” Prior to the restaurants, Jimmy Ferguson worked in higher education for 15 years. He served for many years on the Hays Education Foundation, working to raise money to give teacher grants and awards to the Top 10% students in Hays CISD. Then 27 years ago, the Fergusons got the idea to open a McDonald’s franchise, hoping to own three locations. Their teamwork and dynamic helped them grow their business, but it came with an understanding and delicate balance so work problems do not affect their relationship. “Working all day with somebody and coming home with them, you have to separate it,” Cindi Ferguson said. “We split responsibilities so each of our focus is one area and in opposite areas so we don’t step over each other’s areas.” Not only does the couple support one-another in their work and personal lives, but they also use the platform that Jimmy Ferguson has to help the Asian-American community. Jimmy Ferguson is part of the American Pacific Economic Council (APEC) and was selected as one of the 30 U.S. entrepreneurs to visit the Philippines to represent the U.S. This unique experience shines a light on how far Jimmy Ferguson has excelled as an Asian-American entrepreneur. He is also a chairman of the board for the Asian McDonald’s Operators Association, as there are 116 McDonald’s franchises owned by Asian-Americans. This board links owners from all over the country, Hawaii to Boston. They advocate and support Asian-Americans in the field and in two weeks were able to raise $160,000 to stop the hate waged against the Asian-American community. “The last three months were the worst of reported cases of harassment, from pushing women to verbal harassment,” Jimmy Ferguson said. “National chambers came as one alliance and spoke against what is happening with the Asian-American community. Education and communication is important, but leadership is super important. From the beginning, we all had misinformation; we did not have knowledge on COVID, and I think we are in a better stage today, but still, stigma has led to violence. The Asian-American population is still misunderstood.” The Fergusons have heard some stories of their employees being subjected to Asian-American hate. But this hate began long before recent events spurred by COVID-19. “When we were first married, we lived in Arkansas,” Cindi Ferguson said. “Being racially mixed there in 1979, things could get really awakening, not everybody was accepting. Even when we moved to Texas, some things were said to our kids, but our kids are very resilient and they don’t have a problem with anybody from anywhere.” The couple said that they just forgive and move on because 99 times out of 100, the hate is coming from a place of ignorance or a preconceived thought, just as they are seeing today with COVID. Instead of giving into the hate or shying away from it, the couple has taken the path of education. They believe in the importance of informing the community about the accomplishments Asian-Americans have brought forth, such as knowing that the author and sponsor of Title IX is an Asian-American woman, Patsy Mink. While these are things that are being taught through social media, the Fergusons have also been educating their grandchildren about their Asian heritage. Their grandchildren do not look Asian, said Cindi Ferguson, so being able to teach them about their ancestors and having a month focused around it has been helpful. “It’s important for history not to repeat itself,” she explained. “Having a particular month to celebrate that; we have Asian food, teach the kids to use chopsticks and expand their pallet.”

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