Tell us a little about yourself:
I was born in Korea, actually. Came here when I was 19 months old. Was adopted and grew up in Taylor, Michigan – that's where I came to from Korea. Went to the local schools and graduated from Truman High School. I was able to go to the University of Michigan, studied political science, among other things there, and got my undergraduate degree in '96. I ended up working on a campaign right after college, and that was a big campaign year, and so that was a great experience for me. The guy who ran, who I was helping ran for state representative and ended up winning one of the closest races in the state, so it was just all around a really good experience. I ended up working in Lansing as a state legislative aide for a number of years, and then in 2002 I ended up running for state representative. I ran for the guy...for the seat for the guy I was working for. His name was Ray Basham, and so I ran to succeed him. He's from my area, obviously. I was successful in doing that and then I served in the Michigan House, and ended that in December of 2008 and now I'm running for the state senate. So that's kind of in a nutshell, a little bit about me.
Did your identity as an Asian American have any impact on your decision to get involved or start a political career?
You know, my dad really rubbed off on me. He was involved on the City Council in Taylor, he's involved with the Teacher's Union here in Michigan, so I kind of got those things rubbed off on my growing up. You know, it's something that I thought about, but it didn't have a major decision on whether or not I was going to run. It was just a matter of how would this impact my potential candidacy, so that was kind of the thought process that went on. It was just one of those things where the decision is, “Are you going to run?” and then you figure out how to do that.
Why did you choose to align yourself with the Democratic Party?
Big influence from my dad. He was a Democrat. He was very involved with the Democratic Party and I grew up with that. I worked on campaigns and campaigned for other people before I really knew what it was all about, and going to the University of Michigan and going over and becoming my own person really helped solidify some of my thoughts and concerns about how this world works and why I'm a Democrat. So, it was something that's evolved over time, however, started at a pretty young age, I think.
What are some of your top issues that you would address if elected?
The economy is really a major issue. We're downriver. You know, we're blue collar manufacturing, auto...so really addressing some of those economic issues. People are looking for jobs. People need work, and in some cases, people need hope to know that there's something else out there. So those are definitely some of the things I want to work on – the whole economic issue and trying to get our economy moving again, support manufacturing, support autos as much as I can. But also, sort of look for other industries, look for ways to diversify what we do in Michigan so that there is other opportunities for people. Education is a major part of that, so working on the education system, supporting and at the same time challenging it to do things differently or to do things better is a major part of the work I want to do.
How do you think these issues affect the Asian American community?
There's issues that I think are a little more specific to the Asian American community, but there's these general big issues that everyone cares about, so I think the economy is certainly something that everyone cares about. Part of the Asian American community's existence in Michigan is based on the auto sector and manufacturing, however that's not the whole story, so the extent that I can support autos and manufacturing affects the community. I'm also looking at ways the community has grown, changed, and all the different opportunities that are possible there. That's where some of the diversification comes into play. Everyone cares about education, and I think for Asian Americans that's certainly true, and we're looking into improve the system and make sure there are opportunities that are broad based that are available to everyone.
As a community that in some ways has an immigrant basis, or a large number of immigrants and have English as a second language, I think there are some issues to access different services – maybe within education, but also health care, the basic things like voting rights – something your organization if particularly focused on. I just think that if people know what their rights are and they're equipped to access whatever services they are entitled to – I think that's one of the issues that people have issues with. Maybe it's a language thing, or maybe it's a lack of familiarity, or maybe it's the social network that Asians engage in. Whatever the causes let's figure out the barriers and try to knock them down.
Why do you think it's important for Asian Americans to get out there and vote?
I think it matters on a number of different fronts, but I think so just our voices are heard. And I think that if there are issues that are out there that affect our community and we're not voting and not participating to the extent that we could, then maybe that will mean that our voices aren't heard as much as they should be, and just to make sure we're participating in the process, that we engage our elected officials and they know that we're here and that we have concerns is very important.
Do you have any advice for Asian American youth who would like start a political career?
I think it's an incredible arena to get into. The practical advice is just to get involved, to participate, whether it's through campaigns or through organizations, and in voting. Make sure you know who you're voting for and why, and what they stand for – things like that and how they impact your life. One is just a basic level of being involved, and that's what I would say to anyone in the Asian American community, but particularly youth and you think about someone doing something for the first time and they're learning a lot as a younger person. I think it's a great opportunity to see something you may not have known was out there. So that's what I tell people: if you cut off certain opportunities for yourself then you don't even know what is possible, so being involved and even at some point running for office is a way to think about yourself in a different way and to get outside of whatever confines that you or other people have placed for you.
There's more, but the other piece is to be yourself and own yourself, and be comfortable with that. If you try to be someone else to run for office, I don't think that works to that extent. It doesn't let you sell the best attributes about yourself. So I think that's very important. There's this genuineness that I think people are looking for and want to see in their elected officials and candidates, so that's one thing that people can do. Think about the issues and think about where they stand and what's important to them, but then as a person, to be true to yourself and to run as a candidate that way, or to be involved with whatever you're involved with, based on who you are.
Any parting shots or last things to add?
I certainly hope everyone gets out and votes on November 2nd. It's a very important election, but beyond that, I think every election if very important. Elections are not just one day events, and I think it's very important for us as a community to be involved and aware of the issues that impact us, our communities, our state, and our country. As much as I can suggest or support people wanting to be involved in their communities, I think it's a wonderful thing.