State Representative, Massachusetts House of Representatives
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PUBLIC SERVICE?
I’ve always known that public service was in my future; my father was a letter carrier, and my mother was a social worker. They both spent their lives teaching me to serve others through work at Girl Scouts or through church, so it was unsurprising when I made the leap to elected office. My daughter, whom my husband and I adopted through foster care, is a big part of why I made the leap in 2018. Seeing the structural problems associated with an agency intended to care for children up close and personally drove me to want to seek a role where I could make real change for others.
WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACING AAPI WOMEN IN PUBLIC SERVICE?
Right now, there is one other AAPI elected woman in the Legislature with me, and we are mistaken for each other and for interns all of the time (she is Vietnamese, and I am Korean). The level of microaggressions from across the spectrum of colleagues, constituents, and the public at large can be hard to fathom, let alone understand. In particular, as a transracial adoptee, I find myself torn between being the first Korean-American elected and neither being Korean enough for some groups and still being viewed as “other” by different groups. I spend a lot of my time trying to translate between people of color and white colleagues and constituents, attempting to navigate those waters with only one foot in either side. It’s a necessary part of the job, but it’s hard with so few others sharing in that same experience with me.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR AAPI GIRLS AND WOMEN WHO WANT TO PURSUE A CAREER IN PUBLIC SERVICE?
I recommend you reach out to other AAPI women to be mentors and friends. The work can feel daunting, especially when campaigning, and having a group to lean on is essential. A group of us here in Massachusetts just met recently to talk about Black Lives Matter, and it was such a good forum to be able to talk with other women about the experiences we are all having and how best to support our black colleagues.
WHO/WHAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?
Both my mother and my daughter inspire me to no end; none of us are biologically related or even the same race, and we are all constantly learning from one another, living in the same house together. My mom taught me core values as a child, and we both continue to challenge each other as I’ve pushed her boundaries of comfort in thinking about issues about race and gender, and she’s helped me think about issues from a completely different lens to help me find greater empathy and acceptance. Meanwhile, my daughter is the most energetic, joyful person I know, and she continues to teach me to live in the moment instead of worrying about the future or Popsicle stains on her shirt or whether ice cream for dinner is a good idea. She is incredibly brave, asks me to do things I would never imagine doing, and can shake off criticism in a way that I envy.