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Representation in Office:
Why It Matters to Public Health

HPHR Fellow Jackie Leung

By Jackie Leung

Representation in Office: Why It Matters in Public Health

API; representation

 Margaret Cho once said, “The power of visibility can never be underestimated.”

 

Leadership. Representation. Public official. These are several words that describe who I am as a person and how I am as a leader.

According to the May 4th article in Politico, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are the fastest growing group in the U.S., yet account for less than one percent of all elected leaders (Dugyala, 2021).

 

This blog describes my experience of learning about politics and my journey into becoming an elected official.

 

Growing up, I often heard that people from my community are not involved in politics. We were ‘apolitical.’

 

I was 8 years old when I first learned about presidential elections. I knew “Reagan” because he had soulful-looking eyes similar to my grandfather. I remember asking my mom, “Who did you vote for?” She said, “We do not talk about those things.” When I asked why…she said, “Because we do not.” I learned that day politics was taboo and not something we talk about.

 

At 18, I registered to vote. I vote a handful of times. I skipped a local election or two because I did not feel any connection. I did not know them. They did not know me. The worst part is that no one looked like me. That is…until 2008. When a presidential candidate had the audacity to ask voters to “hope.” I hoped big. For 8 years.

OMCA, API, Leaders, elected; city council
Jackie Leung attending OMCA Day with her family and friend to honor the Marshallese community

Flash forward to 2016. I graduated law school. I had completed an immigration law clinic where I was able to help someone successfully complete their application for permanent residence status.  I wanted to get involved. That determination led to my appointment to serve as a commissioner with the Salem Human Rights Commission and a Commissioner with the Oregon Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs. That was a start, but I felt something was still missing.

 

In 2018, I decided to run for city council. I was tired of the politics and decisions being made without consideration of community input. No one thought I had a chance. I had a team of four people, with two who really worked on my campaign. Every day, I knocked. I walked the pavement. Going door to door. I am the one of less than 10 person of color and first API to sit on the city council. As I learned, just because I now was in this position, I still stood alone when voting. I listened to the community. I spoke out, advocated, and called on fellow councilors to vote with me on local issues. The temporary relocation of the Salem public library. Sit-lie ban on our unsheltered community. Calls for police reform and holding police accountable. Often, I was the sole vote. But here is the thing – I stuck to my principles. Even though I did not have the votes and was outnumbered. I stayed true to my values and in hearing community concerns.

 

Politics is tiring. Yet, politics is also important. People in office make decisions on our behalf and we must be engaged with the process – from voting leaders into office, to advocating to support (or not) a policy that will become law, to holding elected officials accountable for their actions. Who represents us makes a difference even when we do not realize it. Elected officials make decisions about you and your community, affecting you from your residence, to your neighborhood, to the very city you live in. It is vital that you are engaged – whether you run for office, support some else for their campaign, be appointed to a board or commission, or write or visit with elected officials, you hold the key to making a difference. Your voice, matters. 

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More from Jackie Leung here.

Reference

Dugyala, R. (04, May 2021) Asian Americans are Least Likely to Hold Office. Politico.  https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/04/asian-american-pacific-islander-representation-elected-office-485279

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