Kansen Chu: A cal­cu­lated risk taker in pol­i­tics BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By YU WEI in San Fran­cisco yuwei12@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

When he was elected to the San Jose City Coun­cil seven years ago, for­mer Ber­ryessa union school board mem­ber and busi­ness­man Kansen Chu be­came San Jose’s first Chi­nese-Amer­i­can coun­cilmem­ber in the city’s 157-year his­tory.

“I was very ex­cited but felt a great re­spon­si­bil­ity at the same time,” said Chu. “My first com­ment was: I’m the first Chi­nese Amer­i­can to win this po­si­tion and I hope I’m not the last.”

Chu, who won a land­slide vic­tory in 2007 with 64 per­cent of the votes, was re-elected with­out op­po­si­tion to a four-year term in 2008 and again in 2012 for his fi­nal term.

Born in Tai­wan, Chu moved to the US in 1976 with his fam­ily. He re­ceived his mas­ter’s de­gree in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing from Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity Northridge, started work­ing at IBM in 1978 and stayed there for 18 years.

In 1989, Chu be­came the pres­i­dent and owner of one of San Jose’s largest Chi­nese din­ing es­tab­lish­ments — Ocean Har­bor Chi­nese Restau­rant. Along the way, he got to know many lead­ers of com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“They would choose my restau­rant to host com­mu­nity events and it brought me into their so­ci­ety,” Chu said.

That’s when Chu’s ca­reer as a com­mu­nity ac­tivist be­gan.

He de­voted him­self to civic ac­tiv­i­ties and ser­vices in many lo­cal or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Chi­nese Amer­i­can-Sil­i­con Val­ley, the Asian Law Al­liance and Shin Shin Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion. He joined the board of trustees of Ber­ryessa Union School District in 2002.

Chu said pub­lic ser­vice taught him the ne­ces­sity of en­hanc­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­cans’ in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics.

“Chi­nese im­mi­grants be­gan set­tling in San Jose as early as the 19th century, how­ever, Chi­nese Amer­i­cans’ po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence has al­ways been limited here,” he said.

Chu said it was sad to men­tion the Chi­nese Ex­clu­sion Act, which was passed by Congress in 1882 last­ing 60 years and was the first and only federal law in US his­tory that re­stricted a sin­gle group of people from en­ter­ing the US and de­nied them nat­u­ral­iza­tion.

“Be­cause of this tragic his­tory, we should use our right to vote to make our voice heard in govern­ment,” he said.

Chu cred­its his first ma­jor ac­com­plish­ment in boost­ing Chi­nese- Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion to his in­volve­ment in the Asian Law Al­liance (ALA), a non­profit that pro­vides le­gal ser­vices to the Asian and Pa­cific Is­lan­der com­mu­ni­ties of Santa Clara County.

Chu and the ALA played a key role in mak­ing bal­lots avail­able in Chi­nese in Santa Clara County, which Chu said made a big dif­fer­ence in get­ting more Chi­nese Amer­i­cans to vote.

“That was only the first step,” he said. “Get­ting those people to ac­tu­ally vote is the hard part.”

Those ex­pe­ri­ences made Chu start think­ing about be­com­ing a pol­icy maker.

“I be­lieve that the govern­ment should be a re­flec­tion of the people,” he said. “Given the large num­ber of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans here, the group should have their own rep­re­sen­ta­tives in govern­ment.”

“In 2004, we had our first Viet­namese- Amer­i­can coun­cilmem­ber in San Jose,” said Chu. “The his­tory of Viet­namese im­mi­gra­tion to the US is very short com­pared to the Chi­nese, but they were able to have a councilman in the US’ 10th-largest city in such a short time. That got me go­ing.”

The fact that Chi­nese were the sec­ond- largest Asian- Amer­i­can eth­nic group in San Jose but had no rep­re­sen­ta­tion on the city coun­cil made Chu de­cide to run. How­ever, his first foray into pol­i­tics ended in fail­ure when he was de­feated by cur­rent San Jose mayor Chuck Reed for the coun­cil seat in 2000.

Chu said the first elec­toral de­feat only ig­nited his fight­ing spirit, adding that he learned from his ex­pe­ri­ence and has won six elec­tions since.

Chu said his mis­sion to get Chi­nese Amer­i­cans more in­volved in pol­i­tics has never faded.

“I re­cruit three to five Chi­nese-Amer­i­can in­terns in my of­fice ev­ery year, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage in pol­i­tics. Ninety per­cent of my em­ploy­ees are Asian,” Chu said.

Chu said he is cur­rently pre­par­ing to run for Cal­i­for­nia State As­sem­bly District 25, rep­re­sent­ing Alviso, Ber­ryessa, Mil­pi­tas, Ne­wark, North San Jose, Santa Clara and South Fre­mont.

“Chi­nese Amer­i­cans’ con­tri­bu­tion to the econ­omy


•1952 Born in Tai­wan •1976 Ar­rives in US en­ter­ing Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Northridge for grad­u­ate study in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing •1978 Mi­cro-pro­gram­mer, IBM •1989 Pres­i­dent and owner, Ocean Har­bor Chi­nese Restau­rant •2002 Board of Trustees, Ber­ryessa Union School District •2007 San Jose city coun­cilmem­ber, District 4 and tech­nol­ogy is ob­vi­ous, but their po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence is far be­hind,” he said. “I think it is a cri­sis. We pay lots of taxes but have lit­tle rep­re­sen­ta­tion.”

Chu said District 25 is home to the sec­ond largest Asian- Amer­i­can pop­u­la­tion in Cal­i­for­nia. “There was no other Asian-Amer­i­can can­di­date for this po­si­tion,” he said. “I think I need to step up to give it a try.”

Chu said he is con­fi­dent of win­ning since he “is a cal­cu­lated risk taker”.

“I ex­pect one day sig­nif­i­cant num­bers of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans will show up at the bal­lot box, sig­nif­i­cant enough to af­fect the out­come of elec­tions. Then we may have a Chi­nese-Amer­i­can pres­i­dent,” he said.


San Jose City Coun­cilmem­ber Kansen Chu holds a cam­paign handout in Ber­ryessa, San Jose.

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