‘Woo­ing’ Asian Amer­i­cans into pol­i­tics

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CINDY LIU in Los An­ge­les cindyliu@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

By 2025, Asian Amer­i­cans are pro­jected to be 18 per­cent of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion and com­prise more than 12 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers, ac­cord­ing to a sur­vey by the Cal­i­for­nia League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers.

Char­lie Woo, chair of the Cen­ter for Asian Amer­i­cans United for Self-Em­pow­er­ment (CAUSE), de­cided to found his or­ga­ni­za­tion 20 years ago when he no­ticed that Chi­nese im­mi­grants and Asians in gen­eral didn’t par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics as much as other mi­nor­ity eth­nic groups.

CAUSE is a non­profit, non­par­ti­san, com­mu­nity-based or­ga­ni­za­tion with a mis­sion to ad­vance the po­lit­i­cal em­pow­er­ment of the Asian Pa­cific Is­lan­der com­mu­nity through voter regis­tra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion, com­mu­nity outreach and lead­er­ship devel­op­ment.

“I al­ways re­mind peo­ple that CAUSE is small. We don’t have the re­sources to tell ev­ery Asian Amer­i­can to par­tic­i­pate in pol­i­tics. But through lead­ers, we can,” said Woo. “My phi­los­o­phy is to in­vest in our fu­ture lead­ers by in­vest­ing in po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in the younger gen­er­a­tion. They will im­pact their peers.”

To fos­ter fu­ture lead­ers, Woo started the Lead­er­ship Academy In­tern­ship in 1993. The nine-week summer in­tern­ship in­volves stu­dents in the leg­isla­tive process.

Be­sides Asian-Amer­i­can stu­dents, the in­tern­ship en­rolls African-Amer­i­can and Latino stu­dents as well. “We have a firm be­lief in di­ver­sity,” Woo said.

Stu­dents are sent to work di­rectly with the state leg­is­la­tors and city coun­cil­men. In­terns also re­ceive lead­er­ship train­ing from elected officials and com­mu­nity lead­ers and join learn­ing ses­sions with State Assem­bly mem­bers and Sen­a­tors in Sacra­mento, get­ting a first-hand, in­side per­spec­tive on how the govern­ment works.

Stu­dents meet Dolly Gee, the first Chi­nese-Amer­i­can woman judge. “All pi­o­neers like Dolly Gee are role mod­els to young Asian Amer­i­cans. They re­ally mo­ti­vate them to be­come fu­ture lead­ers,” said Woo.

In 2012, Woo started the Civic En­gage­ment Lead­er­ship Fel­low­ship (CELF) to train Chi­nese grad­u­ate stu­dents to be­come the Chi­nese com­mu­nity lead­ers of to­mor­row. In May this year, six mas­ter’s stu­dents from USC grad­u­ated from this in­tern­ship.

Chi­nese grad­u­ate stu­dents of­ten find it hard to find the in­tern­ship in pol­i­tics that is re­quired by many uni­ver­si­ties, Woo ex­plained. “It is our job to cre­ate the op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Chi­nese stu­dents,” he said.

Woo also helps Chi­nese grad­u­ate stu­dents dis­cover their im­por­tant role in the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity of the US in gen­eral. “We ask them to de­fine po­lit­i­cal is­sues that most af­fect the Chi­nese com­mu­nity, then to use their lan­guage skills to trans­late these is­sues, and then to ed­u­cate new im­mi­grants,” Woo said.

Ear­lier this year, some Asian-Amer­i­can state leg­is­la­tors, all Democrats, an­gered fel­low party mem­bers when they op­posed a mea­sure that would have asked vot­ers to re­store af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion at Cal­i­for­nia’s pub­lic uni­ver­si­ties. They had come un­der in­tense pres­sure from Chi­nese Amer­i­cans who feared it would make it harder for their chil­dren to

My phi­los­o­phy is to in­vest in our fu­ture lead­ers by in­vest­ing in po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion in the younger gen­er­a­tion. They will im­pact their peers.” CHAR­LIE WOO CHAIR OF THE CEN­TER FOR ASIAN AMER­I­CANS UNITED FOR SELF­EM­POW­ER­MENT (CAUSE)

get into Cal­i­for­nia uni­ver­si­ties.

“I think Asian-Amer­i­can leg­is­la­tors have taken a bum rap,” Woo said. “The com­mu­nity pres­sure on them was so great.”

CAUSE helped the AsianAmer­i­can com­mu­nity voice their con­cerns in an ap­pro­pri­ate way. “I think Asian Amer­i­cans have been very vo­cal about their feel­ings, but that is not enough,” said Woo.

CAUSE also worked with the Jewish com­mu­nity, who had sim­i­lar con­cerns about the af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion de­bate. “They are vic­tims in his­tory too and they over­came it,” Woo said. “By work­ing with the Jewish com­mu­nity, the pub­lic could bet­ter un­der­stand why Asians were up­set and what we were go­ing through.”

“It’s not just about protest­ing and be­ing loud. It’s about a strate­gic po­lit­i­cal pro­ce­dure. It’s about how your con­cerns are log­i­cally and ap­pro­pri­ately ex­pressed,” Woo said.

CAUSE suc­ceeded in redi­rect­ing the Chi­nese fam­i­lies’ emo­tional re­ac­tion into a po­lit­i­cal process by re­fram­ing the con­ver­sa­tion, giv­ing the pub­lic a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of Asian Amer­i­cans’ po­si­tion.

“The Asian Amer­i­can com­mu­nity needs to get the word out that we are not op­posed to di­ver­sity. How­ever, to achieve di­ver­sity, each stu­dent should be judged on their own merit. Asian stu­dents and fam­i­lies should not sac­ri­fice their own in­di­vid­ual rights be­cause of another Asian fam­ily’s achieve­ment.”

Woo em­pha­sized the im­por­tance lead­ers un­der­stand­ing their com­mu­nity. To Woo, there are three im­por­tant qual­i­ties of a good Asian-Amer­i­can politi­cian: First, he or she has to be the best in his or her own pro­fes­sion; se­condly, he or she has to have strong ties with the Asian com­mu­nity and un­der­stand the com­mu­nity needs; and thirdly, he or she has to be able to work with out­side com­mu­ni­ties.

“For each of these three qual­i­fi­ca­tions, we need to work twice as hard be­cause we are a mi­nor­ity here in the US,” Woo said.

Thanks to Woo’s per­sonal en­gage­ment, sup­port to Asian po­lit­i­cal lead­ers has strength­ened through CAUSE’s ef­forts.

Woo was the only Asian Amer­i­can to chair the 122- year- old Los An­ge­les Area Cham­ber of Com­merce. He pre­vi­ously served on the Cal­i­for­nia Com­mis­sion on Asian and Pa­cific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Af­fairs and the State Com­mis­sion for Eco­nomic devel­op­ment.

He is cur­rently on the boards of Pitzer Col­lege, the LA Po­lice Foun­da­tion and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Pub­lic Ra­dio, and was pre­vi­ously on the boards of the LA Li­brary Foun­da­tion, Town Hall Los An­ge­les, LA Inc, LA’s Best, the Amer­i­can Red Cross LA Chap­ter, YMCA Metropoli­tan Los An­ge­les and the UCLA School of Pub­lic Af­fairs. He is a mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee of 100 and the Pa­cific Coun­cil of In­ter­na­tional Pol­icy.

“Twenty-one years ago, of the 80 State Assem­bly mem­bers and 40 State Sen­a­tors in the State Leg­is­la­ture, there was no Asian Amer­i­can,” Woo said. “That’s changed: Now 12 serve in the State Assem­bly and Se­nate, mak­ing up 10 per­cent of the whole. Asian Amer­i­cans also make up a ma­jor­ity of the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court.

“Now Asian Amer­i­cans have a voice,” said Woo. “And our younger gen­er­a­tion is go­ing to make our pres­ence even stronger.”

Woo came to the US from Hong Kong at the age of 17 to at­tend UCLA and earned a mas­ter’s de­gree. He and his wife live in Ran­cho Pa­los Verdes. His two sons at­tend col­lege at Stan­ford and UCBerke­ley.

Woo has re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards and recog­ni­tions, in­clud­ing: the Pin­na­cle of Lead­er­ship Award from the Los An­ge­les Cham­ber of Com­merce, the World Trade Hall of Fame Award from the World Trade Cen­ter As­so­ci­a­tion, and the Life Time Achieve­ment Award from the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Chi­nese Lawyers As­so­ci­a­tion.


Char­lie Woo is chair of the Cen­ter for Asian Amer­i­cans United for Self-Em­pow­er­ment (CAUSE).

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