By Joy Guo, Contributor
On Saturday, October 7, 2017, the Twin City Civic Chinese American Forum had held its sixteenth public event, a talk and discussion about civic leadership, cohosted by UCA, Beijing University Twin City Alumni and sponsored by the CLF Foundation.
The Forum was set to discuss how to inspire Chinese and Asian Americans to participate in civic endeavors and public service. Forum attendees strongly agreed that Chinese Americans should be more inclusive, bipartisan, compassionate and respectful with each other in public and civic life; Community leaders should inspire Chinese Americans with different socio-economic backgrounds to engage in all kinds of civic activities. These approaches are ultimately the only ways leading our community forward.
More than a hundred Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans (Vietnamese and Hmong people) came to attend the event and discussed.
The forum was organized by the Peking University Alumni Association (PKUAA-MN), co-hosted by the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAAM), Minnesota Chinse Physicians Association, Asian American Center for Excellence, Minnesota Chinese Coalition, the Tsinghua University Alumni Association, and Chinese for Social Justice. This is the second of the four UCA (United Chinese Americans) civic leadership forums, sponsored by the CLF Foundation for the fall season of 2017. The first UCA CLF was successfully held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on September 30, 2017, just one week before.
Nine speakers from the grassroots, city, county, state and federal level government were invited to give a talk. They are federal judge of Minnesota, state senators, legal scholars, former Chinese city council member, former candidate for state representative, and leaders of local community organizations. During the discussion, they explained how the judicial and legislative branches of government of Minnesota work; they shared their experience of public service, and discussed the topics that Chinese and Asian American communities are most interested in and concerned about.
Supported by Chinese American Association of Minnesota and its President Mr. Yan Bingwen, this forum is part of a series of mid-autumn festival celebration in Twin City, MN. President of the Alumni Association of Peking University Jennifer Huang gave the opening remarks, while former president of the Alumni Association of Peking University Joy Guo and Gloria Liao, co-hosted the forum.
Keynote speaker, honorable Tony Leung spoke on the social impact of the interaction of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United States government. He immigrated from Hong Kong at a tender age of 6. In 1994, he became the first state judge of Asian descent in the history of Minnesota. In 2011, he became the first Asian American federal judge in the the state of Minnesota.
Judge Leung outlined how the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the United States works, the interaction among them and the significant social impact of such interaction of the three branches.
For example, when talking about the "negative interaction" between the judicial and executive branches, Judge Leong cited the well-known Supreme Court case of 1832, where Justice Marshall decided to stop the implementation of the Indian Migration Act, which forced the Indians to move west, and then President Andrew Jackson said "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him
"This is a negative example, “Judge Leung said with emotion, "Fortunately, with cases like this (referring to the court decision), the US has laid the foundation of the independent judiciary! Each one of us should safeguard the sanctity of judiciary, follow the procedural justice."
Judge Leung further stated that racial issues have always been the major problems in American justice. He described several major cases of racial issues over the past hundred years, from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, to the 1942 executive order enforcing the encampment of Japanese-Americans, from the 1999 Wen-ho Lee case to the recent Xiaofen Chen and Xiaoxing Xi’s cases. These cases have had profound social and historic impact on American society, and deeply affected everyone involved in them. As Chinese Americans, Judge Leong believes, we should pay more attention to this kind of
"I am very happy to see many young faces in this forum. You will probably become public speakers and election candidates of public office in the future.", he told those young people, "civic engagement is to understand and become familiar with the process and public office, participate in the election campaign, follow the rules, make you voices heard, and eventually to change our lives.
At the forum, state senators vividly demonstrated the legislative process. The attendees greatly enjoyed the demonstration by the two senators.
The “actors” are Minnesota state senators Roger Chamberlain and Carolyn D. Laine. Although they came from different parties and they candidly voiced their different views in many issues, they however stood together, complimented each other, respected each other and "acted" perfectly as a team.
Their presentation, let the audience experience and gain first hand knowledge about the interaction among the public, the House and Senate members, various committees, lobbyists, and the president during the American legislative process. They showcased the eight steps of the legislation:
1. Members of the legislature put forward a legislative proposal;
2. The Senate or the House put the bill into an agenda;
3. The Senate or the House consider a motion;
4. The proposal is submitted to the other House for consideration if passed in the originating chamber;
5. After the examination in the other House, if there are amendments to the bill, then the revised bill is submitted to the original House for review and vote;
6. After review by the original House, the bill is again submitted to the other House for consideration;
7. After the adoption of the bill by both chambers, it is submitted to the President to be signed into law;
8. If the President refuses to sign it, the bill can go into force by two-thirds affirmative votes in each of the houses, then the signature of the president is not needed.
Steps 5 and 6 can be infinitely repeated until the two chambers reach an agreement, and pass the bill. This process sometimes takes a year or years, with endless amendments, multiple hearings, debates, and deliberations. There can be many competing interest groups, and there can be partisan squabbles. It probably is an inefficient way to make law, yet people strictly adhere to the legal procedures to fully ensure that power operates under the sun with checks and balances. The majority rules, but the minority is also protected. This is the cornerstone of American democracy.
The elected representatives share the story of political participation. Current board member of the Asia-Pacific Council of Minnesota Zoe Zhi, is a former Council woman in Lakeland Shores City. She shared her unique experience in the small city:
When Zoe first came to this small city four years ago, she was the only Asian immigrant. At the time, the city was preparing for council election, she thought maybe she could do something different that she never tried before. She decided to sign up to become a candidate for city council members and to her surprise Zoe got elected! She became a very small city’s public servant, a truly grassroots experience.
"This taught me that if you want to serve the public through political participation, you must first put your name on the ballot, otherwise there is no chance." Zoe said, "There are only 4 members in our city council. It is as small as a sparrow, but it possesses all its vital organs there, as the Chinese saying goes. We each must be part of the team and it takes a lot of work together. All these offered me a lot of learning opportunities to serve the public”
What impressed her most were a couple of tough decisions that the City Council was to make. Once, the council discussed how to maintain a retirement account for retirees in the fire department and to ensure that the retirement funds were not affected by the decline in the stock market. However, on the other hand, the city council had to worry about the risk of retirement fund management, and the limited budget of the city government. The council had several discussions before the decision was made.
"A lot of times, it is not an issue of right or wrong, it is a necessity to balance the interests of all parties, to find common ground through communications, negotiations and consultations." Zoe said. Now she has joined the Asian-Pacific Council of Minnesota as a board member. Her foremost hope is to let the Chinese community understand the organization, put forth proposals that concern the Chinese community through this platform, participate in the legislative process of the state, so that Chinese Americans engage in civic and public affairs more effectively.
Mali Marvin shared the story of her two campaigns for the Minnesota House of representatives. Nudged by her husband Robert Marvin, Mali, a first-generation mainland Chinese immigrant, participated in the campaign while her husband ran for the state senator. In a district with only 1% Chinese, where no Chinese ever ran for public office, Mali saw the niche in her political participation and potential for success, "We Chinese Americans are smart and persevering, we are not only Chinese, we are Americans. We can make more contributions to this country.”
With the enthusiasm and desire, she campaigned twice for state legislature. She became “thick skinned” for fund-raising, as she laughed at herself. Although the campaigns were not quite successful, she is very grateful of the unique experience. "Because it taught myself a lesson: to say what is in my mind. Take my company, for example, I often notice that African American employees speak out when they feel they are unfairly treated; but for Chinese, most of us will first reflect on our own shortcomings – we need to work harder. We are taught to think this way from a young age. Is it fair to us? Not really.”
"We Chinese Americans need to have the courage to express ourselves, to assert our own interests!" Mali excitedly used Jobs’ words to inspire Chinese friends to commit to public services and lead a new lifestyle - “Those who are crazy enough to think they can change the world usually do.”
Civic engagement, from the perspective of an outstanding Chinese community group
Social and political participation starts with civic engagement.
Dr. Li Jianming, professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota and Director of Cardiac Pacing and Electrophysiology of the Veterans Affair Medical Center, shared he extraordinary story of their 14-year public service with the Minnesota Chinese Medical Association.
The Minnesota Chinese Medical Association is one of the largest Chinese physician societies in the United States, with more than 200 Chinese American medical professionals and experts from Minnesota. Through long-term participation in community and public services, the Minnesota Chinese Medical Association not only provides a platform for communication and support for Chinese American doctors, but also it helps bridge the mainstream society and our community for a better understanding of Chinese culture and medicine. The "Minnesota Chinese Doctor's Health Center", established by the Association, has long provided free medical care for local Chinese and other ethnic groups who are not covered by medical insurance. It also organized international physician volunteers to participate in humanitarian missions in Africa and South America.
to participate in humanitarian missions in Africa and South America.
In recent years, they also established the American Chinese Heart Association, provides CPR training (cardiopulmonary resuscitation training) for the community. Two of the Chinese Americans who got certified by the CPR training, successfully rescued the lives of their two American friends.
Today, the Association has become an influential medical group in the United States. It also helps Chinese American community to build a good image in public services and in the field of philanthropy and humanitarian services. Professor Li, Jianming, former chairman of the Association, became the China Ambassadors of the American Heart Association and the Vice President of the World Chinese Cardiovascular Physicians Association. The precious public service experience through the association let him to the view that: "In my opinion, civic engagement, can be participation in political affairs, or the fight for one’s civil rights. However, civic engagement can also be realized through public services - use one's own expertise to serve and help your community. As Churchill said, ‘you make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.' "
Climb this "Gold Mountain" of Civic Engagement
“If you are not at the table, you are on the menu," said Anthony Ng, executive director of the CLF Foundation (pictured below) in his speech. For a long time, CLF Foundation is very concerned about the less than satisfactory condition of Asian community's civic engagement and political participation.
Statistics shows Asian American population is about 20 million, with over 4 million Chinese Americans. Although the Chinese Americans in the United States accounts for only 1% of the population, it however accounts for more than 20% of the Asian Americans, which is the advantage of Chinese Americans, Antony added. During the 2010 United States Census, there were a total of 17,320,856 Asian Americans, including Multiracial Americans identifying themselves as part of Asian heritage. This made Asian Americans 5.6 percent of the total American population. The largest ethnic groups represented in the census were Chinese (3.79 million)
He told the audience that the CLF Foundation puts a premium on diversity, inclusiveness, grassroots, non-partisan orientation. Its goal is to identify and train grassroots leaders, to motivate and support them in public services, to enhance the Influence of the Asian Americans in local community, to improve the political status of Asian Americans in American society. "This is our vision when we cooperate with UCA, when we cooperate with local Chinese community around the country. We need face-to-face communication, we need to understand each other, we need to put our energies together to seek breakthrough in the development of the Chinese community. We can fly further, higher when we fly together.:
At the end of the forum, president of the United Chinese Association (UCA), Haipei Shue made a comparative analysis of Chinese and Indian Americans in terms of their respective professional and political "success" and the glaring disparity between the two. Mr. Shue believes that Chinese Americans can only realize or maximize the potential of its community through civic engagement.
"In fact, It is not because of language skills that the Indian Americans are more "successful" than Chinese Americans, it is because of the relative lack of civic engagement among the Chinese community, that is the crux of the issue. We Chinese is doing well in private or family lives, many of us are personally successful, but regarding the other half of our American life - public or civic life, we have given it up by ourselves and are lagging behind Indian Americans and other ethnicity groups. How can we fully enjoy the fruit of America when we only live 50% of American life?"
He points out that Chinese culture and politics traditionally discourages its citizen to actively engage in civic and political life. Lack of civic participation also helps foster common perception of Chinese Americans as quiet or nerds, as lack of leadership, as lack communication skill, and as lack of compassion. These perceptions then have badly stereotyped and discriminated against Chinese Americans, and made many Chinese Americans feel they could not realize their full potential in this society, a vicious cycle.
“How should we do to change it? More, much more civic and political participation! As the Chinese saying goes about one's health: you take or eat whatever your body lacks of. This is the very reason that made UCA to work closely with CLF Foundation to organize these public forums." Haipei Shue ends his talk with a touching metaphor: 170 years ago, our ancestors came to the United States to mine the ‘gold mountain’; and now, to make our life whole in America and to make greater contribution to this country and this world, our generation need and must go out and climb and mine once again the "gold mountain". This time, the "gold mountain" of public service, civic engagement, and giving back. I believe we will get more richly rewarded this time than 170 years ago!
(During the question and answer session at the end of the forum, the audience raised many interesting questions, while the guest speakers gave great answers, winning several rounds of applause from the audience).
Judge Tony Leung, Senator Roger Chamberlain and Carolyn D. Laine sat throughout the sessions, listened carefully to other guests’ speeches answered questions raised by the audience, and took pictures with the attendees during the whole session of the four-hour forum. Their respect to the community, responsiveness and friendliness made great examples of what civic engagement truly means, and left a great impression on every one’s mind.
Former president of Beijing University MN Alumni, Joy Guo and current president Gloria Liao were writing Thank You cards to all guest speakers of the forum.
United Chinese Americans (UCA) is a nationwide non-profit and non-partisan federation of organizations and individuals dedicated to empowering Chinese American communities through civic participation, political engagement, heritage sharing, youth development and working for a better US-China relations, for the well-being of all Americans and this world.
Acknowledgments: Photos were kindly provided by Juanjuan Xia and Bing Huang.