The only point of reference I could make of our visit to the capitol in Sacramento was a brief few weeks I spent interning at the capitol in Oklahoma, Oklahoma City. There are stark differences, the most important of which is that in Sacramento, I was astonished by the supportive and encouraging nature of everyone we met. Whether it be assemblymembers, lobbyists, or the staff at restaurants, everyone genuinely seemed excited to offer up their city to us for a brief two days.
Two speakers that stood out to me throughout the 48 hours were Kimberly Chen and Mandy Lee. Both were Asian women lobbyists who were proudly LGBTQ+, an identity I know from personal experience takes a lot of courage to embrace. They both spoke with frankness and an easy humor about their jobs, and for the first time, I found myself interested in lobbying. This was never something I had interest in, for I believed the popular notion that lobbyists mostly worked for their own self-interest or the interests of corporations. Yet, these two women found that they could do good work for their communities, they could do advocacy work. A point they made that particularly resonated with me was when they said they could do work in public service but also remain financially secure. Being in the social sciences, this is something that’s always concerned me. “You guys are young. Try everything. Do it all,” Mandy Lee ended with, and this is something that I strive to do. Often, I’ve become incredibly single-minded about my goals, to the point where I shut myself out from other opportunities, but slowly I’ve opened myself up to the idea of doing more. My interest in Asian Pacific Islander American studies, for example, is a topic I never would have had the courage to explore without CAUSE and amazing speakers like Mandy Lee and Kimberly Chen.
When we met with Assemblymember David Chiu, I was taken aback by his youth and charisma. As he spoke, he emphasized the importance of recognizing how far the APIA community has come, but also how far we have yet to go. He said, “We are still carving our identities as API leaders and breaking the stereotypes,” and it was this particular emphasis on breaking the stereotype that resonated with me. There are so many stereotypes that are befallen on us as Asian Americans, and when you add the identities of being a woman, a first generation college student and immigrant, it seems like all my identity ever comes to be is a conglomeration of impossibilities. Yet, David Chiu’s message that there are so many worthwhile things to fight for – immigration, health care, criminal justice – instilled in me that hardship comes with breaking stereotypes. Assemblymember Chiu broke the stereotypes even within his own family, and I hope to do the same in the future. Though there are now the highest number of API in the history of the California legislature, we must continue the pipeline of leadership and public service. I feel grateful to have had the opportunity to visit the Capitol, but furthermore, I thank CAUSE for continuing to give us chances like this to see public service in action.