Photo courtesy of TheHill
As a young girl, I spent hours scrutinizing my features, which strayed far from the “American” standard of blonde hair and blue eyes. I had always noticed an apparent lack of representation in virtually every career I hoped to pursue. There was always a stark absence of people who looked like me in these fields: especially politics.
My interest in politics stems from my elementary school days. I was fascinated by our social studies units, and I remember the feeling of returning home each day to recount all the knowledge I had gathered to my parents. When I was in middle school, I developed a keen interest in American history, when my teacher handed us cut-outs of the American presidents and introduced us to the 2016 candidates. I read countless history books in the library and took political science courses outside of school. At home, I watched documentaries and news channels featuring political commentators, learning about the intricacies of our government.
Vividly, I remember the first time politics truly impacted me. On a winter night in my freshman year of high school, I approached a podium overlooking the San Jose City Council. Cameras flashed, and applause rippled through the room. The world seemed to stand still as I delivered my hand-crafted speech, using my own voice to advocate for issues that mattered the most to me.
That night, I felt like I genuinely mattered. There are millions of voices in our country, but I felt like mine was being heard. I believed my involvement had the potential to make a positive difference, even if it was just on a local level.
In essence, politics is a way to amplify the voices of the people in the country like me, including those who share the same narratives, cultures and struggles I do.
Politics dictates the path our country takes, as well as our individual lives. Citizens hold the power to influence multiple facets of our government and the laws that govern us. Through crafting new legislation, advocating for change and safeguarding our multitude of rights, political leaders have the power to make a difference.
This is also why representation in the political arena matters, especially for people like me. We need people who share the same backgrounds as we do to represent us as one collective community. We need people who understand the struggles we face to fight for our rights.
The Asian American and Pacific Islander community is among the fastest growing demographic groups in the U.S, but it is the least represented in the political sphere, according to a report compiled by the Reflective Democracy Campaign. In elected office, Asian Americans are underrepresented by a factor of -85%. In comparison, white Americans are overrepresented by a factor of +46%, with respect to their population.
This must change — and it can, with one step at a time. As a young girl, I may not have discovered many Asian American political leaders who inspired me to follow in their footsteps or encouraged me to chase my dreams, but I strive to be that person for the thousands of children in both my community and beyond.
I am hopeful many of my Asian American peers will uncover the courage to chase their own dreams when they know they are not alone. We can inspire those with the same backgrounds as us to run for office, leading to greater representation.
Ultimately, this is what politics means to me: a chance to shape our world into a better place for not only my generation, but the generations that follow.