To celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we asked some of our Young Elected Officials network members to reflect on how their backgrounds have influenced and improved their leadership, and about their experience as part of the Asian American or Pacific Islander communities.
Our first conversation was with Rep. Sam Park, Georgia State Representative for House District 101, in Gwinnett County. The interview below was lightly edited.
My Korean American identity was important in making the decision to run for office. As a son of immigrants, as a grandson of refugees from the Korean War, I was often reminded of how we need to fight to preserve the American Dream and ensure that the opportunities my family has had continue for the next generation.
What inspired me to run for office was my mother. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the hardship and struggle she faced taught me firsthand that access to health care is a matter of life or death. So that compelled me to stand up and fight to ensure that every Georgian would have access to health care and be given a fighting chance.
As a Korean American candidate on the campaign trail, it’s been both challenging and rewarding. It was challenging at times because I think there are many folks in my diverse district who had never seen an Asian American candidate run before, and so for some of the voters in my district, there was a question of viability and whether or not I could accomplish what I was seeking to do. It’s also been challenging to serve as the only Korean American legislator in my state’s House as well, although I’m very happy to have five other Asian-American colleagues now, thanks to the 2020 elections. That said, it has been incredibly rewarding to serve, and it’s been an opportunity to ensure that the Korean American community has a seat at the table, and to help inspire Korean American voters to turn out with the understanding that their government does look like them and reflects their concerns and values.
Being Korean American makes me a better elected official because I think it allows me to be more empathetic and understanding of minority communities who may sometimes be overlooked or marginalized. Having that understanding, and coming from the background that I come from, provides me with a greater understanding overall, especially when discussing legislation.
I absolutely think we need more Asian American elected officials to serve at all levels of government, not just to ensure that our communities have a seat at the table in the halls of power, but also to continue to inspire Asian American voters across the country to use the power that they have and to vote in every single election. In Georgia in this past election, we saw a historic turnout amongst Asian Americans, and it’s not mere coincidence that we now have five Asian American elected officials serving in our state legislature.
It’s important for the next generation of Americans to lean in and use the power they have by voting in every single election, at all levels of government, to protect and strengthen our democracy, which gives us the freedom and opportunities to ensure that our country continues to live up to its founding values of liberty, equality, and justice for all who call this country home.