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'It's really important that we have greater representation,' says first Asian American woman elected to Michigan Legislature

senator stephanie chang michigan
Office of Senator Stephanie Chang
/
Courtesy
State Senator Stephanie Chang is the first Asian American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature. She represents Wayne County, which includes Detroit.

May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the cultures, identities and contributions of Asian Americans.

Today, it's the fastest-growing demographic in the U.S. and yet 19 states do not have a single AAPI lawmaker.

State Senator Stephanie Chang became the first Asian American woman elected to the Michigan State Legislature in 2014.

Chang represents part of Wayne County, which includes Detroit and Downriver.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with Chang to discuss the most pressing issues among the AAPI community, plus representation in politics.

Interview Highlights

On how the rise in Anti-Asian discrimination has affected her time in office

So, I've been in office for a little over seven years now. And hate crimes are not a new thing. And so this is something where as an elected official, I very much have been doing as much as I can to speak out against hate crimes and speak out against some of the really harmful rhetoric that has been out there in terms of, you know, the "China virus," "Chinese flu," things like that. ... So, I think it's brought about a resurgence and activism in the Asian American community and, as a public servant, definitely see that I have an important role to play.

On the biggest issue facing Asian Americans in Michigan

Some of the issues that we definitely see in the Asian American community that may have a specific lens that we have, is obviously around education, you know, in the wake of all the anti-Asian hate. I've had so many conversations with parents and educators and community leaders in the Asian American community who have said, “Why are our children not learning about Asian American history in schools?” and they want to learn that history. They want to, you know, it shouldn't be until college that they start to be able to learn that history. If they choose to take an Asian American Studies class, it should be something that every student is learning.

On the future of Asian American representation in politics

I think that we honestly see across the whole country, more and more Asian Americans of all different ethnic groups running for office for the first time, and it's very, very exciting. We know it's not easy, but it's really, really important that we have greater representation, not just for numbers, but really so that we can have a stronger voice and make sure that certain issues that affect the Asian American community don't get overlooked.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: May is Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a time to celebrate the cultures, identities and contributions of Asian Americans.

Today, they are the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and yet 19 states do not have a single AAPI lawmaker.

State Senator Stephanie Chang, in 2014, became the first Asian American woman elected to the Michigan Legislature.

Chang represents part of Wayne County and joins me now to discuss the most pressing issues among the AAPI community, plus representation in politics.

Senator Chang, thanks for being here.

Senator Stephanie Chang: Thank you so much for having me, and happy Asian American Heritage Month.

Schellong: Thank you. How has the rise in discrimination against Asian Americans impacted you during your time in office?

Chang: So, I've been in office for a little over seven years now. And, you know, hate crimes are not a new thing. And so this is something where, you know, as an elected official, I very much have been doing as much as I can to speak out against hate crimes and speak out against some of the really harmful rhetoric that has been out there in terms of, the "China virus," "Chinese flu," things like that.

And also really proud of just all of the amazing Asian American activists and groups that have been putting together rallies and events, and there's been a lot of productive, really good conversations about teaching Asian American history in schools and many other issues. So, I think it's brought about a resurgence and activism in the Asian American community and as a public servant, I definitely see that I have an important role to play.

Schellong: Last year you sponsored a resolution to condemn hateful acts against Asian Americans and to encourage Michiganders to report these hate crimes to the proper authorities. What’s the status of that bill and what’s coming next?

Chang: Yeah, so we did adapt Senate Resolution 30 unanimously last year in the Michigan Senate, and then Ranjeev Puri, he also had a resolution in the state house that also did get adopted, I think that same day.

So that resolution did pass, it was very much focused on condemning anti-Asian hate, hate crimes, hate incidents, discrimination. But, unfortunately, we also know it's really important that we get Asian Americans and any group that is targeted by hate crimes to report these incidents to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, if it's discrimination, or if it's a hate crime to report it to the Attorney General's Hate Crimes Unit. So as much as we can do to promote those efforts, the better so that we can make sure there's accountability, and just continue to spread awareness.

Schellong: What do you view as the biggest issue facing Asian Americans here in Michigan?

Chang: Some of the issues that we definitely see in the Asian American community that may have a specific lens that we have, is obviously around education, you know, in the wake of all the anti-Asian hate. I've had so many conversations with parents and educators and community leaders in the Asian American community who have said, “Why are our children not learning about Asian American history in schools?” and they want to learn that history.

They want to, you know, it shouldn't be until college that they start to be able to learn that history. If they choose to take an Asian American Studies class, it should be something that every student is learning.

They should know what happened to Vincent Chin. They should know about Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama, and Philip Veracruz, and all of the amazing figures that we have, that have helped shaped our country to be what it is. So, I think it's really important that, that we keep talking about that.

Schellong: What does the future look like for Asian American representation in state politics?

Chang: So I'm really excited because you know, right now, so, I was the first Asian American woman elected to the Michigan Legislature. So excited that we have Padma Kuppa, who is the second Asian American woman elected to the Michigan Legislature.

And in the Senate, in particular, I'm really hopeful that you know, this year, we will bring Padma over to the Senate, as well as Sam Singh, and so we'll actually go hopefully, you know, we're going to work as hard as we can to go from one Asian American to three in the Michigan Senate, which would be really historic.

And I think that we honestly see across the whole country, more and more Asian Americans of all different ethnic groups running for office for the first time, and it's very, very exciting. We know it's not easy, but it's really, really important that we have greater representation, not just for numbers, but really so that we can have a stronger voice and make sure that certain issues that affect the Asian American community don't get overlooked.

Schellong: What advice would you give to young Asian Americans who are looking to get into a career in politics?

Chang: Just jump in. You know, I think that for those who are thinking about getting involved, find a campaign for a candidate that you support, find an organization that is working on an issue that you are passionate about, become a precinct delegate, you know, there's so many ways to get involved, write a letter to the editor, contact your lawmaker, there's so many ways to be involved.

And you know, we definitely want to encourage Asian Americans of all generations to get engaged in our democracy and in civic life.

And I just think that's so so important, especially right now, because I think that the Asian American community is kind of in this moment, where we, if we can continue our activism, continue our push for greater representation, I think we can really start to see a difference that we can make in people's lives.

Schellong: State Senator Stephanie Chang represents a portion of Wayne County and is the first Asian American woman elected to the state Legislature.

Senator Chang, thanks for joining me.

Chang: Thank you so much for having me.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

Megan Schellong is the local host and producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.
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