October 3, 2012
FIRST ASIAN AMERICAN STATE REP. HONORS ASIAN HISTORY
By Stephen Skudlarek, The Daily Campus
Conn. State Representative William Tong spoke Wednesday at the University of Connecticut about Asian-American involvement in politics.
Tong, who represents the state’s 147th District of Stamford and New Canaan, was the first Asian-American to be elected to the Conn. State Legislature.
The talk was given in the Student Union theater as part of a commencement for the 2012-2013 Asian-American Heritage Observance, and was sponsored by the Asian American Cultural Center, Pan-Asian Council and Asian-American Studies Institute, among other organizations.
Tong discussed the challenges facing Asian-Americans today, particularly in the state of Connecticut.
He shared a personal experience with such obstacles. While running for the Conn. State Representative seat, Tong’s friend advised him to campaign under his wife’s name, Hotchkiss, instead of his own name.
The rationale was that this tactic would attract more of the vote this way.
Tong said he felt that this was a ridiculous idea, and decided to run under his own last name.
"You should run towards your strengths, not away from them. You are who you are. There’s no reason to hide it," he said.
Tong would later win the election for state representative in 2006, and again in 2008 and 2010.
"I thought it was great that he stuck with his heritage, regardless of what others told him. This talk was eye-opening about the problems facing Asian-Americans today," said Chris Hoang, 5th-semester pre-pharmacy Major.
During the discussion, Tong shared a number of inspirational stories about his political career and family.
Chief among these was the story of his father’s life in the United States and his refusal to give up, even under extreme circumstances.
His father’s visa expired right after he started up a Chinese food restaurant, and he was unable to have it renewed.
His father had resigned himself to the deportation, but in a last-ditch effort, he wrote a six-page letter to then-President Richard Nixon, begging him for the opportunity to stay in the country.
About a week before his father was to be deported, an INS agent arrived to deliver a letter from the Attorney General.
Nixon had received the letter and was inspired enough to cancel the deportation, allowing Tong’s father to remain in the country and continue to make a living for his family.
"My father took advantage of all that this country has to offer. He’s a great example of that. I wouldn’t be here otherwise," Tong said.
Tong said that while Asian-Americans have come a long way towards improving their standing in the United States, there is a still much more progress to be made.
"Sometimes, it’s not just that I’m excluded, I feel disempowered, and disrespected. Sometimes I feel practically invisible. And frankly, that is just unacceptable," he said.
In closing, he encouraged Asian-Americans to take an interest in politics and become more politically-involved.
"As an Asian-American, it was good to see a politician with a familiar background. I didn’t expect the talk to be as inspiring as it actually was. It was truly moving," said Dave Han, a 5th-semester psychology major.
"This was a very informative talk. Rep. Tong knew exactly how to reach the audience grab their attention, especially on such an important topic. I was particularly impressed by his speaking ability. He was so professional, it seemed like he was able to transcend the content of his speech and reach out to everyone individually. I really felt the impact of what he was saying," said Rich Kim, a 5th-semester English major.