Utah lawmaker takes earnest approach to politics

By LINDA DENG in Seattle | | Updated: 2017-04-01 00:06

Utah lawmaker takes earnest approach to politics

Karen Kwan, a Democrat elected to the Utah House of Representatives in November, is the first Chinese-American lawmaker from the western US state. Provided to China Daily

She is a mother of three beautiful daughters, a university psychology instructor and now a state lawmaker trying to make a difference in the community.

Karen Kwan, a Democrat who represents Taylorsville, became Utah’s first Chinese-American lawmaker in last November’s election.

"When I was campaigning, it was really important that I stayed true to myself, that everything I did was rooted in good intentions and in the belief that we as a community could always strive to do better and to be better for each other," Kwan told China Daily recently.

"Face-to-face time with my constituents was also something I placed a lot of value on," she said. "If I was going to represent my community and truly be able to serve them, I needed to get to know them and find out what was most important to them and to their families.

"I had a phenomenal team with me every step of the way. The love, time and support that were given to me by my volunteers, specifically the members of Utah’s Chinese community, played a large part in my election. I surrounded myself with like-minded people who felt strongly about education, senior issues, economic growth, healthcare and public safety."

An ancestor of Kwan’s worked on the railroads in the US 150 years ago, and she is very proud of her Chinese heritage.

"Chinese culture is rich in history and traditions. It is very much of who I am. I hope that I honor his legacy, borne out of great sacrifices, as the first Chinese-American woman elected to the Utah State House of Representatives," she said.

Utah lawmaker takes earnest approach to politics
Kwan said that "Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. Our most effective influence right now is our vote. We are in a unique place right now because of our growing numbers. We have the ability as a community to swing elections and to really have our voices heard."

She believes that Asian Americans are growing more vocal and confident of their own identities and backgrounds.

"There is a growing number of Asian Americans who are becoming politically involved. Just look at my campaign, for example, it was a first for many of my Asian-American volunteers. A lot of them have never worked on a campaign before, but there are issues like immigration, income equality, healthcare and education that have compelled Asian Americans to become involved.

"We also have organizations like APIA Vote, OCA, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and many others who are doing outreach and whose main focus is to engage Asian Americans," she said.

"Most of these organizations are broken up into chapters. There are a lot of opportunities for organizing and leadership training. Attend meetings for whichever party you identify with and then start volunteering, work on a campaign and then get your family and friends involved."

Kwan began serving the community at a young age.

"My father has ties with the community, and we think we should not just care about the family but work for a better community for all the people," Kwan said.

Last month, Kwan presented a resolution to recognize the 2017 Chinese Lunar New Year and the Utahans who celebrate it. Kwan’s resolution would bring that celebration to Utah and recognize not only the holiday, but also the contributions of Asian Americans in the state.

"We have about 45,000 Utahans here who represent communities who celebrate Lunar New Year," Kwan told the House Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. "There are 4,500 Asian-owned businesses here in Utah, with sales over $1 billion, who employ more than 12,000 people."

Kwan detailed the contributions of Asian-Americans in more than 150 years of Utah history, including the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the driving of the golden spike at Promontory Point.

Now Kwan is working on bills that help working families.


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