Grooming the first Asian-American President

Updated: 2014-01-31 10:08

By MAY ZHOU in Houston (China Daily USA)

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International Leadership Foundation (ILF) founder and CEO Chiling Tong visited Houston recently to encourage local chapter advisors and promote ILF’s on-going mission, calling on local youth to get involved in its various leadership training programs.

With help from ILF national and Houston advisor Grace Song, Tong first made a special trip to Houston’s thriving suburb The Woodlands. “It’s important for our mission to develop in big cities, but it’s also important for us to understand the development of Chinese communities in surrounding suburbs,” Tong said.

Grooming the first Asian-American President 

Congressman Al Green along with Congresswoman Grace Meng (3rd and 2nd from left) praises initiatives from members of International Leadership Foundation (IFL) last Saturday in Houston. Others in the photo are (from right): ILF Advisor Hsu Shu-ying, IFL CEO Chiling Tong, IFL Houston Chairwoman Leeshan Birney; IFL Advisor Grace Song (left). By MAY ZHOU / CHINA DAILY 

ILF Houston chapter chairwoman Leeshan Birney hosted an event at her office to promote the foundation. Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York and Congressman Al Green of Texas also showed up to lend their support to ILF’s mission of training Asian-American leaders of the next generation.

“The business revenue of Asian communities in the US equals the total revenue of Hispanic-American, African-American and Native-American communities combined,” Tong said. “We are not strong in numbers but we are strong in economic power.”

Tong pointed out that developing economic power was the correct first step for Asian immigrants to make, but it was now time to take the next step forward and “make our voices heard”.

“If we calculate by population ratio, there should be 26 Asian-American congressmen, but in reality there are only 13 of us, and only 2 are Chinese Americans,” Tong said. “We have a long way to go and we need to get more young people involved.

“We are not encouraging everyone to enter politics,” she added. “But no matter what profession young people choose to enter, it’s important for them to understand how the government works and how to fight for their rights.”

Tong pointed out that the Chinese custom of “saving face” leads many to avoid confrontation, to instead remain quiet and polite. “Facing and dealing with confrontation is an important aspect of leadership,” she said. “We need to be able to tell others what we want and fight for it. If we keep quiet, there will be more such incidents as ‘killing all Chinese’ (referring to the Jimmy Kimmel show controversy). Our next generation must get involved in politics.”

Founded 14 years ago, the ILF now has 15 chapters nationwide and has trained thousands of Asian college students through programs such as civic fellowship, young ambassadors and various conferences.

With funds contributed by advisors, it provides internships for college students to observe and learn governmental operations up close in Washington, DC. Tong encourages Texan-Asian college students to apply for the 2014 summer program by going to, adding that the application deadline had been extended to Feb 15.

Tong said the ILF has started to see the fruits of its efforts. “A young man named Alex Wu is starting to work at the White House this year,” she said. “Another young man, Ben Chu, who is from Houston, now works in Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s office.

“We hope to see the first Asian-American President of the United State in the future,” she said.

Both Congressmen Meng and Green praised ILF’s work. Meng, as one of the only two Chinese-American Congresswomen, spoke of her own experiences, saying that even in her very ethnically diverse district, some of her constituents treated her as non-American.

“This shows the importance of why I am here, coming halfway across the country to support ILF,” Meng said. “If I can convince even 10 people to get involved in communities, politics, local civics or government entities, then I will have made this country a little bit better.”