“Redefining What Leadership Looks Like”: What Michelle Wu’s Victory Means for Representation

Wu recognized the symbolic significance of her campaign when she spoke to reporters on Tuesday morning.

“Growing up, I never thought that I would be, could or should be involved in politics,” Wu said. “I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the spaces of power.”

“We are redefining what leadership looks like,” she added, “and we are pushing for every person to be a part of this conversation.”

Protected by Senator Elizabeth Warren, her professor at Harvard Law School, Wu built her political personality not on ethnic identity but on a progressive vision and the building of a broad coalition. In the past four election cycles, she has dominated city council races with strong citywide victories, and she has connected with black and Latino voters since her first campaign, said Roger Lau, deputy executive director. of the Democratic National Committee, who noted that she is even fluent. in Spanish.

“I think the Chinese community and the Asian community are incredibly proud to see her do everything she does,” Lau said. “But she made a truly conscious effort to be an elected representative of all those who are underserved, underrepresented, who have not had a seat at the table.”

Yet his victory has special resonance for Asian Americans who seek to strengthen their representation and assert their political strength, many said.

“Finally, we have an Asian woman who represents us,” said Rosemary Lam, a woman in her sixties who emigrated from Hong Kong and grew up in Chinatown in the 1960s. really positive emotion, especially for our younger generation. They see the changes.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, only five Asian American women have ever served as mayors of one of the country’s 100 largest cities, all in California. Three are currently in post, along with three Asian American men.

The federal situation is only slightly better. Vice President Kamala Harris made history last year as the first South Asian person elected to the post (as well as the first woman and first black person). The US Senate includes two Asian-American women – Democrats Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii – and there are seven members of the AAPI House.

In the Massachusetts legislature, women of Asian descent have gained ground, with two elections last year bringing the number to five.

Wu’s victory in Boston is all the more notable given the city’s tortured race relations history and its political record of electing only white males.

“It puzzles me, for a city as diverse as Boston, it took as long for someone other than a white man to get into this office,” said Angie Liou, executive director of Asian Community Development Corporation.

Asian Americans – a diverse group spanning different ethnicities – make up only a fraction of Boston’s overall electoral bloc, about 6 percent of the electoral population. But advocates have laid the groundwork for this work for decades, and believe Wu’s victory has the potential to inspire more young Asian Americans who are already considering political engagement.

“There were a lot of people who became politically inspired when Barack Obama won, but organizing the black community didn’t start with that,” said Lisette Le, executive director of VietAID.

“We still have a long way to go, but people are starting to understand that within the Asian community there are also different voices,” said Suzanne Lee, President Emeritus of the Chinese Progressive Association and former unsuccessful candidate for the. city ​​council representing Chinatown. . Finally, the community is gaining more attention as a potentially powerful political power, she said.

“There are more campaigns calling on us,” she said.

More Asian Americans participate in the political process when they see candidates with similar ethnic and racial backgrounds, said Raymond Partolan, national field director for APIA Vote, an Asian-American voter organizing group and Pacific Islanders.

“It’s a catalyst for voter turnout,” he said. “We’re also seeing more people who are just willing to volunteer in campaigns – even non-partisan civic engagement participation happening in other areas: volunteering, giving.”

Such support was evident in Wu’s fundraising, as many more non-state donors directly contributed to his campaign compared to that of rival Annissa Essaibi George – particularly Asian American donors from all the countries. Donors from states such as California and Hawaii were disproportionately Asian Americans, according to a review of campaign finance data.

Some of those donors said they attended because of the representation Wu would bring as the rare Asian-American mayor of a major city, especially on the east coast. Others simply said she was the best candidate.

“She cares deeply about the local community,” Yanen Li, a Californian donor who gave Wu $ 1,000, told The Globe. “I believe she has the ability to turn the city into a better place with her rich history at the service of the community. ”

As a city councilor, Wu cultivated political talent among young Asian Americans, Hyun said.

Several years ago, when he was a young assistant to then-House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Hyun said he was among those invited to downtown by Wu for morning meetings. with Asian American political leaders, talking about “how do we build the pipeline, how do we build electricity,” he recalled.

“I call her my political noona,” he added, using a Korean word for his older sister. “I would walk through a brick wall for her, even if she didn’t ask me to.”

“Michelle is going to inspire so many members of our community, especially our generation, that they can do it,” Hyun said.

Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, said that despite Boston’s well-established reputation in politics, Wu’s election fits the other national profile of the city as a hub of intellectual firepower and ingenuity.

“I see it as a changing and evolving city that has always been very cosmopolitan,” Mielke said. “You have so many people from different backgrounds coming to Boston. “

Outsiderism became a theme during the campaign. Wu was born in Chicago, and Essaibi George made a selling point of her roots in Dorchester, suggesting voters found her relevant. But Lau noted that Bostonians have often embraced political transplants, electing Oklahoma-born Warren to the Senate and Chicago-born Deval Patrick as governor and Ayanna Pressley to city council and Congress.

Along with Pressley’s election to Congress in 2018, “Michelle is pretty much the exclamation point that Boston is a changed city,” Lau said.

“The fact that the city elects its first wife and first person of color is a game-changer in so many ways,” Lau said. “It talks about what Boston is now and what it wants to be.”

Danny McDonald of Globe staff contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the group where Sam Hyun is president. This is the Massachusetts Asian-American Commission.

You can reach Stephanie Ebbert at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ StephanieEbbert. Elizabeth Koh can be contacted at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @elizabethrkoh.

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