Irvine, California Mayor Sukhee Kang Running for Congress

Current Irvine, California Mayor Sukhee Kang (Democrat) has joined the congested race for Congress, which will take place November 2012, for a California district that is expected to represent much of coastal Orange County, a Republican-dominated area. However, race and ethnicity may play a factor in his favor, even if registered voters are 43 percent Republican and 29 percent Democrat, 23 percent decline-to-state:

Nonetheless, the first-generation Korean immigrant might benefit from Irvine’s burgeoning population of Asian-Americans, who make up about 40 percent of city residents.

Though I wonder how many of those Asian Americans are registered voters. I would never vote for any candidate solely on race or ethnicity, especially if I strongly disagree with most of their policies – and these days, I disagree with most Republicans’ policies (ie. If a Taiwanese American George W. Bush ran for president, that candidate definitely would not get my vote).

What amazes me when I read about Kang’s run for Congress is that he is a first-generation Korean American. I thought, “Wow, only in America.” When I think about it – if I emigrated to Taiwan and became a citizen, would I have the linguistic ability and just plain guts to even run for public office? Maybe if I lived there for over a decade and really understood the culture, country, politics and policies that affected Taiwan, I would. Generally, first generation immigrants in any country try to focus on the basics: earning a living to support a family.

Kang definitely faces an uphill battle, and it’ll be especially interesting to see if Korean Americans as well as all voters vote for Kang or for other candidates because he is Korean American. But Kang overcame similar challenges by being elected mayor in 2008 and won re-election in 2010 beating out a fellow popular Democrat, Councilwoman Beth Krom – 60 percent to 36 percent! If he wins, Kang would make history by being the first Korean American ever elected to Congress.

In doing some additional research on Kang, I found it interesting that Kang at one point in his career felt he had hit a “glass ceiling” (or better know in Asian American terms, a “bamboo ceiling“). Having been passed up for a promotion, Kang left his job and started his own business and even recently wrote an autobiography titled, Beyond the Glass Ceiling.

But what is even more interesting to learn is that Kang’s interest in politics was sparked by the L.A. riots:

Then the L.A. riots erupted in the spring of 1992, following a not guilty verdict in the trial of four police officers charged with the beating of African American Rodney King. Korean businesses became engulfed in the mayhem. “I watched as Koreans lost their entire fortune in a single day, and realized the community needed a political representative,” Kang said. “In the most democratic country in the world, it was a shock to witness the kind of injustice I saw back then.”

I may have blogged before that my interest in getting politically involved was when in 2004, I just could not think of another four years of President George W. Bush in office and his disastrous policies and invasion of Iraq. What got me really interested in Asian Americans in politics and public office was that I rarely saw any Asian Americans while volunteering or attending various political events in the San Francisco Bay Area – a region where we make up over 20% of the region’s population. I certainly wouldn’t want any riots or a hate crime to spark greater political interest amongst Bay Area Asian Americans, but maybe that’s what it might take. With current Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco and Mayor Jean Quan of Oakland, these political leaders are a great example of leadership that might help get all more involved in our government.

I’m wishing Kang the best of luck. It’ll be interesting to see how this race evolves and if Kang wins!

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About John

I'm a Taiwanese-American and was born & raised in Western Massachusetts, went to college in upstate New York, worked in Connecticut, went to grad school in North Carolina and then moved out to the Bay Area in 1999 and have been living here ever since - love the weather and almost everything about the area (except the high cost of housing...)
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