How does diversity in representation
show us new ways to lead?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
My 17-year-old boy, who we all call Little Brother, was one of a hundred or so Asian American high school students from across Metro Detroit milling around Angell Hall last weekend, putting on name tags and drinking boba. For years, University of Michigan students have organized a free, one day Asian American high school conference for students interested in learning about Asian/Pacific Islander American history, exploring their identities, developing leadership skills, and getting a peek into college life. Despite current pressures against critical race theory (which is not taught in K12 schools), these teenagers are so hungry to learn more that they are willing to give up an entire Saturday to do so.
Understanding the legacies of those who came before them helps young people develop their leadership skills as they begin to imagine their own futures and what they can do in this world.
As we get ready for Thanksgiving this year, there is a lot to be thankful for, representation wise. Three Asian American mayors elected this past election day! The first Asian American muppet on Sesame Street! A film with four different hot Asian hunk types and a sassy Asian grandma (something for everyone) in Jimmy O Yang’s Christmas rom com, “Love Hard” (which landed on the #1 spot on Netflix’s most popular movies list).
Aftab Pureval, the son of a Tibetan refugee mother and an Indian immigrant father, who was just elected mayor of Cincinnati, was once warned about his electability because of his name.
“‘Brown guy named Aftab, that’s gonna be tough,’” Pureval recalled.
Cincinnati only has an Asian population of 2.2 percent, so Pureval was elected not only by Asian Americans (because there are not enough Asian American votes to win the election by themselves), but by working with others and developing a track record at the local level. In Boston, where Michelle Wu was elected mayor, Asians make up 9.7 percent of the population; and in Seattle, where Bruce Harrell was elected mayor, Asians make up 15.4 percent of the population.
In Boston’s 200-year history, only white men have ever served as mayor.
These new leaders are showing their communities and our young people other ways to lead.
“[Boston Mayor-elect Michelle Wu] has also shown us that you can do it differently... what we understand to be political leaders, they’re often white, they’re male, they’re loud,” Diana Hwang, founder of the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative (AAWPI), said. “She will even say ‘I was none of those things.’”