Tim Hwang is 17 years old and he was recently elected to serve on the Montgomery County Board of Education. Pretty cool that a young gun just went for it.
My name is Tim Hwang and I am a proud resident of the State of Maryland. This past year, I was elected to serve on the Montgomery County Board of Education, serving a county of 1 million residents, 140,000 students, 200 schools, and a $2.2 Billion Operating Budget for 22,000 public school employees. I am 17. On top of this, I was recently elected as the President of the Maryland High School Democrats and have served as the CEO/President of Operation Fly, Inc. – a non-profit that I started in my 8th grade now serving inner-city populations in DC, Baltimore, Chicago, Boston, and New York with a volunteer base of over 800 for which I have won citations from the Governor and awards from TIME Magazine and the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Program. All this while serving on (then Candidate Obama’s) campaign team as the Regional Director for the Students for Barack Obama campaign and an avid student organizer at the local and state level. As of now, I serve as the only Asian American elected to county-wide office.
I’ve been an active member of our local OCA-DC chapter and have worked with numerous Asian American Community leaders in the past by founding the Maryland Association of Asian Americans. But something bothered me. There were very few Asian Americans in government – in a county where 14% of the population consisted of Asian Americans. Recently, I attended a joint meeting between the County Council and the Board of Education to discuss construction, population projections, growth policy, and our capital improvement budget (a $1 billion dollar project apart from the Operating Budget). The room was filled with all of the most powerful legislators and staffers in the county system – ones that dictated the regulations and the taxes of 20% of the State of Maryland. Yet, in a room filled with the movers and shakers of this powerful county, I was the only Asian American in the room. I hadn’t noticed it before, but it’s been nagging at me ever since that meeting. It wasn’t just in the room, but at school board meetings, at lobbying events, fundraisers, even that national political conventions. I was almost always the only Asian American in the room. Now, I am not a very cynical person and many may say that I am one of the last people that would notice these kinds of things, but it bothered me that there weren’t any people in those chairs that either looked like me or identified with me. That is why I was so excited to see the composition of our President’s Cabinet.
I am glad that many members of our State General Assembly are of Asian American descent: Del. Susan Lee, Del. Saqib Ali, Del. Kumar Barve, Del. Kris Valderrama (not a single Senate Member – mind you), but I am in no way complacent. I feel that there inherently needs to be more Asian Americans who have the guts and the commitment to run for public office. As a second generation Korean American, I have seen my parents struggle to make their mark in American society. And I feel the compelling need to see more of their voices represented where policy and regulations are made. My father and mother emigrated from South Korea with with the very little resources that they had managed to salvage before their trip. Attempting to find new hope in the United States, they settled down in Michigan, where they lived off food stamps, while struggling to attend classes at a graduate school. This was the environment where I had lived prior to moving to an urban neighborhood in Baltimore and eventually the suburbs or Rockville, MD. I have never forgotten their suffering, their pain, or their sacrifice. As I enter a new stage of my life by entering college, thanks to their sacrifice and the example of many of our nation’s politicians, I have determined to grow up to serve this country and this government in any way possible.
All my life (yes, all 17 years of it), I have tried to live outside the set “model minority” stereotype handed down to me – the quiet Asian American student who inevitably receives good grades (although I do get good grades :]). But I hope that as we progress through the 21st century and as a new generation – my generation – grows up up, whether its through youtube channels, community organizations, facebook groups, blogs like APA for Progress, or politics, there will be more Asian Americans serving this great country that has given us (just like my family) so many opportunities to achieve the American Dream.