Asian Americans involved in local and state government spoke at the University on Monday about issues facing Asian Americans working in public service.
Hosted by the South Asian Awareness Network, the panel featured three Asian-American leaders in government: Mumtaz Haque, a member of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission and a Detroit Public School administrator; Andrew Kim, the legislative director of the Macomb County Board of Commissioners; and state Rep. Stephanie Chang (D–Detroit), the first Asian-American woman in Michigan’s legislature.
All three panelists said stereotypes are one of the biggest challenges Asian Americans face in a professional environment. Kim said because of his race, people often assume he lacks charisma and works better with mathematics than other disciplines.
“I think we get a lot of stereotypes and a lot of ignorance of who they think Asian Americans are, and sometimes that ignorance and those stereotypes undermine your abilities,” Kim said. “I would always get comments like ‘Hey, Andrew is a good analytics guy, but he’s not a good politics guy.’ ”
Haque said she found herself feeling like she needed to prove that she was capable of taking action because of her more reserved nature.
“(Asian Americans) are very reserved and we think before we speak, and that is taken sometimes as us being a person who is not aggressive enough to make things happen,” Haque said. “We are quiet workers, but sometimes that is misunderstood for being less aggressive or effective, so we really need to speak up for the right cause.”
Chang primarily spoke about her experience as an Asian American running for public office in a predominately Black district. The area of Detroit she represents is 85.2 percent Black.
She noted that despite initially having concerns about running in the district due to her race, she found most of her hesitations unfounded.
“When I was deciding whether or not I wanted to run, I went back and forth between yes and no for a long time. But part of the reason why I was hesitant was I thought being Asian American was going to be a barrier,” Chang said. “There are definitely a lot of barriers externally, but I think that sometimes we create our own barriers in addition to the ones that other people create.”
Panelists also offered advice to Asian-American students who hope to get involved in public service.
Haque said students should find a mentor and volunteer in their communities.
“Find somebody who motivates you, who you think could be your role model, and get involved in the community around you,” she said. “There are so many nonprofit organizations around you, and that is how I started, because my heart was into it.”
Chang, who is a University alum, said students need to remember to look at the world outside of just the University campus.
“The University of Michigan and Ann Arbor can kind of feel like a bubble,” Chang said. “Sometimes it’s hard, especially if you don’t have a car, but it’s important to really be involved in things outside of campus.”
Engineering freshman Sahil Dagli said he found the event enlightening.
“For me, I’m not someone who has really thought about these issues before or Asian Americans in politics, so it was really thought provoking and eye opening to see these different viewpoints that I had never even thought of before,” Dagli said.
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated the racial makeup of Chang’s district; it is 85.2 percent black.