I met with my friend, Stephanie Chang, at our alma mater in Ann Arbor, Michigan for an interview over ramen and pork buns. We talked about her decision to run for Michigan State Representative next year, what it is like being Taiwanese American in the city of Detroit, and her journey as an Asian American woman in public service.
A: Hi, Steph! Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
S: I’m Stephanie Chang. I grew up in Canton, Michigan. I came here to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan. While I was in high school and college I learned to be proud of my Asian American and Taiwanese American identities. I started getting involved with student organizing to address issues affecting Asian Americans, as well as all students of color. After I graduated in 2005, I moved to Detroit. Since then, I’ve been working on a number of civil rights issues including education, affirmative action, and criminal justice reform. I helped start an Asian American civic engagement group in Michigan to register more Asian Americans to vote, get them out to the polls, and advocate on issues like immigration reform and voting rights.
A: So you were already involved with community organizing and local politics. Was this a natural progression to decide to run for state rep?
S: Well, it didn’t cross my mind since I am still finishing my graduate degree for public policy here at Michigan. Earlier this year, my current state rep,Rashida Tlaib (D-6), who is one of my mentors, asked me to run. I had to think about it and get advice from friends and mentors over a good six months, and then I decided to go for it. I think it’s a great opportunity to use my organizing skills and apply them in public office.
A: There has been a lot of negative news about Detroit in recent years, with the auto industry, Kwame, a zombie theme park proposal, and the bankruptcy. [Sigh.] Despite this, there are obviously still people and stories of beautification there. Tell us about the community where you live and something beautiful about it!
S: I live in Detroit. My district is House District 6. It is very long, composed of many diverse neighborhoods with different challenges. It starts from the east side of Detroit along the [Detroit] river in an area called Indian Village, through downtown, through southwest Detroit including Mexicantown. It also includes two “down river” communities: River Rouge and Ecorse. It’s predominantly African American, with some Latinos, some Caucasians, and some “other” [points to self]. Since campaigning I have been learning so much about the cultural richness of the district and city. It represents such a wide spectrum of socioeconomic class and backgrounds, and people are doing amazing things to address issues on their block, like starting community block patrols and community gardens, or boarding up houses together. It’s easy to love my neighborhood and to love this district.
A: Everyone should move to Detroit!
S: You too!
A: Hehe. It’s great to see communities with multiple backgrounds living together. What are some challenges you face as a Taiwanese American there, and especially in this particular career?
S: In my district there aren’t many Asian Americans, let alone Taiwanese Americans. This year I went door-to-door in my role as community engagement coordinator at the James and Grace Lee Boggs School to meet people and learn about their history and what they want to see in a new school. Most of the time, I am the first Asian American to ever knock on someone’s door. This can create interesting dynamics. If I were elected, I would be the first Asian American woman in the Michigan state legislature. Since I didn’t grow up in the district, in order to represent it well, I will have to continue asking a lot of questions and listen a lot. I will be doing a lot of listening!
A: I hear ya! Besides embracing different people and cultures, what are some other Taiwanese values that have helped you so far?
S: First, hard work. I think I have a strong work ethic.
A: I think you do too! Maybe abnormally strong.
S: I am passionate about social justice issues, especially for education and for families – those are other values. I really believe in making a quality public education system. I helped to start an elementary school in the east side of Detroit and have seen so many challenges in starting up and sustaining quality schools. I want to continue working towards ensuring excellent education that is accessible to all families.
A: How has your family, or your parents, responded to your decision to run for office?
S: My parents have been really supportive. I think they were surprised when I first decided to do it. They have been supportive financially and have been introducing me to their friends and telling them that I’m running. It’s been amazing that a lot of the Asian American and Taiwanese American community is proud to hear that I’m running.
A: That’s wonderful to hear. In addition to improving education, what do you hope for your community?
S: Public safety. All neighborhoods should be safe. I’ve been thinking and exploring a lot of ideas on public safety, in conjunction with ways to make our criminal justice system more fair. Regardless of background and money, everyone deserves an equal playing field in terms of the justice system. Also, I hope to see a restored safety net: making sure that everyone has access to a basic level of resources.
A: Sounds like you must have lots of free time. Riiight. But, on the side, you also maintain a wedding blog?
S: Yes! It’s a blog highlighting socially conscious weddings in Detroit, called Love In the D.
A: Cool. Before we go, one final question, what is your favorite Taiwanese food?
S: My favorite Taiwanese food is bubble tea. My husband and I dream of opening a bubble tea truck in Detroit. For now, I have to come to Ann Arbor to get my fix.
A: Wow. Bubble tea truck in Detroit! That would make your door-to-door adventures even more interesting. Thank you so much for sharing, Steph. I look forward to watching your campaign unfold!
S: Thank you, TaiwaneseAmerican.org!
Follow Stephanie Chang’s campaign here.
Amy Liao currently lives and works in Philadelphia. Her t-shirt drawer is filled with shirts from Taiwanese American Foundation (TAF) and TaiwaneseAmerican.org.
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