Once again, a record number of Asian Americans and a growing number of Pacific Islanders are running for public office at the local, state, and national level.
Every week, Reappropriate will profile progressive AAPI candidates for higher office, as well as officials serving in public office. Check back at Reappropriate throughout 2020 to learn more about these candidates and find out how you can get more involved in their campaigns.
Jackie Leung is endorsed by Run for Something, which recruits and supports talented, passionate young people who advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench. Since its launch on inauguration day 2017, they’ve recruited 16,000 young people to run for office.
What is your full name?
Jacqueline “Jackie” Leung
What office are you seeking?
I am running as the Democratic candidate for Oregon House of Representatives, House District 19.
When is the election date?
November 3rd, 2020 (General election). I won the primary on May 19
What is your party registration (if any)?
Tell me a little bit about your background in general, as well as your relationship to your identity as an Asian American and/or Pacific Islander?
I grew up in California as a 2.5 generation Asian American. My grandparents migrated here between the ages of 12 to early 40’s. My mother was born in the U.S. and my dad came to the U.S. when he was 18. Being raised by parents who came from different lived experiences has impacted my life. In some communities, I was not “Asian” enough. In others, I was not American. I was almost always deemed an ‘other.’
How did you become inspired to seek elected office?
When I was 8 years old, I learned about presidential elections. I only knew “Reagan”, who I liked because he had soulful looking eyes similar to my grandfather. I remember asking my mom, “Who did you vote for?” She said, “We do not talk about those things.” I learned politics was taboo.
At 18, I registered to vote. I skipped a local election because I did not feel a connection. There were no elected leader who looked like me or spoke to my values. Until 2008, when a presidential candidate had the audacity to ask voters to “hope.”
In 2016, I graduated law school. I wanted to get involved. I became a commissioner with the Salem Human Rights Commission and a Commissioner with the Oregon Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs.
In 2018, I ran for City Council. I am the first API and second person of color to be on City Council. I speak, advocate, and call colleagues to vote with me: the temporary relocation of the Salem public library, sit-lie ban on our unsheltered community, and calls for police force reform and accountability. As I learned quickly, I am still often alone on votes.
After attending a leadership transformation training in February 2020, I felt a renewed sense of leadership. The continuous Republican walkouts resulted in the death of bills that initially had bipartisan support. As elected leaders, we are elected to represent the people. This may mean voting on legislation that go against the colleagues, because it is a vote for our community. My approach is to meet community members where they are. I am running to ensure there is representation. I am running so that one day, when folks who look like me decide to run, they will know there are AAPIs in office. I will be there and I will champion you and support you in your race.
What three issues do you think are most important to your constituents, and what step(s) do you plan to take to address them if elected?
I am running for House District 19 because I want to ensure that our state grows in alignment with our community needs. HD19 includes both urban and rural communities Through my work in city council and from my work on boards/commissions, I believe in making policy decisions that are informed and based on evidence-based measures, utilizing an informed decision making process. This means community engagement and getting community feedback. I do not expect to sit at my desk expecting people to come to me – I was elected to represent the people. As such, I will continue to do so.
As State Representative, I will be making decisions that impact all Oregonians. To better understand how policy making decisions’ affect communities, it is imperative to begin with building relationships. To build relationships, it requires building trust from the ground up, and ensuring that the communities voices are amplified.
My priorities are to improve access and affordability for health care, protecting our public’s health, ensuring accessibility to education and resources (especially in the time of COVID), and moving Oregon forward with policies that are well informed and support our community. Our community is hurting. COVID19 has resulted in the loss of jobs and livelihood for many Oregonians. The impact has been hardest on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Having access to affordable healthcare is a necessity and the divide is becoming more apparent as people are losing their jobs and getting sick. The coronavirus has also shown that early public health intervention is a need to protect our communities, yet we are continuing to see that the hardest impacted are no other than low income communities of color. Ability to access education and resources continues to be challenging, especially for families who do not have access to the internet and without technology. This is unacceptable. As we return to school for the upcoming year, there will be a new education process, and we have to make sure that access and abilities are met for students. When making policies, we must consider the impact such decisions have on our community. This includes considering who we represent and our community as a whole.
What impact has the current political climate had on you as an Asian American and/or Pacific Islander progressive seeking elected office?
I am the first Asian American progressive on Salem City Council. There are zero elected Asian American Pacific Islanders in Oregon State Legislature. It has been over 10 years since the last Asian American Pacific Islander served in the Oregon State Legislature. This is unacceptable.
Asian American Pacific Islanders populations are growing throughout the U.S. Our communities must be represented at the local, state, and federal levels. The political climate has been challenging. As the only person of color on Salem City Council, I am often asked to represent at events to represent diversity. We need more representation. It frustrates me that I grew up with no one who looked like me in elected office. If there were, I was not exposed to them. We need to change that so we can name and recognize elected Asian American and Pacific Islanders in office.
What advice would you have for other young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders currently considering a career in politics and/or public service?
We need the voices of young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including Micronesians, to enter politics and public service. As our population grows, it is more important than ever that we increase our representation in leadership roles. Instead of looking for others who look like us in leadership, why not us? Why not you? My advice to other young Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is this:
Represent. If you are not ready for leadership, support qualified BIPOC who will champion you. What does that mean? Run, and run big. AAPIs are underrepresented. In all levels of leadership. Nonprofits. Businesses. Government. Boards, Commissions. When I started, I did not have support. Yet, I build the support. I found my grounding. to your colleagues. Your friends. Your family. These people are your support. Your champions. You can do it. If you need support, look for AAPIs who are running. There are more today than when I was in high school. Yet, we can do better. Support a candidate. Give time. Give money. Volunteer for a drive. Make phone calls. Give or ask others for donations for your candidate. Represent. Represent your family. Represent your community. Represent…you.
Where can readers go to learn more about you and your campaign?
How can readers get involved to help your campaign? Are there any upcoming events you’d like for us to know about? (150 words or less)
Be part of this movement and donate your:
TIME: Volunteer on my campaign by signing up to volunteer with us.
TREASURE: Donate $100, $50, or even $25 to my campaign today or host a virtual fundraiser! Donate and ask your contacts to donate to my campaign. You can donate through ActBlue or by check or money order:
Jackie For Salem
PO Box 547
If you mail a check or money order, please include your contact information and what you do for employment.
TALENTS: Write a letter to your editor about why you believe in political change and why you support my candidacy.
Run for Something recruits and supports talented, passionate young people who advocate for progressive values now and for the next 30 years, with the ultimate goal of building a progressive bench. Since its launch on inauguration day 2017, they’ve recruited 16,000 young people to run for office.
If you are a progressive Asian American or Pacific Islander running for or currently serving in elected office in 2020, and would like to be profiled in this series, please contact me for more information.