My name is Yu Lin, and for the past twenty years, I have been a resident in District 38 – decades spanning from childhood, through the local school systems, to a career as an entrepreneur, and now to having a family of my own, with a beloved wife, a son and a daughter. Many people, having observed my seemingly comfortable life, asked me, “Why play in the muddy waters of politics when you’ve got a good life going? There’s no money to be made here, and you’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. People will hate you regardless.”
Except for, I wasn’t raised this way, and the idea of a “good life” has been gravely challenged this year, when anti-Asian racism shot through the roof because we were the first to choose to protect ourselves and protect others by wearing a mask. When we are attacked for making these choices – the same choices that almost a year later, are now law, this is evidence that suggests there remains distance to go, when we talk about a “good life”.
When the larger Chinese American demographic is receiving hate for making choices that protect ourselves and others, if advancing justice and advocating for our friends and neighbors mean that I will also be receiving hate? For me, it’s worth it. I was raised with a strong sense of justice, moral fortitude, and principles, all qualities passed down from my Father. I am not fearful of hate, because I have faith in something that’s far more powerful – and a daring heart to make history, so that not just myself, but all of us, together, can live a better life. This idea of service, I also inherited from my Father.
When I was only two months old, my Father traveled halfway across the world from China to the United States – a journey propelled by the possibilities of a better life for his family. Ever an industrious man, with his very own hands, my father provided for us a worry-free life in our hometown of Fujian. When I turned eight, I followed in my Father’s footsteps, also making the trek halfway around the world with my mother and sister, so our family could reunite.
Upon first arrival, language was only one of the barriers that we were confronted with. Adapting to a new culture and way of life was distressing as it was disorienting, and speaking didn’t come to me naturally. Against all the new difficulties, I found comfort in reading Chinese literature – a gift, I consider today, as it kept my language sharp. It kept me connected to my roots, and it’s allowed me to maintain amiable relationships with many of the Chinese American communities here. Slowly but steadily, I started to adapt to life in the US, the irony is that once language was no longer a barrier, I started to lose interest in school. I felt the classes were too easy, and then started skipping them altogether. This period of rebellion started because I was desperately searching for a cause, for a sense of purpose, for my place in the world. And because of this period of rebellion, my place in the world, at the time, wasn’t within the walls of an Ivy League school. But I did get into College, and I studied something I loved – biology and computer science at Brooklyn College.
At the time, I idolized scientists, great thinkers, and pioneers who led our world forward. I wanted to be among these history makers. But during a lab internship, I experienced firsthand, the often bleak realities and limitations that are ever present in our work. I developed a deeper understanding of our society, which enabled me to look at the realities of Chinese Americans from different perspectives – every perspective, with its own set of assumptions, narratives, and challenges. We are not monolithic, and there is much that divides us. But just imagine, as I often have, how powerful we would become, if we were united.
As Asian Americans, we are the face of the Model Minority myth. Model, because yes, somehow etched in our DNA, is a drive to succeed. But “myth”, because true success stories remain rare. The more common story is often one of struggle and exclusion. Asian Americans in leadership roles remain rare. I’m both young and passionate enough to devote my life to changing this.
Gradually, I understood the very basic definition of politics – it’s how power and goods get allocated. To whom, how much, when, and where. This is why we have to speak up. Because obedience isn’t a virtue here. This is a place, where the squeaky wheel gets the oil. This is a place, where we have much to learn, from our neighbors who are making their voices heard.
The desire to be heard and to be respected is universal, but we’re not even there yet. We need to be seen. The powers that be need to know we exist. But the onus is on us. We have to show them we exist, not just physically, but politically. Through ballots, through votes, through exercising the power that we, too, have.
If we are able to be a true student of life, then every step we take is a lesson, a direction or redirection; no steps are wasted. My journey as an entrepreneur has given me the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life – a rich and diverse demographic across many cultures and age-groups. Over two decades of constant observing and learning, I feel compelled to take the steps I’m taking today, because it’s becoming increasingly evident that acts of service are what I’m called to do. Every step of my journey has sculpted who I am, someone who can traverse the great chasms of culture, and build a bridge where only gaps exist. I want to devote my life to building these bridges, to lead, to serve, to give back, and to pay it forward.
We can’t talk about Asian American politics or Latinx American politics or Black American politics without talking about racism. Why is this the case? Why is this our reality? Why is it, that even in our very own neighborhood, where we are not the minority, that racism towards us is still a reality?
This suggests that what we have been doing isn’t enough. That staying silent and minding our own business isn’t enough. That the qualities that are considered virtues in China, are not so virtuous here. Because minding our own business has diminished us as a whole. Our virtues have made us an easy target, because our tolerance has held us back from fighting back. We are not doing anyone any favors by staying quiet and staying out of politics, so it’s time to change this. Let us change this.
To be prioritized, we have to be seen first, and be heard. In the US, this is done by exercising our political power. To show that together, we can flip a state. As the largest group that others label, “undecided”, we are the ones who hold the power to decide which way an election can go. This is tremendous power, but only if we exercise it. And when we do, is when they’ll know we exist. Respect isn’t always given, so we must command it.
Reflecting back to the difficulties that my Father had faced when he first arrived in this country, the ones we face today are incomparable. But as a Father myself, I can deeply relate to where this bravery and courage come from. Some say that to garden is to believe in tomorrow, but I say, to father children, and to run for politics, that’s a real pledge for a better future. I have children, which means I have skin in the game. And that’s what keeps me up at night every day, and what drives me to be here, to be on this path, fighting for a better future for all of us. Because a truly good life can only happen, when all of us rise up.