L.A. City Councilman David Ryu, left, entered politics in 2003 as a deputy to L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. “It was just inevitable that elected officials wanted to build that bridge, and they hired deputies that looked like those communities,” he said. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
The Los Angeles Times published an article titled “How Asian Americans climbed the ranks and changed the political landscape,” which chronicles the rise of Asian Americans in local politics in the past 25 years, since the L.A. Uprising in 1992.
The article begins with Steve S. Kim’s humble beginnings as a small business owner, who ran a flower shop across the street from Los Angeles City Hall, when a customer approached him if he would consider switching careers to join then Mayor Richard Riordan’s staff. Soon enough, Kim became the liaison between the mayor’s office and the Korean American community — no matter that he barely spoke his native tongue. But, he soon realized he was just one of only a handful of Asian American political deputies working in City Hall and one of just two Koreans.
More from the Los Angeles Times, which outlines the increase of APAs in politics up to today:
In the 23 years since then, the political landscape has changed. The number of Asian Americans seizing opportunities to work on the staff of elected officials at local, state and federal levels has expanded dramatically. And from the ranks of those who, like Kim, started out working for white or African American politicians, a cadre of Asian American political leaders has emerged.
Over the same period, Asian Americans have become the fastest-growing population across the U.S., particularly in Southern California, where they are increasingly influential as business leaders, voters and political donors.
”It was just inevitable that elected officials wanted to build that bridge, and they hired deputies that looked like those communities,” L.A. City Councilman David Ryu says.
Ryu made his foray into politics in 2003 as a deputy on the staff of then-L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke. His job was to keep his boss informed about what was important to Asian Americans while helping constituents navigate the linguistic and bureaucratic labyrinth of local government.
His work helped the supervisor’s constituents, and the experience helped him.
Asian American staffers who had paved the way before him offered on-the-job tips. They connected him to other political players. John Chiang, then a staffer for Sen. Barbara Boxer and now the state’s treasurer, sat him down for a talk about his career, Ryu recalls.
During his eight-year tenure with the supervisor in the mid-2000s, Ryu says he saw a surge in the number of Asian American community liaisons and legislative deputies.
”It was like a fad — everyone needed to have an Asian American on their staff,” he recalls. And for a long time, Asian American constituents seemed grateful just to have deputies who looked like them and understood their language. They never fathomed that they could vote one of their own into office, Ryu says.
The Asian Pacific American Legislative Staff Network, an informal group of Asian American and Pacific Islander political deputies that began shortly after the riots, estimates that today there are between 50 and 60 aides working for officials in the Los Angeles area.
To read more, head over to The Los Angeles Times: How Asian Americans climbed the ranks and changed the political landscape