Changing Perceptions: An Interview with Mayor Evan Low
Ji, Ke, Tong, Clarence, Asian American Policy Review
On 10 December 2009, the AAPR interviewed Campbell, California, Mayor Evan Low.
Evan Low is a twenty-six-year-old Chinese American who began his term as mayor of Campbell, California, a Silicon Valley city of 38,000 people, in 2009. Low is the youngest openly gay and youngest Asian American mayor ever. A fourth-generation Californian, Low was first elected to the Campbell City Council in November 2006. In addition to receiving his bachelor of arts in political science from San Jose State University, Low graduated from the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He currently serves as a senior district representative for California State Assembly Member Paul Fong.
In recognition of Low's service and commitment to the city, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom named 5 June 2006 "Evan Low Day" in San Francisco. Low's record of serving his community includes co-instructing a college leadership program focused on youth empowerment and identity. A member of a number of Democratic Party organizations, Low was president of the Silicon Valley LGBT Democratic Club, cochair of Healthy Silicon Valley, and secretary of the National League of Cities Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials. In 2008, he was appointed by Governor Howard Dean to the Democratic National Convention Rules Committee.
What made you decide on a career in public service and to run for political office? As a fourth-generation Chinese American how did your heritage and culture play a role in that decision?
If you think about elected officials, generally speaking, you ask them why they want to serve in public office, and most of the time they will tell you that they care about public safety, nice, safe neighborhoods, good education, safe and fiscally sound budgets. Those are all really important things. But I think what's also important is to have a sense of identity--where I've come from and how I can utilize those experiences to help those traditionally underserved communities.
I understand the challenges of being Asian and Chinese American, for example, of language access being a barrier. Here in California, it wasn't all too long ago that Chinese could not marry Caucasian people. Chinese could not own property. Those are really major issues of bad public policy that, quite frankly, were set at various levels of government. But as we all hear, politics is always local.
Your dad was the president of the chamber of commerce. How did that play a role in your political career?
That was the major reason why I was engaged and am currently involved in the city of Campbell. I think many Asian Americans grew up doing speech and debate, piano lessons, tennis, and Chinese school. I didn't have any memory of that. My memory was of carrying ice from trucks to deliver to various vendors at the festivals, doing food and clothes drives, volunteering at the blind shelter. That was my upbringing. Those are my memories of my childhood upbringing, and largely because of my father, who brought me to many of those things as I was younger. So certainly that gave me the skills and the perspective that I have today.
You mentioned that you want to serve underrepresented sections of the community. You represent a community that's not predominantly Asian American. In fact, Campbell is about 77% White and actually 11% Asian American. How does this affect the policies that you're enacting in your first term as mayor?
Well, certainly, as a representative of the city, I try to do my best to represent not just only one community but also the larger community as a whole; not to serve just one constituency, but to represent everyone. And so I think what's important is to recognize some of those facts and see how we can help populations, again, that are typically underserved as it relates to affordable housing, as it relates to language-access issues. …