Asian American neighborhoods
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2008.041.006 Oral History Interview with John Liu

In 2001, John Liu became the first Asian American elected to legislative office in New York history, representing District 2 in northeast Queens as a New York City Councilman. John learned early in life that strong communities could only be built with hard work, vision and leadership. His story is similar to that of many immigrants – one full of determination and a desire to succeed. Liu begins by recalling his efforts as president of the Chinese American Student Union at Binghamton University to fill a need on campus by organizing quality programming in which students and faculty could learn more about Asian Americans. Liu recounts the work that went into bringing one such program to campus, including trekking to the offices of the New York Chinatown History Project to pick up a traveling exhibit and carrying it down three flights of stairs. Liu notes that being a leader requires stepping up when something needs doing but no one else is willing to take the lead. This applied to his efforts on campus and also later in life to his involvement in electoral politics. He highlights instances of racial insensitivity, including one in which his city council member made derogatory comments about Asians, and how these have driven him to step up and respond politically. He expresses a wish that he was not the first but rather ninth or tenth Asian American since Asian Americans had been running for his office for nearly twenty years; however, he is gratified to see increasing numbers of Asian American elected to all levels of government across the country.