Chinese-born legislator makes history in US local politics

China 24

Chinese-born legislator makes history in US local politics

One woman is making her mark at the highest level of U.S. local politics.

She was born in China and successfully carved her path all the way to the state capitol.

CGTN’s Frances Kuo has her story.

Inside a modest building in the capital of the U.S. state of Maryland, one woman is making quite a name for herself – Lily Qi.

“It’s barely there (on the roll call board)!” Qi exclaimed.  “It’s so short!”

This year, Qi, with the two-letter last name, became the first Chinese-born state legislator in Maryland. It was a moment she believed – even early on – would come.

“I was overwhelmed with pride, a sense of excitement, being part of this moment in history,” Qi recalls.

Reaching this political post began with modest beginnings.

Qi was born and raised in Shanghai. When she was in her 20s, Qi decided to leave for the United States, alone, with the American dream in tow.

“My life in America has been chapter after chapter of struggles, to find who I am, to find what I can do, to overcome obstacles at every turn,” said Qi.

While working various jobs, she earned two master’s degrees, raised a family and built a career in higher education, and community and economic development.

Qi built a life and found her voice.

“I want to do things that show that we are here, and we’re part of the country and we have arrived,” said Qi. That drove her to pursue political office – an uphill battle.

Not only did people not recognize her name, let alone know how to pronounce it, she had no political base and none of the big endorsements enjoyed by rival candidates. “Nobody else like me had done it. Who was my role model?” said Qi.

Qi represents a district with a large Asian population. Getting those voters to the polls was not easy. So she turned to Chinese social media for help.

“WeChat is such a convenient and powerful tool for Chinese language speakers, even if they are fluent in English, most of the people I know still live on WeChat,” said Qi.  “It’s their way of connecting with friends and family and getting informed. It’s more than social media, it’s their news channel, their entertainment, it’s everything basically.”

She used the tool to reach her Asian constituents, educating them about the importance of political participation.

It was a campaign that she ran simultaneously with a more traditional one reaching non-Asian and more experienced voters.

“Most people are immigrants in the Asian community and averse to the idea of politics, of joining a political party,” said Qi.  “We cannot afford to be on the sidelines.”

Now Qi is on the front lines, riding the wave of an unprecedented shift in state and U.S. politics.

This year, the Maryland General Assembly and U.S. Congress broke records with the most female members.

“You can be anyone who you want to be, despite the circumstances,” said Qi.

She’s a woman with a short name, vowing to make a long-lasting impact.