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Paving the Way: Asian American lawmaker recounts journey to Georgia Legislature

Growing up in Georgia, I never dreamed that I could one day be an elected official. As the grandson of refugees from the Korean War and a son of immigrants, I did not think it was possible. Yet, by the power of the vote, I became the first Asian American Democrat elected to the Georgia Legislature. Only in a democracy like ours is that possible.?It’s a story I want to share as Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month is observed in May.

My family immigrated to Georgia in the early 1980s. That was made possible only after immigration quotas, which severely restricted immigration from Asian countries and date back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, were abolished by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Like many immigrants before and after them, my family crossed an ocean in pursuit of the American dream – for a better life for themselves and their children.?

I was raised by a single mother who did all she could to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly. She taught piano lessons, ran an after-school program and started a small business. As an immigrant in a new land facing language barriers and financial uncertainty, she persevered, demonstrating grace under fire and fierce determination to make a better life for her children.?

In December 2014, my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. Her battle against cancer taught me firsthand that access to health care is a matter of life or death, which compelled me to run for office to ensure every Georgian had the?same fighting chance my mother was afforded. By knocking on thousands of doors and finding common ground with the people I wanted to represent, against all odds, I was elected the?same night as Donald Trump.?

Since I was the only Asian American legislator serving in the Georgia Legislature in 2017, it was a lonely and challenging endeavor. Yet in knowing my history, I recognized that I stood on the shoulders of those who came before me and that I had a responsibility to continue the work of perfecting our union for all. I have learned that it is one thing to break a barrier, it is another matter to pave the way for others. Over the past eight years, I have been so proud to see an increase in Asian American political participation, and to see more Asian Americans running and getting elected to the Georgia Legislature, where we now have one of the largest Asian American legislative caucuses in the country.?

By the power of the vote, the American dream remains alive today. Only in a democracy like ours is it possible for an immigrant or a child of immigrants to get elected to public office or have an opportunity to serve in the Cabinet of the president of the United States. By the power of the vote, Asian American voters in Georgia helped elect a president, two U.S. senators and changed the course of this country and the world.

And by the power of the vote, this November we can, and we must, protect American democracy to keep alive the dream and ensure future generations of Americans have the freedom to continue to perfect our great union.

Georgia state Rep. Sam?Park represents House District 107 and serves as the Georgia House Democratic Caucus whip.

Image at top: The son of immigrants and raised by a single mother, Sam Park in 2016 became the first Asian American Democrat elected to the Georgia Legislature. "I have learned that it is one thing to break a barrier, it is another matter to pave the way for others," Park says. (Photo illustration by 国产人兽; source images from SamForGeorgia.com and Alamy)