Tue, Aug 01, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Born in Taiwan, serving Canada

British Columbia’s first Taiwan-born members of the Legislative Assembly reflect on roots, gender and their political journeys

By Jenny Peng  /  Contributing Reporter

Anne Kang, member of the British Columbia Legislative Assembly.

Photo courtesy of New Democratic Party

Watching her father work long hours as a former Taichung city councilor, the last thing Katrina Chen (陳葦蓁) wanted to be was a politician. It was normal to watch him rush off at odd hours such as 2am to intervene in traffic accidents. Visitors seeking assistance filled his office on the ground floor of their family home and the phone could go off at any hour.

“My dad was in poor health because of all the work campaigning. He did not spend a lot of time with us. Even my mom sacrificed a lot of her time just helping out my dad,” Chen recalls in her sparsely furnished new office a few days before her official swearing-in as member of British Columbia, Canada’s Legislative Assembly and minister of state for child care.

MAKING HISTORY

Chen and fellow New Democratic Party (NDP) candidate Anne Kang (康安禮) made history on May 9 when both became the first Taiwan-born members of British Columbia’s legislative assembly. It was a moment of pride for the western province’s sizable Taiwanese immigrant communities presiding mainly in Vancouver, Burnaby and Richmond.

The two are serving different Burnaby communities after a contested election that ousted the ruling British Columbia Liberal Party after 16 years in power. NDP leader John Horgan also handed Chen a post in his cabinet as the minister of state for child care and designated Kang as parliamentary secretary for seniors.

Chen’s career path did not come without challenges, starting with being raised in a “high-discipline” family in which her parents physically punished her to instill manners. But as long as she demonstrated good character, they allowed her to explore her interests in literature, music and English. Struggling with the Taiwanese education system and the college entrance exams, a 17-year-old Chen moved to Canada in 2000 so she could focus on subjects she excelled at.

After graduation, Chen had her heart set on working for nonprofits and zeroed in on gender equality and human rights issues, but she ended up settling for a minimum wage at the grassroots organization ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) rallying around issues like homelessness, community cleanliness, and poverty. Through local Taiwanese connections, Chen became familiar with area politicians and found work as a constituency assistant under both federal and provincial officials before running for office.

CHALLENGES AS WOMEN

Chen and Kang have established a friendship around their roles as young mothers in a demanding role.

Kang recalls the toll of campaigning immediately after giving birth from 2007 to 2008 when she launched her political career as a candidate for Burnaby’s city councilor. In between the first and second municipal elections, she had a second child. Aside from grappling with balancing motherhood and public service, Kang acknowledges that she has encountered double standards based on gender and age.

“Women need to exert extra effort to be heard or to be recognized,” she says. “I felt that I had to be stronger and articulate louder. I had to fight for my chance to speak and my chance to be recognized in a public setting whereas [if it were] your typical Caucasian man walking in, people would say, ‘Oh, welcome councilor.’ That was never given to me as a gift.”

Born in 1977 in Changhua in an agrarian town to preschool teacher mother and a father who was the local church pastor, Kang’s life revolved around the church and Christian teachings that emphasized the value of giving back to the community.

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