Stephanie Chang, first Asian American woman to be elected to the Michigan Legislature.
Latino Press brings you, for our January edition of De Mujer a Mujer, the interview of Stephanie Chang, member of the Michigan Senate.
Latino Press is happy to have this opportunity to talk to you. We would like to tell our readers about you, who you are, how you became a senator and where did you start your political career? Please tell us.
I am the daughter of Taiwanese American immigrants who came to this country looking for a better opportunity, the mother of two young daughters whose future I fight for every day, and a former organizer who built coalitions around social justice issues. Before I ran for office, I worked on efforts to try to keep affirmative action programs in Michigan, make our criminal justice system more fair, get more Asian Americans engaged in democracy, reform our immigration system, and protect voting rights. While I was in graduate school, Rashida Tlaib asked me to consider running for her seat in the State House because she was going to be term-limited out. I went through a lot of self-reflection and a lot of conversations with friends and mentors to figure out whether I should do it. It took about six months to finally decide to run, and I’m so glad that I did.
How do you balance your family life with your demanding political position?
When I began serving in the Michigan House of Representatives, I was pregnant with my first daughter, and when I began serving in the Michigan Senate, I was pregnant with my second daughter! So I have had a simultaneous journey of motherhood and public service. It is challenging at times balancing family and work but I am incredibly lucky to have a supportive husband, parents and in-laws who have all helped a lot over the years. I literally would not be able to do my job as a public servant without their support.
In the SW Detroit area you are well known, our Hispanic community appreciates you and remembers you fondly, tell us how was or still is your experience with this community ?
I will always love Southwest Detroit even if I am no longer directly serving the community. Southwest Detroit was the heart of my old house district and the heart of my senate district prior to redistricting. I have absolutely loved working with so many tenacious, brilliant community leaders and activists in Southwest Detroit to stand up for immigrants’ rights, clean air, a riverfront that is protected, and more. I will always remember the press conferences, rallies, and marches for DACA, Riverside Park, community benefits, St. Anne street, and immigrants’ rights. I partnered with Raquel Castañeda-López on our neighborhood service center in Southwest Detroit for many years and it has been a huge honor serving the community.
What stands out to me about Southwest Detroit is how much people work together and fight hard for what the community deserves, no matter how much money or power the opposition may have. Although my new district does not include Southwest Detroit, I am very close by and will always be a partner and ally for Southwest Detroit.
The political career has many challenges and also many satisfactions, what have been the most important challenges you have faced and what are the most important satisfactions have you experienced ?
It has been a challenge getting issues that matter so much to our communities to get on the radar of my colleagues in Lansing, mostly because Democrats have not had the majority in either the State House or State Senate. Issues that predominantly affect people of color are simply harder to get others to pay attention to, unfortunately. I am hopeful that in 2023, we will be able to accomplish much more in a Democratic majority.
One highlight was working with the Delray Community Advisory Group to secure historic community benefits agreements for the residents living close to the Gordie Howe International Bridge. There is still more to do, but working hand in hand with the other members of the CAG has been an honor and joy. Another highlight was passing my bipartisan legislation that will help move our state toward a better system of handling mental health emergencies. We need to have more mental health professionals be the ones to respond on scene working with or instead of police officers, who oftentimes are not trained on mental health issues. There are so many other things I’m proud of, but these are two.
The past presidency was difficult for many immigrants, although there are still harsh laws against them, do you think we will be able to have a more humane solution in the coming years?
Comprehensive immigration reform is decades overdue, which is very frustrating. The Trump administration brought immigration issues to a whole new level of inhumanity with even more separation of families and racist rhetoric. I do feel optimistic that we can have a more humane solution in the coming years but it is going to take continued advocacy and organizing by community members.
There is an issue that many want to hear about. Do you think the governor and the secretary of state have a solution for driver’s licenses for the undocumented in Michigan, now that both chambers are in favor?
I have been proud to sponsor legislation to restore driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and others who are not able to prove legal presence, and intend to reintroduce legislation alongside other legislators soon this year. Now that we have a Democratic majority in the State House and State Senate, we will have a chance to pass these bills, but we cannot take anything for granted. Every community leader or activist who is passionate about supporting the Drive SAFE bills should contact state legislators to urge them to support.
What are the work plans you want to implement during your political period of service?
In my second term in the Senate, I am hoping to pass a number of bills that have not passed under the previous Republican majority. There is a wide range of issues that I have worked on that I am committed to seeing through to the end, including sexual assault prevention, police accountability, clean air, water affordability, and housing justice legislation. I will also continue to provide strong services to community members who seek out help from my office.
This interview is to give an example of women who are an example due to their tenacity, their perseverance and their commitment to what they do. Would you send a message to all those women, who are often discriminated against, minimized or excluded.
Women — and women of color in particular — are often overlooked, excluded, dismissed, or treated with downright disrespect or discrimination. When you feel that things are impossible, remember that you are strong, you are resilient, and generations of women before us worked hard to make more things possible for us that the naysayers would never have imagined. Remember that our daughters and granddaughters deserve a better world and it is us who will build that future for them. And know that there are women around you who will have your back and be ready to support you if you ask.