Alex is currently the Director of Programs and Community Engagement at APAICS. Most recently, he served as the Senior Legislative Assistant in the Office of Congresswoman Brenda L. Lawrence (MI-14) where he managed a portfolio including appropriations, education, labor, energy, interior, environment, and housing policy. Alex started his career as a second grade teacher in Detroit as a Teach for America Corps Member. From 2015-2016, Alex was selected for the APAICS Congressional Fellowship where he served in the Office of Congressman Ami Bera (CA-07) and continued to work on Capitol Hill after his fellowship. He serves as a Board Member of the Grassroots Education Project, APAICS Alumni Association, and previously as Vice President of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Staff Association. In addition to his current role, Alex also runs a volunteer tutoring program at an elementary school in his Washington, D.C. neighborhood. He holds a Bachelors and Masters degree from the University of Michigan and is a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan.
APAICS: What do you do at APAICS?
As the Director of Programs and Community Engagement, I lead the development and implementation of programming to advance the leadership, representation, and participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) in the political process. This looks like carrying out the congressional fellowship and internship programs, planning our Regional Leadership Academies, organizing our Women’s Collective, and launching brand new programs that fill the AAPI political pipeline.
APAICS: You previously taught as an elementary school teacher and have other experience working in education, what do you believe can be done to better support teachers in this country?
Teachers face the almost impossible task of educating our nation’s future in the face of overwhelming structural challenges built on a complex maze of bureaucratic requirements, insufficient funding, and systemic inequity. Year after year, they are asked to take on more at greater personal, physical, and financial expense. The teaching profession needs to be given the recognition it deserves. From a policy perspective, we need to drastically increase our investment in our schools and the teaching profession. To better support our teachers, some of the fixes include limiting class sizes, providing materials/supplies, increasing teacher pay, ensuring teacher loan forgiveness, strengthening teacher preparation programs, and eliminating burdensome administrative requirements. From a systemic view, our current system of education is not designed to combat historical inequities that have created larger societal issues and are apparent in our educational system.
APAICS: Favorite Quote?
“Treat others how you want to be treated”
APAICS: You worked on the Hill as an APAICS Fellow in Rep. Ami Bera’s office. How did this experience prepare you for a career in public service?
The Bera office helped teach me the basics of being a legislative staffer and navigate the intersection where politics meets policy. Through this experience, I immersed myself in the legislative process and built a network on the Hill. The fellowship was a great opportunity to jumpstart a career on the Hill and get my foot in the door. After the nine months, I had built a strong foundation to be a congressional staffer and leveraged my time to secure a job with my home state delegation.
APAICS: Favorite vacation spot?
Anywhere that allows me to relax and enjoy being in the moment. But if I had to choose one place in the world: Taiwan.
APAICS: What is your morning routine to get you ready for the day?
My morning routine starts early and includes a lot of caffeine. My alarm usually goes off around 5:30-5:45 and I spend the next half hour drinking cold brew and catching up on all the news I need to start my day. I typically try to read the morning briefings from Politico, New York Times, Morning Brew, NPR, CNN, Washington Post, theSkimm, and Chalkbeat. Then depending on the weather and the day, I’ll go for a run or to the gym. Afterwards I’ll make pour-over coffee, eat breakfast, and watch the Today show. Before heading out the door, I’ll finish a few more emails, brew more coffee to-go, and start my morning podcasts before catching the bus to work.
APAICS: What is your favorite book and why?
One of my favorite books is Reading with Patrick by Michelle Kuo. Her background, born and raised in Kalamazoo, MI to Taiwanese immigrants, who started her career as a teacher before deciding to leave the classroom so closely mirrored my own life in a way I’ve never seen represented before. In the book, she recounts her life-changing relationship with a former student, her decision to leave the classroom behind, and deciphering how to still make a meaningful impact resonated with me on an extremely unique, personal level.
APAICS: Favorite boba flavor (or favorite drink!)
Taro milk green tea is always a solid choice. Fun fact: my first job was working at a bubble tea kiosk at the local mall in high school.
APAICS: What is it like being an AAPI in politics?
It can be unique, refreshing, and challenging. Our community is still underrepresented and stereotypes are still pervasive in those spaces. This gives us a unique opportunity to be strong advocates for our community, clarify misconceptions, and challenge microaggressions. It can be tiring to continue making space where we aren’t historically represented, but encouraging by the progress we continue to make.
APAICS: More and more AAPIs are becoming more politically involved, what would be your advice to someone trying to pursue a career in public service?
Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Understand that public service is about the people you are there to serve and not yourself. Hold yourself to high expectations, work hard, and be a team-player.
APAICS: What AAPI events do you look forward to every year?
I always look forward to Heritage Month in May, which is packed with community events. It’s always a great time to reconnect with old friends who come back to DC for highlights like the APAICS Gala.
APAICS: What is your favorite memory from working on the Hill?
There are too many memories to choose just one. Working on the Hill exposes you to so many people, opinions, and history-making moments. There are flashy opportunities to meet high-profile individuals or attend fantastic receptions. However, my longest-lasting memories will be seeing our hard work pay off (sometimes years in the making) to benefit the constituents who expect us to advocate for them in Congress. This has looked like saving hundreds of skilled jobs from a plant closure, to millions directed to fight lead contamination in schools and disadvantaged communities.
APAICS: What is the most difficult challenge you’ve faced in your career and how did you overcome it?
As a first-year teacher, I was underprepared and overwhelmed. I wouldn’t have made it through and improved without a strong support system of mentor teachers, friends, and professors. I hung on to every word from veteran teachers, who are the real heroes still in the classroom today. I attended numerous professional development trainings in and out of the school, spent my summer learning how to fix where I fell short, attended conferences to improve my practice, and returned with an improved skill set although still far from perfect. I had never failed so badly, but learned so much from my mistakes than when the future of my students were on the line.