Wisconsin voters made history in November by electing the first Asian American to the state Legislature. Francesca Hong is a chef and restaurant owner, and now a state representative. She was elected to represent the state’s 76th Assembly District, which covers a portion of Madison.
Rep. Hong, a Democrat, talks with WUWM's LaToya Dennis about the work that lies ahead. She begins by explaining her feelings about being elected: “I am both incredibly motivated, grateful and terrified at the same time."
The restaurant community is what keeps her motivated, Hong says. The fact that the community has been hit so hard by the coronavirus pandemic and is filled with working class people reminds Hong who she wants to be representing.
Hong says she also wants to show that government leaders can show up for those who need help and be kept accountable to those who elect them. “I want people to hold their elected official accountable, I want people to believe that power in this country can be held accountable,” she says.
Despite being the first Asian American in the state Legislature, Hong says she has a growing relationship with the Asian American community in her district. Growing up in Madison, she says she had few Asian friends and felt the need to assimilate. “I had privileges to be able to do that but what that actually did was put me in a perpetual state of wondering what my identity was,” she explains.
Hong continues, “Becoming the first [Asian/Pacific Islander] elected to the state Assembly, I think is really one of the first times that I am proud and stand with my Korean American identity. So when I say I have a growing relationship, it’s because I have a lot of work to do to build trust with Hmong leaders, with Asian students on campus and really seek out other leaders in the smaller Asian community.”
She says she hopes that breaking this barrier will help shed light on the fact that racial identities are not a monolith and that there are many ways to define what being Asian American means.
“Our identity as Asian Americans is fluid and we can be agents of how we define that,” says Hong. “And if anything, I am more grateful because [being elected] has helped me clear up my own and think critically about my racial identity.”