Campbell ( Calif. ) City Councilman Evan Low is not your average politician. First of all, he is all of 23 years old. And he's Asian-American. And he's openly gay.
Low—who won a seat on the council in November—is symbolic of an emerging and diverse America that is gradually making an impact in various areas. He recently talked with Windy City Times about his city, coming out and being a role model.
Windy City Times: Tell me a little about Campbell. I don't think too many people know about it.
Evan Low: [ Laughs ] You're right!
We're in the heart of Silicon Valley; we border San Jose. There are a lot of high-tech companies here, such as Netflix and eBay. There are about 40,000 people and it's a nice suburb in the San Francisco Bay area. We're also the youngest city in Silicon Valley; the average age of residents is about 35.
WCT: So it's kind of fitting that a young person like yourself is on the city council. Why did you decide to run?
EL: I think it's always important for folks to get involved. Growing up, my father was always active in the community. ( I'm a fifth-generation Californian. ) He was always active in public service; he was involved in different clubs. I went to different functions—but it wasn't until college when I asked how I can give back to my community. I asked myself, 'What's the ultimate form of public service?' and it is serving in public office. You can create change and see how things can really work.
The other fire in the belly [ involves ] diversity and representation. My city did not have someone representing the newer family—and Asians are the second most populous demographic in [ Campbell ] . We need to address the needs of all the citizens.
WCT: What was your platform when you ran?
EL: One thing I talked about was libraries. It's important to have a good [ foundation ] for education, EPI scores and even property value.
Also, our city and various government organizations work independently but I thought that it was important that we work together. Instead of schools taking care of school-related issues, for example, I think that it's important for us to all work together on things that are important.
Another issue is innovation. In our neighboring city of Mountain View, for example, Google is providing free wireless service to the whole city; in Cupertino, Apple is providing free recycling. Talk about collaboration and partnership! It's important to work together to achieve a common goal.
WCT: When you ran, did anyone bring up either your age or your sexual orientation?
EL: Those two issues were brought up as well as ethnicity. I got hate mail saying, 'We don't want any of the homosexual agenda' as well as hate mail saying, 'We want American interests. We don't want Chinese interests.' It created an interesting situation, because I feel that I'm more native than most people.
It's an interesting dynamic because on the surface I look like a perpetual foreigner, if you will. That's why I think it's important for us to be in the public light and try to make positive changes.
If you think about what the city council really does, in terms of our residents, we deal with things like potholes, fences and traffic signals. Those are not gay or straight issues. They are not Asian or Caucasian issues. They are everyday issues that affect every aspect of our lives. With the hate mail, you just have to take it for what it is; you can't please everyone.
WCT: How long have you been openly gay?
EL: I came out to my family a couple of years ago.
WCT: And how did they react?
EL: My father really didn't care. We actually joked around and said that [ my homosexuality ] is partially his fault because of genetics.
It's an interesting dynamic particularly within the Chinese community. Generally, they are not receptive of the LGBT community, and I think that's why we haven't seen that many gay Asians. There's this perception of pride [ that leads many ] to keep their orientations to themselves.
So I was fortunate that my family was receptive but, then again, we are fifth-generation Americans. For immigrants, I think it's generally a long time coming; some immigrants don't even believe that there are gay Asians.
WCT: Do you feel like you're a role model for young adults, the Asian-American community and/or the LGBT community?
EL: Yes. Well, what's interesting is that it's a challenge. If you ask an African-American who his hero is, he could say Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X. A Latino could mention Cesar Chavez and many others. However, within the Asian community we really can't name a hero; sometimes, young people will say Jackie Chan or Jet Li—and they're actors and there are stereotypes there.
I didn't really have someone who was young, gay and Asian who was involved in politics to look up to. After the election, I got an overwhelming number of correspondence from folks all over the United States who asked things like, 'I'm Asian and want to pursue a career in politics, but I'm not out to my family. How do I come out?' Hopefully, this [ win ] can be kind of a catalyst.
This election was not about me. It was about the communities I represent; youth, Asian Americans and the LGBT community have all been disenfranchised. It's important for all of us to have a strong voice.
WCT: Do you have larger political aspirations?
EL: I've only served a couple months so far. I think that it's important that we lay a pipeline that will allow more [ LGBT ] politicians to run. I'm just trying to do the best job that I can at this point and time.
WCT: What's been the most surreal moment for you during this whole journey?
EL: I think the overwhelming amount of letters and correspondence that I've received has [ been surreal ] . The amount of optimism that so many people have expressed has been great. It was very heart-warming.