It’s the summer of 2007, I’m sitting inside my room on campus with the A/C on full-blast. I had just finished my freshman year at UC Irvine. Back then, it was known as a “safety school” before rapidly moving up the UC ranks in recent years.
I was born and raised in San Francisco to parents who immigrated from mainland China in the 1980s. Like many hopeful immigrant Asian parents, they took one look at me when I came out of my mother’s womb and said to each other in Cantonese:
“Our son is going places! He’ll be the best doctor or lawyer one day!”
Yeah. That didn’t happen. In fact, I should probably get some type of award for defying all of those smart Asian stereotypes because when it came to academics, I was an absolute idiot.
I knew early on that if I can’t win through academics, I could at least get all the work experience I can get. I ended up getting a job immediately entering Freshman year.
At one point, I worked three jobs at the same time. I thought of any way to make money with my time. One of my jobs was a campus note-taker for students with disabilities. This allowed me to attend class, motivate me to pay attention and take quality notes while making money on the side. But it wasn’t enough, I needed to make more money. I had to get another job.
I was browsing through the campus job directory when I landed on a “marketing associate” position with the Manhattan GMAT. It looked interesting and I applied immediately. A week later, I got an email from a woman wanting to schedule an interview. The emailed said their CEO “Andrew Yang” would be conducting the phone interview.
“Woah, the CEO is Asian? That’s pretty awesome,” I said to myself. “Maybe the interview will be more chill!”
It wasn’t. I somehow had this naiveté that things would go well despite doing little to no research on the company. I was hungry to succeed, but my inexperience at the time was as clear as day. I thought I was going to talk to Andrew like we were old buds (Come on! He was an Asian America CEO after all), but the man wasn’t there to play around. He was polite, interested in hearing more about me, but stern and ready to see if I was qualified. He meant business. I had trouble answering even the most basic questions he asked.
“Do you know the highest score on the GMAT?” he asked as nothing came out of my mouth from the other line.
At one point, Andrew blurted out: “Did you even do ANY research on my company prior to this interview?”
He already knew the truth before I could even think of a good answer.
For the next 15 minutes, Andrew proceeded to “lecture me” on the importance of researching for interviews. He gave me some tips on what companies look for when hiring and how I can set myself apart. At the time, I was slightly annoyed because I didn’t want a lecture, but I knew deep down he was right as I agreed through every point he made. I remember bowing my head down on the ground as he spoke to me on the phone, looking defeated like when my mom yells at me for doing something wrong. I thanked him profusely for the advice, we said our goodbyes and hung up shortly after, and assumed I would never hear from him again.
To my surprise, an offer letter came to me directly from Andrew Yang himself a week later. I was stunned but never got around to asking him why he hired me.
I learned a lot during my 18 months at the company and actually did pretty well. Funnily enough, Andrew even gave me one of my first LinkedIn recommendations.
We lost touch after that, but the lessons and experience imparted on me have stuck with me ever since.
“You seemed young and inexperienced but also smart and interested in business,” he told me as we reconnected over text. “I figured you would make the most of the opportunity. Glad you did!”
Almost a decade later, I’ve founded two companies and Andrew is running for president of the United States — the highest office of the land.
While AAPIs are not monolithic and he doesn’t speak for all Asian Americans, Andrew has been one of the few political candidates I can relate to based on our similar backgrounds. I grew up on the West Coast to Chinese immigrants and Andrew grew up on the East Coast to Taiwanese immigrants who met while they attended UC Berkeley.
“My parents worked very hard as immigrants to this country. They led by example. They didn’t have a lot of extra time to monitor me and my brother so we had a lot of independence.”
In many Asian immigrant parents’ eyes, Andrew would be the poster child of the perfect Asian son: He excelled in school, graduated from Brown University, an Ivy League school, then got a law degree at Columbia University, another Ivy League, followed by a short stint as a lawyer before venturing into startups in the early 2000s. So one could understand his parents’ concern when he dropped everything to run for president in 2017.
“I think Asian Americans aren’t told as kids that we should care a lot about politics,” Andrew said. “My family didn’t talk about politics much at all.”
Like many East Asians, Andrew has always shared the same undying love for boba. He could possibly be the first political candidate in history to serve alcoholic boba during his fundraisers.
What’s Andrew’s go-to boba order, you ask? “Almond milk tea light sugar light ice. Red beans if I’m feeling it,” Andrew told me.
Like many minorities growing up in America, Andrew recalls being bullied and called racial slurs by classmates when he attended public school.
“I grew up in a predominantly white suburb in upstate suburban New York,” he recalled. “I’d skipped a grade so I was always small and scrawny for my year. I took a lot of shit.”
“I was very nerdy with glasses and braces and the whole nine. Because I got picked on I got into a number of fights as a kid, most of which I would lose. It was not easy or welcoming,” he went on.
I’ve been called chink and gook any number of times in my life. It can be extraordinarily hurtful to feel like you are somehow not part of the only country you have ever known. I have certainly felt that – the churning sense of alienation, anger and marginalization.
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) September 15, 2019
Although Andrew filed his paperwork for presidential candidacy on November 6, 2017, he was virtually unknown until February 12, 2019, when he did an interview on Joe Rogan’s acclaimed podcast that gained him a national following.
“[My parents] are now very excited about my presidential run after some initial concern,” he said.
Since then, Andrew has seemingly defied the odds and is slowly climbing up the polls. However, based on the current poll numbers, he still has a long way to catch up to the current heavy hitters Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
No matter what the results are so far, Andrew’s supporters, known as the “Yang Gang,” are growing with immense support from the Asian American community. Just last week, a number of major AAPI leaders, including Boba Guys founder Andrew Chau, Goldhouse founder Bing Chen, Bobby Hundreds and Sung Kang, hosted a fundraiser for the 44-year-old candidate in Los Angeles.
“I think Asian America is in its best place yet in terms of overall pride and relevance. I certainly hope that my campaign can add to the feeling that we are just as American as anyone else.”
However, like all candidates, Andrew has received his fair share of criticism as well, even from influential leaders in the AAPI community. Throughout his campaign, he’s been known to make self-deprecating jokes and one-liners that play into Asian stereotypes, including:
“Now, I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors.”
“I’m Asian, so I love tests.”
“The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math.”
“Well, I’m Asian, so you know I love to work.”
His remarks have divided Asian America — to say the least. There are those who support and share his humor.
“I’m Asian so I know a lot of doctors.” LOL @AndrewYang. He also said that we are talking about healthcare all wrong. It should be a given, a right, so that Americans can go about living our lives & fulfilling our dreams. Agree! #DemDebate
— Leana Wen, M.D. (@DrLeanaWen) September 13, 2019
— Esther Choo, MD MPH (@choo_ek) September 13, 2019
— MC Jin (@iammcjin) May 2, 2019
And there are those who find it offensive and accuse Andrew of reinforcing model minority stereotypes AAPIs have been fighting to end for decades.
Trying to keep an open mind about Andrew Yang but his willingness to lean into Asian American stereotypes in order to pander to white audiences is…. disappointing
— O L O (@oliviahnguyen) September 17, 2019
Andrew Yang saying he’s Asian and knows a lot of doctors is a bit jarring. As an Asian American doctor, I’ve seen my share of model minority stereotypes. But seeing an Asian guy on the presidential debate stage is the biggest source of pride I’ve felt in a long time. #DemDebate
— Eugene Gu, MD (@eugenegu) September 13, 2019
Very sick of Yang’s model Asian minority jokes. Glad I’m not the only one. pic.twitter.com/T9nHtXXL8H
— Morgan Spangler (@morgancspangler) September 13, 2019
“I tell Asian jokes in part to poke fun at myself and the ideas people have about Asians,” Andrew said. “I think Americans are smart enough to see right through these jokes for what they are.”
“We have a very diverse community and I would never claim that my experience is universal. I think most people understand the difference. I certainly hope that Asian Americans see my candidacy as a source of pride as I’m very proud of our heritage and what we contribute to this country,” he continued.
Another issue that has divided the AAPI community is how Andrew responded to the controversy on comedian Shane Gillis, who was hired as a new cast member on Saturday Night Live. Shortly after, footage of a 2018 podcast surfaced showing Gillis using racial slurs towards Chinese people while mimicking a “Chinese” accent.
While Andrew acknowledged Gillis’ problematic behavior, he voiced on Twitter that he didn’t believe he should lose his job, while sharing his own personal experiences of dealing with racism growing up. He also added that he wouldn’t mind sitting down with Gillis as well.
Shane – I prefer comedy that makes people think and doesn’t take cheap shots. But I’m happy to sit down and talk with you if you’d like. https://t.co/YxbzQ5WVLX
— Andrew Yang🧢 (@AndrewYang) September 14, 2019
The comedian was eventually fired, but Andrew’s tweets brought a string of replies from those who praised him for taking the “high road” while others condemned him for seemingly excusing Gillis’ actions.
He did nothing wrong. Thanks for saying as much
— Nuance Bro 🌹 (@NuanceBro) September 16, 2019
You can both talk about not getting the job you wanted.
— Feodor Chin 🇺🇸❄️ (@FeoChin) September 16, 2019
Glad to see a presidential candidate focus on the important task of rushing to hold a bigot to his heaving bosom. As usual, a study in courage 😪
— Spooky Chaos Agent Of Color🎃 (@daniecal) September 16, 2019
“I understand different reactions,” Andrew said. “Trust me when I say I have had many different reactions myself. I responded in the way I thought best. I’d only ask that people respect where I’m coming from, as I completely respect where those who disagree with me are coming from on this.”
Gillis apparently caught wind of Andrew’s tweets and reached out to him for a possible meeting. The presidential candidate briefly broke down the exchange but didn’t want to reveal any details at the time.
“His team reached out to my team. I eventually got a phone call. We didn’t talk long and he wants to keep it private for now. But it gave me the sense that I did the right thing. No further comment for now,” Andrew said.
“I think as a society we have become unduly punitive and vindictive concerning statements we disagree with or find offensive, and could generally stand to be more forgiving and understanding,” he said of the current trend of “cancel culture” on social media.
Andrew doesn’t have much experience in politics, though he was named a Champion of Change and a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship by Barack Obama in 2012 and 2015. While some could conclude his inexperience makes him unqualified to run the country, he seems to have been a breath of fresh air for others. Many comments online describe Andrew as the following:
“This guy is so smart. So much smarter than politicians who just talk. Politicians talk. The guy is walking the walk.”
“Honestly, I’m 24 and never cared for politics but after looking into this guy I went ahead and registered to vote so yeah. He’s my pick and I don’t even believe he will make the universal income thing happen. He just cares about the important things.”
“I’m a Republican but I really like yang. If it comes between him and Trump, yang has my vote.”
“I’m a conservative, but I took the time to listen to his Shapiro & Joe Rogan podcast on YouTube. after that, it was clear he is not a typical politician. I don’t agree with 100% of his ideas. But I KNOW he’s trying to solve problems w/out an agenda.”
One of the major things that have won over many fans is Andrew’s openness to meet with everyone from all walks of life. One of his campaign slogans is “It’s Not Left. It’s Not Right. It’s Forward” and his proposed policies have even earned praises from Trump supporters, controversial conservatives like Ben Shapiro and Tucker Carlson.
Andrew has also arguably been the only candidate focused on gathering support from the AAPI community, from meeting his harshest critics face to face to making a surprise appearance at a Rich Brian concert (Side Note: Andrew is also the only candidate who has contacted NextShark wanting to reach out to the AAPI community). Many argue that he could be the candidate that could unite all parties to work together.
“I’ve learned that politics boils down to people,” he said. “If you like people, then you’ll like politics. I’ve met thousands of Americans in every walk of life and learned a ton about both them and myself.”
Although there are other candidates currently still ahead of him, it’s clear that Andrew is making a dent. Through crowdfunding and fundraisers, his supporters have helped him raise $10 million in the last three months. Interestingly enough, even with the clear traction on his campaign, he repeatedly gets snubbed by mainstream media, called the wrong name by news outlets and his mic was allegedly cut off during his first debate.
CNN: “If you’re not going to ignore @AndrewYang‘s $10 million Q3 fundraising total, MSNBC, we certainly will. And don’t you just love how Biden’s total puts him right in the center of the screen? Gosh we love that guy. And Booker too! Bless his $6M.”#YangGang #YangMediaBlackout pic.twitter.com/RLWPKrGnyM
— Scott Santens🧢 (@scottsantens) October 3, 2019
Despite the long road ahead, Andrew hopes his campaign will inspire more Asian Americans to get involved in politics. Whatever your political affiliation, whether you support or dislike Andrew Yang, I think it’s awesome to see an Asian face running for the presidential office. Whether he’s the best candidate to run the country or not, Andrew’s campaign sets a precedent that AAPIs can make an impact in this country.
“I hope my campaign energizes Asian Americans as I think the country would benefit from our becoming more politically engaged. That would make me very happy.”