Heidi Park, 28, shares a similar beginning with many other Korean adoptees. She grew up away from her homeland of Seoul, Korea and in the very foreign environment of the Midwest where her family and friends were predominantly white. But her minority identity led her down the path toward working with communities of color where she is, at her young age, quickly becoming a role model.
Park obtained her degree in history and lived in Korea for some time, where she was a member of the Global Overseas Adoptee’s Link, a non-governmental organization consisting of overseas Korean adoptees working together to locate birth families and experience Korean life and culture. She eventually moved to Seattle hoping to rebuild her own community and network of friends who looked like her and shared similar experiences.
She worked as a community organizer with the Win/Win Network, a collaboration of the state’s nonprofit constituent-based organizations. She serves on the board of the Asian Adult Adoptees of Washington and works as the community liaison for Congressman Jim McDermott, linking the API community with an important political figure.
What was your inspiration to get into politics?
Park: After a couple of years working in the private sector, I went to work for my mentor, Eric Liu. He exposed me to a lot of great ideas related to civic engagement through projects and collaboration. But it wasn’t until he decided to run for Washington State Senate that my toes dipped into the political environment. Slowly but surely I found a community of other Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI), who held similar views.
Since then, I have worked within the AAPI community doing civic engagement projects, community organizing, and volunteering. Currently, I serve the public as a community liaison and caseworker for Congressman Jim McDermott, who is a long-time friend of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. In the Congressman’s office, I act as the liaison between the community and our office to ensure that the community’s voice is heard in the office and that the community knows what’s happening in Washington D.C. as it affects our country, congressional district, city, and community. We must all ensure that everyone understands that civic engagement and community goes hand-in-hand.
What are the current needs in the API community, in relation to politics?
Park: From community health clinics to senior citizen housing, our community is seeing health and human services fraying. Many worry about the immigration policies we face as it directly impacts families and friends. Though there are a number of needs we have to ensure, our community has a civic engagement infrastructure.
It is essential for our community to recognize that the role of government is to serve our community, understand how our government structures work, and distinguish how policy works in different levels and branches as it relates to politics. Without this, how can we properly address our needs?
What is your vision for politics in the API community?
Park: Some communities under the Asian American and Pacific Islander umbrella term have been civically engaged for decades. However, many other communities do not have that same experience. A healthy balance between civic engagement and political affairs in all of the AAPI communities is what I would like to see.