At Nixon Peabody we believe it's important to ensure our differences are celebrated. This month, as we reflect on Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I was honored to take part in our new series, Let's Talk More.
I had the privilege of having a conversation with Attorney General William Tong of Connecticut. Assuming office in January 2019, Attorney General Tong is the first Asian American elected at the statewide level in Connecticut. In a short time, he has become a national leader on a range of issues. Most prominently, he has taken a leading role in the fight against the opioid crisis. He has also become a national leader on anti-trust enforcement, pursuing strong actions against large corporations in the pharmaceutical and technology sectors. Prior to his service as Attorney General, William worked as a litigator with private firms for 18 years before being elected as a State Representative in the Connecticut General Assembly.
It was a pleasure to have a conversation with William. We shared our experiences as Asian Americans and how that has impacted our career journey and path to leadership. Below are a few key takeaways from our discussion:
Finding a seat at the table
William's path to leadership and politics traces back to his time working in his family's restaurant. He referred to those times as a highly motivating memory. For a long time, he did not have a seat at the table—a feeling many minorities can relate to. When he saw that our former president was threatening to denaturalize American citizens, which included his parents and grandparents, he felt compelled to take action. He now has a seat at the table and is motivated to support and strengthen the system and to protect the liberties of all Americans—particularly those who don't have a seat at the table.
When I asked William about his path to success he credited his parents and other mentors he had along the way. In this regard, William shared a great piece of advice—you have to take the initiative and seek out mentorship. You can't just wait for others to take you under their wing. Advocate for yourself and actively seek out mentors. In addition, once you have found your mentors, it's a two-way street. You have to show your mentors that you are willing to make the same investment in them that they are making in you.
Find common ground
We build relationships on our shared experiences. During our conversation, William and I discovered several experiences we had in common. William emphasized the point that we need to stop pretending to hide who we are or hide that we are different. Acknowledging ourselves—who we are, where we come from, our experiences—creates the basis of how we connect with others. This is also great advice for those that are hoping to lift up members of other minority communities. We all have a lot more in common than we might think.
Celebrate your differences
William based his advice for the younger generation on celebrating and acknowledging your differences. As Asian Americans, we should celebrate our cultural heritage and also realize as a minority that we need to be aware of the unique challenges before us. We're both hopeful that future generations won't face these same challenges, but for now, understanding them will better equip you in overcoming them.
It was a privilege to have a conversation with William and I hope others took away the valuable lessons that I know I did. If you'd like to hear more, view our full-length discussion here.