Public Service Innovators -- Leverett Wing (MPA2 1992) Advocates For More Asian Americans in the Public Sector

July 20, 2001
Lory Hough

The instant that Leverett Wing (MPA2 1992) walked into the Massachusetts State House a decade ago to work for one of the most powerful legislators, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, he knew he was an anomaly.
The instant that Leverett Wing (MPA2 1992) walked into the Massachusetts State House a decade ago to work for one of the most powerful legislators, Senate President Thomas Birmingham, he knew he was an anomaly.
"When I got there, I was pretty much the only Asian American. Not only were there no elected Asian Americans, but there was also a dearth of staff members," he says.
At the time, people didn't quite know what to make of him. "One day I was mistaken for a member of the cleaning crew while I was in my suit and tie. Someone also asked if I was the mail boy," he says. "I'm not saying these were definite cases of racism, but these two instances opened my eyes."
Today, from his Beacon Hill office where he currently serves as Birmingham's business manager and is still one of the few Asian Americans working in state politics, Wing talks about how his lone wolf experience has changed his life, particularly his increasing passion to help the Asian American community become more politically involved.
Six years ago, for instance, he started the Massachusetts Younger Asian American Caucus, a group focused on attracting a new generation of Asian Americans to public service and government. So far they've organized voter registration drives, spoken at college conferences, and held information seminars for community groups.
For Wing, this passion for public service comes naturally -- a combination of his realization during his undergraduate days at Tufts University that he was a good organizer, as well as his from his parents' encouragement.
"My mom liked to say, 'You can't take it with you,'" says the Chelsea, Massachusetts native. "We were raised to believe it was selfish not to give back."
Still, Wing acknowledges that not all Asian American families think of public service as a career option for their kids; a barrier his caucus is trying to break down.
"In the Asian American community, it's not a traditional field. We're generally raised to be doctors, lawyers, or business people. Politics is a mystery to a lot of Asian Americans," he says. "Plus, there are very few Asian American role models on the East Coast. When you grow up and don't see role models, you don't become inspired to pursue a field and then it becomes a vicious cycle."
Wing is hopeful, however, with the progress he sees in the state. "We've made some progress, but we've still got a ways to go," he says. "Beyond getting more Asian Americans elected into office, the community also needs to become more of a force in terms of influencing policy decisions and being seen as an influential voting bloc. The challenge is big, but I'm confident we're heading in the right direction."
Today, there are approximately five Asian American elected officials at the city council and school committee level in Massachusetts. He hopes one day to see them throughout the State House, as well.


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