Political evolution of Liping Peng: From the sideline, to being an activist, registered voter, Democratic volunteer, mobilizing the Chinese American community to get involved and vote
CHESHIRE-In 2004, Liping Peng immigrated from China with her family.
A year later she studied at Southern Connecticut State University, not only to learn English but also to pursue her bachelor’s degree in accounting. At the time, she had never thought that politics would become such a great commitment in her life.
Fast forward to 2018.
She has become an American citizen, her two children are in the Cheshire school system, at the urging of friend Breina Schain she registered to vote on March 5 for the first time, and now she is an active member of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee and Cheshire Democratic Women’s Club.
Peng has also been on a mission to educate and mobilize the nearly 300 Chinese immigrants living in Cheshire when it comes to the importance of being involved with politics, registering to vote and then getting out and vote.
A lot has happened for Peng between 2005 and today, including the realization of what American Democracy is all about and the importance of exercising your right to vote.
“When I first came here to America, I was concentrating on getting a good education at Southern,” Peng said. “I couldn’t even speak English at time. Communication was a challenge for me, but I learned to adapt quickly.
“American politics was so far from my mind at that time. Chinese people don’t really get involved in politics there (China) or here. But as an American citizen, now that you are here and with the United States as our homeland, I understand we have the responsibility to get involved in politics, to do our part with all American citizens to help this place get better. And I am spreading that word in the Chinese community here.”
In order to learn how Peng’s 2018 evolution from being on the sidelines politically to where she is today, we need to go back to February when she heard about the Asian Mandatory Ancestry Registration/Asian Registry.
Connecticut doesn’t have an Asian Registry law, where Asian Americans in schools would be the only ethic group required to identify they are Asian and what Asian countries they come from, at least for right now.
But concerned that laws were passed in California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Washington State, New York City, and Hawaii to implement an Asian Registry, earlier this year a law - SB 359 - was introduced that would prohibit the collection of separate student data on any specific ethnic subgroups. The law would effectively ban the state from ever implementing an Asian Registry.
On March 8, there was a public hearing in Hartford to discuss the bill and Peng was one of nearly a thousand Asian Americans who converged on Hartford for the hearing.
“With an Asian Registry, only Asian kids are being forced to provide information about where they come from," Peng said. "When that was brought to my attention I couldn’t believe it. School should never force any kids to provide such information, because as citizens, they are all Americans. We don’t want to create an environment that judge students by categorization based on where their family came from or their ethnicity.
“It’s not right. For the first time in my life I decided to take an active role in getting involved in politics. My friends and I, we organized a bus load of other Asians to go to Hartford on March 8 to show support for the bill that was proposed. Republican senators introduced the bill and I got to know Bill Tong (current Democratic candidate for Attorney General) who was involved too.”
Bill SB 359 did not pass.
A couple of weeks prior to the March 8 public hearing, Peng informed her American friends in Cheshire, including Schain, about the Asian Registry and the bill that could eliminate it.
At one point Schain, a Democrat actively involved in local politics in Cheshire and current member of the Cheshire Zoning Board of Appeals, asked Peng if she was registered to vote in Cheshire.
“I asked Li if she was registered to vote and she didn't know anything about that,” Schain said. “I explained to her about our party system and she wanted to know how a Democrat differs from a Republican. Then I spoke about our Legislature and Senators and Congress.
“I did stress that in this country it is not only a right to vote but a responsibility, and privilege.”
On March 5, Schain took Peng to the Registrar’s office and Peng registered to vote.
“Eventually, she decided to register as a Democrat after she understood the party ideals,” Schain said. “I met her at Town Hall and walked her through the process. She was excited to be a voter.
“I asked her to attend a Cheshire Democratic Town Committee meeting with me to see what it is all about. Then I asked her to come to the Democratic Women's Club and she not only came, but promptly joined and paid her dues.”
Peng attended the March 6 monthly meeting of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee to become familiar with American Democracy and the way politics function. At the end of the meeting, as a guest, Peng discussed Bill SB 359 and asked for support.
“Breina kept telling me how important it was to vote, that I needed to vote to make a difference,” Peng said. “I was still so new to politics, new to getting involved and taking advantage of American Democracy. When Breina suggested I go to the CDTC meeting I thought maybe I should check it out.”
After the CDTC meeting, Peng said she felt she discovered a new world.
“At that meeting I saw so many people donating their time and effort to help the community,” said Peng. “I lived in Cheshire for nine years and did nothing to help out. Living here so long without getting involved, I felt isolated.”
“But doing this makes me feel more valuable, not just in Cheshire or this community but valuable for this whole country. We need to think of ourselves as being valuable to this whole country.”
Peng was inspired by the meeting and eventually became a CDTC member.
The political evolution of Peng took another step forward this election cycle when she decided to be active for her friend William Tong’s campaign for Attorney General.
“This is the first time I have ever been involved with a campaign and I’m having so much fun doing it,” Peng said. “I am doing my best to help him out. The biggest reason I am doing this is because he is an honest person. He doesn’t make promises he can’t keep. He’s very experienced and smart.”
Tong is impressed with Peng’s energy.
“Everybody now is woke, being woke is what Liping is all about,” said Tong, referring to the slang form of the word, woke, that represents social awareness, knowing what is going on in the community and being socially conscious. “When I was growing up, there were no Asian role models. Now, with the energy someone like Liping has shown, it’s amazing for all our kids. My kids and Liping’s kids have an opportunity to be a part of this Democratic process.
“Liping is stirring up the Asian community. We need more people like her to get more Asians involved in government. I’d like to think I am a vehicle for that too. Liping is motivating them to be proactive.”
According to Internet reports there are about 160,000 Asians living in Connecticut and there are about 300 living in Cheshire. While 300 might not seem to be a huge number, in a town like Cheshire 300 votes are enough to make a significant impact on a lot of local political campaigns in town.
Peng knows it and she has initiated a mobilizing effort.
“I have sent out 200 mails to Chinese families in Cheshire,” Peng said. “I want to energize them to register to vote, get out and vote and participate in town committee meetings. I want to educate them, have them understand the political experience and let them know they have a responsibility to help and make this place better.”
“I have been encouraged because more Chinese are getting involved. I know a couple of other people in Cheshire who are helping with the Tong campaign. I have Chinese friends outside of Cheshire and now they have joined their town committees in the Avon and Hartford area.”
Peng is being urged to take on other responsibilities for the CDTC and she doesn’t rule out running for office someday – but only when the time is right.
“Realistically, I still need to take baby steps,” Peng said. “I’m still learning the whole Democratic process. I don’t want to take on too many challenges because sometimes it puts too much pressure on you and pressure makes you want to quit.
“I know my ability and what I am able to handle. I will get more involved but right now I enjoy what I am doing. The CDTC and getting involved with politics has been such a wonderful opportunity.”
Dan Nowak is chairman of the Cheshire Democratic Town Committee's Communication Relations/IT Committee, a volunteer position. He is a Cheshire Parks and Recreation Commissioner and has been a sportswriter for the New Haven Register for 34 years.