From Taipei to Cupertino: The journey to find and serve my hometown
Hung Wei is a council member for the city of Cupertino; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Public trust is built in — and with — the community. It cannot be mandated. This article is a first-person account of how the connection between city and citizen develops and serves as an excellent example for Western City magazine’s public trust and ethics issue. Cupertino Council Member Hung Wei reflects on her journey to become an elected official and that when she is referred to as “the honorable Council Member,” it is a reminder to “think honorable thoughts, speak honorable words, and make honorable decisions.” The article originally appeared in Mandarin in the NTUAA NorCal newsletter and has been edited for clarity and length. Western City is grateful for the permission to republish the article.
In the heart of first-generation Chinese American immigrants is a question: “Where is my ’hometown?’”
I was born and raised in Taipei, Taiwan. I still vividly remember the carefree days of kindergarten and middle school. Those were ten years of happy times; my only worry was whether I liked the lunch box prepared by mom or what snacks to bring to the yearly spring school outing to share with my classmates.
Then came the three high-pressure years of high school life, studying endlessly just to perform on the two days of a college entrance exam during a hot and sweaty summer after high school graduation.
Those two-day tests of six subjects would determine which college each high school graduate got to attend — or whether there was a college to attend at all if one failed the tests! I hardly had time to experience the growing pains of transforming from a little girl to an emotional teen.
Finally, the college exam was over. I was lucky to get into the college of my dreams and to study in the major of my choice. The feeling that “I’ve arrived where exams don’t matter” was refreshing and joyful. Four years of college flew by so fast.
It was expected that most of my classmates from this best and most renowned university in Taipei would apply for graduate study abroad after graduation. I was no exception.
Before I left, I met a boy during my junior year, who I dated seriously. He was an electrical engineering major at the same university, a year older than me and a classmate of my cousin. Like most of our classmates, my boyfriend and I took our graduate entrance exams during our senior year. We applied to ten graduate schools in the U.S., hoping that at least one graduate school would admit both of us.
The very first university that accepted both of us was the University of California, Los Angeles, which was only one Pacific Ocean away from where we were. We didn’t hesitate to accept UCLA’s offer. During this stage of our life, my hometown was still Taipei.
Moving from my hometown
For most first-generation Chinese American immigrants, real-life skills are learned after college — first airplane flight, first time leaving parents behind, first supermarket shopping trip, first tries at cooking and cleaning, and first taste of cereal with cold milk. We accumulate many firsts that sharpened our daily living skills and kept us occupied, in addition to studying and communicating in English. We learn to live by bumping into walls and making funny mistakes.
My boyfriend and I became independent, got married, found jobs, made money, bought cars and then a house, and became parents. We lived a “normal” life, like most of our friends from Taipei.
We earned a good income from our Silicon Valley jobs, hosted holiday get-togethers with family and friends, enjoyed weekend mahjong games while the kids played in the next room, and planned vacations with family and friends to Lake Tahoe or Disneyland.
Ten plus years flew by and we regularly took our kids across the Pacific Ocean to visit their grandparents in the summer. During this stage of our life, my hometown was Taipei.
When did it start to change? When did I start to feel that this town, Cupertino, is my hometown?
This is where I first tasted wine, first took my kids to kindergarten, and first attended a company Christmas party. It is where I raised my children and became who I am today. However, the feeling of being “embraced” by this town and “embracing” this town grew gradually and imperceptibly.
Years continued to fly by. We experienced the ordinary hardships of life in Silicon Valley, but also the ordinary happiness that all families experience day in and day out.
Finding my new hometown
Home is where your family lives. Hometown is where family and friends reside.
I think the shift first began when my parents grew old and retired. Since all my siblings were in the U.S., my parents sold their Taipei apartment and immigrated to Cupertino, living just a five-minute drive from my place. The “home” in Taipei where I grew up was not ours anymore.
After more than 30 years living in Cupertino, where we became parents and where our children played, studied, practiced sports, and grew up with friends, we have made a “home” for ourselves.
During this stage of our life, my hometown became Cupertino, USA, while Taipei became my former hometown.
Taipei nurtured me for 23 years. Silicon Valley and Cupertino brought me up over the past 40 years.
My “hometown” journey started gradually, and if I must recall a moment of realization, it was the day that I met the principal of my children’s elementary school on the school campus.
I respectfully addressed her: “Good morning, principal.”
She surprised me with, “Call me Suzanne”.
“No, I can’t call you by your first name,” I said. “You are the principal and I’m just a mom.”
“We are equal,” Suzanne gently told me. “A principal and a parent are on equal ground to educate children together. We both have the same responsibilities and the same privileges in educating our next generation.”
It then dawned on me that I was part of the school because my children were part of the school. This was also “my school” — not just my children’s school. And what Suzanne pointed out about educating children was not meant to be educating “my children.” She meant educating “all children.”
A new concept grew within me during that moment of realization: I was part of this school community. Whether this school was good or bad mattered to me, and not just because it was my children’s school. It was all these children’s school. This school mattered to me because I was part of it.
Learning to serve my hometown
Sometime after that conversation, I joined the PTA, where I became friends with the principal, teachers, and staff. We planned children’s activities together with other parents, hosted fundraisers for a new playground, and supported physical education and music classes.
During the days and years while my children grew up from elementary school to middle school to high school, I made friends with parents in the neighborhood along the way. We communicated in English and celebrated Thanksgiving and Chinese New Year. I learned about Jewish holidays and European art. I grew to love salads, hamburgers, and steak while taking my neighbors to eat Chinese dim sum, Peking duck, and beef noodle soups, as well as experience the beauty and intricacy of Chinese calligraphy and painting.
Cupertino became my hometown because my hometown is where family and friends are. Cupertino embraces me and I embrace Cupertino. Taipei remains my former hometown, but it exists in the far-away memory of more than 40 years ago!
My “hometown” journey didn’t stop at the PTA. I joined multiple local nonprofits and expanded my volunteering into supporting various causes. Step by step, I learned to care about the needs of the community and to understand the importance of providing stability to the wider community. Only when Cupertino is safe and moving forward, will my family and home be safe and moving forward!
In 2007, an elected high school board member resigned from her position. I was encouraged by many to apply for the open appointment. I had no idea what an elected high school board member’s responsibilities were, so I connected with many current and former school board members to seek information and advice on what high school board members really were.
Though my experience in public education was limited to local school operations, these field experiences provided a solid background to build upon. Learning to govern could be achieved in time with due diligence. It also helped that I had been involved with local nonprofits, where I built collaborative skills within the community to support public education.
So, I took a big step to challenge myself and applied for the high school board appointment. I was fortunate to be appointed among ten applicants. This was the beginning of my journey in public service.
From 2007 to 2018, I served the local high school district on its board of trustees and continued to learn during my eleven years of public service. If asked to sum up my public service experience, this is what I would say: A public official is “elected” to volunteer to serve.
The word “honorable” is often added in front of an elected official’s name. However, the word “honorable” is not used to describe an elected official as a person. Rather, it is a constant reminder for an elected official to “think honorable thoughts, speak honorable words, and make honorable decisions.” Being called “honorable” is a demand from the public to serve by making honorable decisions!
In 2020, after 11 years of service to the high school, I decided to continue to learn, grow, and serve my hometown further by running for the city council. Cupertino is my hometown and this is where I want to “think honorable thoughts, speak honorable words, and make honorable decisions.”
Only when Cupertino is safe and moving forward, will my family and home be safe and moving forward.
I was elected to the city council in November 2020. My journey as a city council member so far has been challenging and invigorating. It forces me to listen and research in order to take care of Cupertino residents in areas of public safety, quality of life, and more.
As a leader, I adhere to this quote by author Simon Sinek. “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of the people in your charge.”
It is invigorating to be able to make forward-looking decisions for the future of Cupertino. The city council makes critical decisions for residents — current and future! Council members are elected by current residents to envision what their city will be in the next 40 or 50 years and beyond.
To do this, I study environmental issues, housing elements, transit solutions, clean water, and sewage issues. I have toured water purification facilities, native garden farms, garbage recycling plants, electrical car manufacturing factories, construction sites, historical buildings, self-driving grocery delivery protocols, and much more to gain the knowledge needed to move my hometown forward by making decisions via thoughtful, logical, and scientific-based research.
I also make it my mission to attend as many nonprofit organization functions as my time allows. Cupertino cannot move forward without the support and contribution from all the volunteers who passionately and silently serve our community with their talent, time, and monetary donations. More than ever, I am a happy resident of my hometown because I am part of the “togetherness” of my fellow Cupertians!
I do not just own a house in Cupertino. Every day, I walk on the streets in my hometown. Every day I admire the flowers and trees in my hometown. Every day I watch the sunrise and sunset in my hometown. I am never lonely in Cupertino. I embrace Cupertino and Cupertino embraces me. I feel “at home” in Cupertino. This is where I was “elected” to volunteer to serve!
In the heart of first-generation Chinese American immigrants is a question: “Where is ’hometown?’” My wish is for all first-generation Chinese American immigrants to “feel at home” wherever they are!