Chinatown forum airs issues in state representative race

By Xiao Lyu and Ya Zhou

More than 100 people attended the 2nd district state representative candidate forum at Chinatown’s Pui Tak Center on Monday night.

The forum, organized by the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community (CBCAC), invited the two candidates running for the seat to openly discuss their proposals and respond to audience questions.

However, one of the candidates, Alex Acevedo, didn’t show up “due to scheduling conflicts,” according to Chun Wah Chan, chairman of CBCAC.

Acevedo,  the son of the current representative, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The forum stretched for two and a half hours with translation in Cantonese and Mandarin, allowing Theresa Mah to answer 12 questions and elaborate on topics from voting rights and education to business and public safety.

Born and raised in an immigrant family in San Francisco,  Mah said that she had a deep understanding of the struggles that immigrant families in the community go through.

“My mother didn’t speak any English when she came [to America] and I was her interpreter at schools and parent-teacher conferences,” Mah said to the audience. “I understand what people in the community experience, and I want to fight so that you can have a better life.”

Mah also promised her potential voters that she would increase the transparency and communication with the community if elected.

As a former college professor, Mah described her vision about the importance of investing in education. “Since we live in a world-class city, we should be able to provide world-class education for our kids,” said Mah.

Forum Audience
More than 100 community members attend the candidate forum at the Pui Tak Center at the intersection of the W. Cermak Rd. and the S. Wentworth Ave. (Xiao Lyu/MEDILL)

“I know this community like the back of my hand. I see all the needs. I want to do something about it,” said Mah. “It is a community with a lot of needs that have not been addressed with our current leadership.”

District includes Asians, Hispanics, whites

Edward Avecedo, who is Mexican-American, is the father of Alex Avecedo and the sitting representative of the 2nd district. Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in the district, comprising 53 percent of the district’s population. The Asian community is the second largest group, and makes up  23 percent.

2nd District Boundaries
The district includes various neighborhoods in Chicago which include Chinatown, Pilsen and part of Bridgeport, McKinley Park, Brighton Park and Back of the Yards. (Illinois State Board of Elections)

John Powe, an IIT student, came to the forum to learn more about the two candidates. He had a good impression of Mah.

“She did strike me as a progressive person who care about the community,” said Powe. “I am definitely gonna vote. Mostly I will be voting for her.”

“I was a little disappointed that the other candidate didn’t come, so we can see the differences between them so far,” said Powe.

After the 2011 redistricting, over 90 percent of Chinese Americans in Chicago now live in the 2nd state house district. Before that, Chinatown was split up between four different districts, according to Chan.

Educating voters through community outreach

Debbie Liu, a community development coordinator at CBCAC, expressed her appreciation at the prospect of having a Chinese representative in the state legislature for the first time. But she also said voters should not make their voting decision only based on skin color.

“I think they really should find the person that they agree with in terms of how they feel the district and the state should move forward,” Liu said.

Liu also hoped that the event would engage and educate minority voters, who traditionally have an overall lower voting rate.

“Maybe they don’t vote just because they don’t know where to vote, or who to vote for, so these (events) are great opportunities for them to learn that,” said Liu.

Photo at top: 2nd district state representative candidate Theresa Mah speaks to the audience at the Pui Tak Center. (Xiao Lyu/MEDILL)