Asian Americans for Trump: Calif. Republican Party Vice Chair Shares His Inspiring Story
We continue our special series on Asian Americans for Trump, where we have candid conversations with our guests to get to know them, their values, and why they support President Trump’s policies. Today we hear from Peter Kuo, California’s Republican Party Vice Chair.
Peter Kuo was born in Taiwan. He immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 14 years old. He eventually became a U.S. citizen after patiently going through the proper naturalization process. In addition to being Vice Chair of the California Republican Party, Peter is also an insurance agent, an entrepreneur, a business consultant, and a venture capitalist.
Immigrating to the United States from Taiwan
Peter Kuo: I was born in Taiwan in 1968, so I’m 51 now. I’m not ashamed to say that. When I was seven years old, my dad asked me–just like all Asian parents who ask their kids–do you want to play violin or piano? And my dad was kind of on the side, you know, jokingly saying, hey, you should pick violin because it’s a lot easier to flee the country if you have to carry a violin on your back than a piano. And the reason he made that remark was because that was during the height of the Vietnam War. A lot of people were leaving Vietnam trying to come to America. So violin become my instrument of choice when I was seven years old, and I played violin on and off until I was 14 years old.
I never thought that, actually, seven years later, what my dad joked about that day actually would come true. We had to flee Taiwan because my father was spotted in an anti-government rally. And they deemed him to be a … separatist, that’s the correct term really. But he was not … the government just came down using the IRS, a spare tool of attack, to take away my father’s business.
Peter Kuo: He was one of the largest ship disassemblers in Kaohsiung. So we had to leave everything. My mom was a school teacher in Kaohsiung as well, a very respected career. And we ended up in America with an investors visa and came to San Jose on July 1st, 1982. So it’s been exactly 37 years since I came to this country.
Growing Up in California
How was life growing up in San Jose?
Peter Kuo: The first three years were very rough just because I didn’t speak the language and everybody thought I was Vietnamese. I felt really, really left out being the only Taiwanese American in the whole entire school. I still remember this until today, was that my ESL teacher, Miss Rebecca Wedge, really, really helped me throughout that process, adjusting and helping me. And also through my other high school teacher, Mr. Al Santos, my math teacher. He realized, you know, hey, this kid is pretty bright. I was on top … in his Algebra class because I had already taken those classes back in Taiwan four years ago. So four years of high school math was like a breeze for me. And that was the only thing I was good at.
I used food diplomacy to build friends and friendship to let them know that hey, everybody has to eat. Let’s just talk over our differences instead of beating me up. Let’s just go to my dad’s restaurant and have a good meal there. So that was my saving grace really.
Becoming a U.S. Citizen
So you didn’t get your citizenship until 24 years after immigrating to America. Why did it take you so long to get naturalized?
Peter Kuo: Well, that is an interesting story. We came here with an investors visa, and that expires after five years. And my parents weren’t really thinking about staying in America in the long term because they still wanted to go home … But after he’d been here for several years, my dad said, okay, they’re going to apply for the green card. Right. It was the next step … so when they got their green card, I just happened to be over 21 years old. So I got bumped down to third category. And then, silly me, I met this amazing gal on the first day of her college here in America. And I got married to her when I was 25 years old.
Now I got bumped down to the sixth category, which is the lowest category, where you have to wait the longest … nineteen years later I got my green card and then five years later I applied for citizenship. So it’s a very long and tedious and very expensive route, but you know, we’ve done it legally. Wait in line and finally become a citizen, right? Twenty-four years. It is a long time.
And the day when you finally became a U.S. citizen, how did you feel?
Peter Kuo: It was the happiest day of my life. I was beaming with smile walking out of the Campbell Community Center. And I just couldn’t believe, you know, I can now actually have the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do in terms of employment, travel, everything. I mean, it was the best day of my life.
Getting into Politics
Peter Kuo: About five years ago … my dad sent me a sign saying, hey, look, don’t you think America looks just like Taiwan 35 years ago, where the government is using all these tactics to crack down on their citizens, to spy on their citizens. They’re doing all these things. Why don’t we just come out and run for office. So looking around, being a Republican ever since the day I became a citizen, I decided to run for state senate. In October 2013 I started running for state senate. And out of five candidates, I became the top two and advanced to the January election. So that was quite an experience for me.
In 2016 I ran for U.S. Congress. And that sort of made me realize, looking around, America is starting to look like Taiwan 35 years ago where the government is wanting to have all the power, health care. And any ideas … conservative ideas are being branded as racist or being attacked as being not politically correct. So it pains me to watch where America has fallen today, especially here in the Bay Area.
Peter Kuo: So February of this year, I also put my hat in to run for California Republican’s Vice Chair. In California, the Republican Party is the largest Republican Party, state party, in the union, with over 4.8 million members. So I feel very proud and a honored to be in this position where I am today. And I’m working very hard to take on the voter registration role that I have, fundraising as well as, you know, bringing more voices to the Party because immigrants like me, especially the Chinese Americans, are very hardworking and we all have the same values as Republicans.
Words of Wisdom to Young Conservatives
As a parent of three children, what would you say to the younger generation who may be afraid to voice their conservative opinions or support for the President in public?
Peter Kuo: I would highly, highly encourage our younger generation to look at and study the real American history. All these forefathers came to our country to escape big government, just as I have. Look into that. You know, it’s a funny story. When my kids turned seven, I asked them, do you want violin or piano. All of them played piano because they never thought there’s a need to flee America. And I see that happening. A lot of my friends and relatives are fleeing California. They all go to Texas or Arizona because of the high taxes. So I want to encourage the young next generation, really study American history. Ask your parents and grandparents, if they’re still around, why did you come to America?
And that answer would always be the same: We’re looking here for freedom. And many of them are here for the opportunities, the equal opportunities, but not equal status. The status you have to fight for, you have to work for in America. It should never be given to you. And those are the things I want to make sure that young children look at.
Press play at the top to listen to the rest of Peter’s interview and find out why he supports President Trump and why he thinks America is special.