From Martial Law to American Dream: An Interview with Calif. GOP Candidate Peggy Huang
Many families immigrate to the United States seeking the American Dream. This is especially true for families leaving authoritarian regimes. Peggy Huang immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when it was still under martial law. And now she is a candidate for California’s 45th congressional district. On today’s episode, Peggy shares her inspiring immigration story, her views on the challenges facing our country today, and some words of wisdom for the next generation.
Peggy Huang is a Deputy Attorney General for the State of California and a Yorba Linda City Council Member. She’s also a child advocate and works with a nonprofit that provides services to children with disabilities throughout California.
Peggy’s Immigration Story
Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like for you and your family immigrating here from Taiwan?
Peggy Huang: It was very, very difficult because, when we came to America, the only Asians that I knew were my cousins, and they wanted nothing to do with us because we didn’t speak English. Actually, nobody wanted to have anything to do with us. We couldn’t communicate with them. There were no ESL classes, so I learned English by immersion. So it was a very challenging time for our family.
We left in a hurry because, back in the 1970s, Taiwan was still under martial law. So if you were a male over the age of 14, you were not permitted to leave the country. My brother was about two months away from turning 14 when we found out that our visa was approved. So we literally packed up and left. So it was a chaotic, challenging time for us to be in a brand new place that we had never been to and couldn’t even communicate.
How Taiwan Has Changed from Martial Law to a Democracy
So how has Taiwan changed since your family left?
Peggy Huang: Well, it became a democracy in the 1990s, so it has really changed. There’s more freedom now. They have the right to vote, which is something my parents didn’t have when we lived there. They don’t have a curfew, you can be out all night and you’ll be okay. And they have multiple parties in their political system that you can vote for. It’s just a completely different world.
My memory of Taiwan is you can only watch TV three times a day, and that’s one hour in the morning, one hour at lunchtime, and you know, two, three hours, I think, at nighttime, a lot of propaganda; whereas, now it’s hundreds of channels. And they have so many shows. There’s freedom of speech. That was another thing that, back when we lived in Taiwan, you cannot criticize the government. You can’t even say anything except, you know, I love the government, otherwise you could perish the next day. Now the freedom of speech is incredible. No suppression. I think it’s definitely a different world.
How Living Under Martial Law Impacted Her Values
Since you had that experience of living in Taiwan when it was under martial law, I was wondering how that impacted your values and your thoughts about what’s going on in America now.
Peggy Huang: Well, number one, I cherish my first amendment right. Here in America, the freedom to worship, the freedom to speak, the freedom to assemble, that’s so important to me. Number two, the right to vote is another very important gift that our Founding Fathers gave us in the Constitution that I think a lot of Americans don’t realize what would happen when you cannot vote for the government officials that rule over you, because it only leads to corruption if you cannot participate in the process. I think what martial law and a dictatorship has shown me is what could happen when there is a one party rule, the amount of corruption, how the one party can change the law to favor them.
And that’s what scares me about California being in a super majority. It scares me to hear people promoting socialist ideas because they don’t know, they never experienced what it’s like to live in that fear where you’re not allowed to speak, where the government controls media. All you get is propaganda. And in the meantime, the government takes away your hard-earned dollars by imposing very heavy taxes on you and giving you very little in return. You basically become slaves to the government under such a system because you are dependent on the government for handouts. They dictate so much of your life.
What it’s Like to Be an Asian-American Republican
Have you experienced any kind of a prejudice because you’re Republican?
Peggy Huang: As a Republican, I think a lot of Asian Americans, they look at me funny. But I think the prejudice that I have felt is not because I’m a Republican, but as an Asian American. For example, affirmative action. Affirmative action was in place when I applied for college. At UC, back then, it’s, hey, you know, as soon as we had 24 percent of our applicants being Asian Americans, we don’t care how good your grades are and how eligible you are, you will not be admitted.
Since there’s so many Asian Americans that will meet the standard admissions requirements, we’re going to make you achieve more. You have to do more. And no other ethnicity has that pressure except for Asian Americans … you know, take away the quotas and just look at the merits.
I felt that was very unfair to a lot of us. And when they took away affirmative action in the UC system, you saw Asian American enrollment went from the 24-28 percent range, and it jumped all the way to 48-52 percent. So it’s been consistently between 48-52 percent ever since then because it’s based on merit and not based on ethnicity. And so I think that we need to, as Republicans, continue to spread that message of how affirmative action actually, in education, has hurt Asian Americans. And it has not helped at all.
Hopes for America’s Next Generation
You have two daughters who are in school. I was wondering what your hopes are for the next generation of Americans.
Peggy Huang: I am so glad you asked me that question because I got into this–into politics–because of my kids. I would have never entered the arena but for my kids. Something happened in my city that was potentially harmful to my kids, so I got into politics and fought the city hall about it.
What I want to see my children to have, and all the kids to have, is the true first amendment right, the freedom to speak. Not forced into this groupthink that’s going on right now. That’s especially hard for conservatives. If we say we’re republican, then everyone jumps on us and automatically says we’re racist or sexist, which I thought was interesting, considering I’m Asian American and I’m a female. But you get labeled with that right away.
So I envision a future for my kids where they can speak freely, have the freedom of thought, that they continue to enjoy the freedom that their parents had sacrificed for them to have the ability to vote, the ability to pursue the type of career they want and not be saddled with loans that it’s not possible to pay back or become dependent on the government because the government took away so much that there’s no other way for them to survive but be dependent on government. To me, that’s a form of slavery.
Peggy’s Advice to Young Conservatives
You’ve been very successful. You came here not even speaking English, and now you are running for Congress. Do you have any advice or words of wisdom for young people or young conservatives, specifically?
Peggy Huang: For young conservatives, I would say that all of you have the potential for greatness. Don’t let people tell you otherwise. Be true to who you are. Don’t change your mind just because other people say what you’re thinking is unpopular. And most importantly, be your own boss. Don’t let the government or someone else dictate your destiny. Create that destiny that you have, that you desire, because there are no other countries except the United States that gives you the freedom and the ability to carve out the path that you want. The opportunity that we have in America is available to everyone if you’re willing to work for it.
Press play at the top to listen to the rest of Peggy’s interview. You can hear about her history as a Republican (08:43); her thoughts on the biggest challenges facing our country today–and her solutions (10:30); and her experience working with human trafficking survivors (13:44).