This past August, TACL’s Political Internship Program (PIP) celebrated its successful relaunch in Los Angeles, where the program started 24 years ago. With an intimate closing ceremony that featured a keynote speech by Congresswoman Judy Chu, a long-time friend of the Taiwanese American community, this year’s program proudly recognized the achievements of its three interns. Here is a short interview with PIP Director, Jeff Shieh, about what happened this summer.
TACL: A lot of people haven’t heard of the Political Internship Program. Can you tell us a little more about it?
Jeff: Sure! The program was started 24 years ago in Los Angeles and places college students in the offices of elected officials for 9 weeks. Interns work full-time in an office for about 8 weeks, while receiving one-to-one mentorship from a working professional of the community, attending various development workshops, and working on an advocacy project. It’s a pretty intense program, both for the staff and for the participants, but in the end, seeing the growth of these students over the summer makes it all worth it.
TACL: There are a number of other political internship programs out there. What makes this program tailored to “Taiwanese Americans”?
Jeff: Many other internships offer the chance to work in a political office and some also offer networking events and development workshops, but PIP also emphasizes on the goals of the program and TACL: to enhance the lives of Taiwanese Americans by fostering leaders of the next generation through our four LINC pillars (leadership, identity, networking and citizenship) and by increasing civic engagement and participation in the key decision-making processes of our country. All of our workshops and activities are geared to help interns connect with and understand the diversity and vast needs of the Taiwanese American community – whether it is through the advocacy project, TA identity workshops, or taking the interns to the 626 Night Market to sample Taiwanese delicacies.
We hope that by introducing them to the broader Taiwanese American community while they’re in their formative years at college, they will come back in the future to become leaders in our community. In fact, that’s one of our measures of success: how many former PIP participants come back to become leaders of our community.
TACL: Speaking of interns, who were this year’s interns?
Jeff: We had three participants on our program this year: Jeshow Yang, William Liao, and Gavin Greene.
Jeshow is currently a junior at the University of Florida where he is studying political science and economics. He was placed at the office of State Senator Ed Hernandez, and is heavily involved with the Multicultural and Diversity Affairs office at his university.
William is a sophomore at UC Berkeley where he is studying mathematics and statistics. He was placed at the office of State Assemblymember Ling Ling Chang (who is of Taiwanese heritage), and helped organize this year’s TACL-LID camp. He is a great example of someone who attended TACL-LID camp as a camper, then came back and became a counselor and organizer, then also participated in PIP.
Last, but not least, Gavin, whose mother is Taiwanese and father is Caucasian, is also a sophomore at UC Berkeley where he is studying political science and economics. He was placed at the office of Congresswoman Judy Chu.
TACL: What did these interns do on the internship program?
Jeff: Aside from working 35 to 40 hours a week in their respective offices, they received one-on-one mentorship from PIP Alums Ben Ling and Kathy Lin, and current TAP-LA President JC Chang. This is a valuable part of the experience as they get to develop relationships with other leaders in our community.
The interns also participated in various workshops focused on developing their leadership skills, knowledge of TA history, TA identity, self-awareness, and understanding of our community’s needs. We also had the chance over the summer to partner with Asian Americans Advancing Justice – L.A. to volunteer with their citizenship clinic and learn about the journey immigrants go through to become citizens.
Lastly, throughout the summer, the interns worked on an advocacy project that they presented in Sacramento to legislators and legislative staff.
TACL: What is this advocacy project, and why is it so important?
Jeff: Advocacy is one of the most important channels through which we can influence legislation to ensure that the needs of our community are addressed and not ignored. The goal of this project is to have interns learn about issues that affect the community, understand how advocacy works at a basic level and experience the act of advocating in person. At the beginning of the program, the interns select a live bill in the California legislature that can potentially impact the TA or APIA community and spend the rest of the summer researching the various arguments, facts, and statistics that support and oppose the bill. After taking a stance that they want to advocate, the interns create a digestible one-page handout that summarizes their main arguments and go up to Sacramento to meet with the legislators who vote on the bills or with their staff who advise the legislators on how to vote.
TACL: What did the interns do their project on this year?
Jeff: This year, the interns chose to address the topic of labor inequality by looking at Senate Bill 1063, which seeks to add “Race” and “Ethnicity” into the provisions of the California Fair Pay Act that was passed last year aiming to address the gender wage gap. They chose this bill in particular because research shows that there is still a significant wage gap between Asians and Caucasians in many industries, and the disparity is even more significant when looking at women of color compared to caucasian males. In support of this bill, the interns scheduled 14 meetings over three days with 5 legislators and 9 legislative staff from both sides of the aisle to talk about the bill and present their arguments about why the elected officials should support the bill. The bill ended up being voted on along party lines, but we found out that two of the Republicans that we met with decided to abstain from the vote instead of voting “No”. Also, we just found out on Sept. 30 that Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, which I like to think is partially because of the work these three interns did over the summer!
TACL: What was the most exciting thing this past summer?
Jeff: There were definitely a number of highlights, but the most exciting thing for me was probably getting to attend the reception for President Tsai Ing-Wen’s visit to L.A. It was really exciting to shake her hand and hear from her in person, as well as eat delicious food and meet other TAs. We were able to attend the event and greet the President with our TACL PIP banner thanks to the first gen TACL alumni who invited us.
TACL: So how can the Taiwanese American community help support the program?
Jeff: There are lots of ways, but I will list out the three main types of support we are looking for.
1) Financial support. This program cannot run without donations from the local community. In order to be a competitive internship program, we provide students with stipends, and we also pay for the costs of the advocacy trip to Sacramento. The size of the program depends on the availability of funds, so the more funds we have, the more students we can potentially accept. If you are interested in donating, please go to TACL website and click on the “Donate” tab under “Ten for TACL”. If you would like to make a larger one-time contribution, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com.
2) Staff. This program cannot run without a dedicated group of individuals to help plan and organize everything. I am looking for people who are willing to sacrifice countless hours to develop this program and make it even better and more competitive. Specifically, I need two to three people who can help me organize events, manage the marketing and recruiting, and keep up communication and relationships with the offices and mentors. If you are interested in helping out, send me an e-mail, and we can talk further.
3) Recruitment. Despite this being a great program, not many college students have heard about it. We have found that despite our best efforts to get the word out in news media and social media, one of the most effective ways to spread awareness of our program is by word-of-mouth. As such, we need help advertising our program to college students, particularly those involved in TASA/ITASA. If you know college students who might be interested, please tell them to go visit our webpage at http://tacl.org/programs/internships/political-internship/. Applications for our 2017 summer program will be live in November 2016, with an initial deadline in late January.