By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
“There is a lot to be done. COVID-19 economic recovery, racial inequity. It’s humbling to see that, for my candidacy as a woman who is half Korean and half Black, the enthusiasm extends beyond the district…What it means to finally have representation—that’s a big deal that sometimes gets overlooked,” Marilyn Strickland told the Northwest Asian Weekly. The Democratic hopeful for Washington’s 10th Congressional District is running for the seat, which is being vacated by Denny Heck, who is now running for Lieutenant Governor. If elected, Strickland will be the first Black woman from the Pacific Northwest and the first Korean American woman in Congress.
“You’re representing your district and your state, but your presence at the table means a lot to a lot of people. You have a duty and responsibility to pay it forward and do the work so our society is more inclusive and more diverse,” Strickland continued.
The Weekly asked the former mayor of Tacoma, who is competing for the position against Republican Beth Doglio, why she is the better candidate.
“I am running, like I always have, on my qualifications of leadership and experience, but the representation topic is of critical importance, especially now, given the times that we’re in. Our delegation, which is a very strong one, representing us in Washington, D.C., does not have someone of Korean or African American background, so this opportunity to bring my voice, my experience, and the people I want to represent, will make us better and better at policy making.”
Strickland emphasized her own lived experience as crucial to her candidacy. Born in Seoul, South Korea, her father was a military man.
“He met my mother, who is Korean, and our family came to the United States when I was very young.”
Strickland’s family ended up in the Pacific Northwest because of Fort Lewis. “I attended public schools. I am lucky because education and doing well in school was a value my parents instilled in me, especially my mother, that I did my homework, making sure I was doing things that would enhance my education. She knew that she didn’t get to have a complete formal education and she wanted that for me very badly. It wasn’t if you go to college, it was when you go to college. She knew that this would be the one opportunity…coming to America…It’s interesting because I’m considered generation 1.5 because I was born in Seoul but raised here.”
When asked what work she has done to assist Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs), Strickland cited her achievements with the community, including standing behind the Chinese Reconciliation Project and coordinating trade [visits] to Asia during her time as mayor.
“The people who are endorsing me…a lot of national organizations and even here at home, including Andrew Yang, who ran for president, Lua Pritchard…a lot of people who have represented businesses, nonprofits, and government are getting behind me. It’s a testament to the work I’ve done and the work I will do. I’m proud to have leaders from the AAPI community support me because they know me and they know the work that I’ve done and the work that I will do.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-New York), who garnered media attention lately for the onslaught of hate mail she received after protesting anti-Asian violence, is one of Strickland’s supporters.
“Marilyn is a proven leader with a record of standing up for families and leading communities out of economically challenging times, and I am so excited at the prospect of her being the first Korean American woman elected to Congress. Marilyn understands the issues that matter to all of the AAPI community, and I know she will be an ally in the fight to stand up for America’s families. I look forward to working with Marilyn in Congress to build opportunity and improve the lives of all Americans,” said Meng, who is the Chair in Congress for Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders Rising & Empowering Political Action Committee.
“I am looking forward to serving the people of the South Sound, helping our community rebuild and recover from this crisis, and making our economy stronger and more inclusive than ever before,” said Strickland in a recent news release.
In her view, there are three components to COVID-19 recovery.
“First and foremost, we need a national strategy to address this pandemic because we don’t have one.”
The strategy should include investing in testing, contact tracing—a subject of much attention now that President Trump himself contracted the coronavirus—and “the President having a national plan, including producing and manufacturing the equipment that we need at home, so we don’t have to wait.”
Strickland recognized the impact the coronavirus and shut down have had on AAPIs locally and nationally, and that if the crisis does get under control, AAPI businesses will continue to suffer because of people’s fear of showing up in public.
“Until we have people feeling completely comfortable, we can’t have a full reopening,” she emphasized.
In Washington state, Strickland pointed out our reliance on tourism. “People in our communities are employed in the hospitality industry and that has an impact on our community…As Congress looks at creating relief packages…getting the money into the hands of people…we have to be very intentional about ensuring those funds are coming to our communities…that money goes where it’s needed most and that our communities are not left out.”
Strickland, whose love of travel has been severely curtailed by COVID-19, as it has for the rest of the world, has been married since 2011 to Patrick Irwin, the longest serving principal in a high school in Washington state, at Lincoln High School. The couple had a pact where “every year we would travel domestically and internationally to places we’ve never visited, and learn about other cultures and countries around the world.” The couple enjoy live music, watching movies and films, and are sports fans. Strickland has two stepdaughters.
She did not always think she would be where she is now—running for Congress.
“I didn’t think early on I was going into politics. I accidently fell into it. I had lunch with a man who was the mayor of Tacoma at the time, Brian Ebersole, but he was my guidance counselor, and he got me into politics.”
Strickland urged AAPI voters to turn out in this tumultuous time.
“We are the largest, fastest growing minority group, but our participation rate isn’t what it could be. I know there are barriers. We have to make a concerted effort to show up and vote and do it early.
Sometimes our participation can be the difference between someone winning or losing, from president to your local races.” She advised people to ask for help if they need it.
“There’s the myth of the model minority. People think we’re already voting the way we should. Sometimes the barriers are as simple as a local party not reaching out to us or us being reticent to ask for help…The voting offices are cooperating, and they want us to participate. If you don’t show up…we’re aren’t going to get the results we want.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.