By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
She is a two-time Olympic medalist, five-time world champion, and nine-time U.S. champion — and last Thursday, March 10, Michelle Kwan sat down in the Northwest Asian Weekly office for an exclusive interview to discuss her role within the Hillary Clinton campaign, her past travels as a U.S. envoy, her family, and whether fans will be able to see her on “Dancing with the Stars” any time soon.
ON HER NON-SKATING ROLES:
MK: I’m the surrogate outreach coordinator on the campaign (a full-time, permanent staff position). [Surrogates are] individuals that have endorsed or expressed support for Hillary, like elected officials. We also have celebrities, stars like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, John Legend, who travel and speak on behalf of the campaign and Hillary.
I’m more behind the scenes, but I think we’re all kind of doing multiple jobs — all hands on deck — so I go wherever I’m needed.
(Previously, Kwan was a public diplomacy envoy, a non-salaried position. She was named to the role in 2006 by former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Her role continued into Barack Obama’s administration, under Clinton’s state department. )
MK: My first trip, as an envoy, was to China, and it was a very eye-opening experience. A lot of people have misconceptions of Americans and so essentially, by going to different countries, you realize it really helps bring different countries close together. … That’s what the ECA — the Educational and Cultural Affairs bureau — does a wonderful job of, to bring countries closer together, as well as people. …
MK: I traveled [all over] to [places like] Argentina, Russia, Singapore — all with misconceptions [of Americans]. They say, ”Oh, you’re from Los Angeles. Is everyone like Kim Kardashian or like Britney Spears? Do you run into them?” … At the time, it was ‘06. There wasn’t a lot of Twitter and Instagram, but they read [gossip] or they watched reality TV shows. …[That’s why] these [cultural] exchanges are mutually beneficial. We also sponsor groups and individuals to come to the United States for some length of time.
ON BEING RECOGNIZED:
MK: Some [people] were more aware of what I used to do. Like in Russia, skating is very popular. In Argentina, there are not a lot of ice rinks. (She laughs.) And I think that that’s why using sports is a good way to start a dialogue. It’s the way I used, to break the ice. … It’s a good way to connect to young people.
ON HER FAMILY:
MK: In my whole 20-year skating career, I think [my dad] might have done one interview. He’s so very, very behind-the-scenes, really helpful. …
I remember a hard time, a difficult time when I was competing, when I was 17. … My dad would tell me to sometimes take a moment to appreciate all that you’ve accomplished. But it was more than just skating. It was more a view of life. [He was telling me to] really take the time to really appreciate your family and your fans cheering you on.
ON HOW HER SIBLINGS HAVE KEPT HER HUMBLE:
MK: I have two older siblings. So if, at any moment, I was getting a big head, they would definitely smack some sense into me.
(Kwan’s sister, Karen, was also an elite figure skater, now a choreographer. Kwan’s brother, Ron, works for a pharmaceutical company.)
MK: At the Olympic games, my brother — the week before I left for Japan — he went to the ice skating rink, and he wasn’t even watching me skate. He was just walking around the rink.
But when I made it onto the “Simpsons,” he was like, “Wow, you’ve really made it!”
The Olympics, [he was like, whatever]. But the Simpsons! (Kwan voiced a character in the episode, “Homer and Ned’s Hail Mary Pass,” in 2005.)
ON HER PARENTS RETIRING:
MK: They will never retire! My dad still gets up at 6 o’clock in the morning, maybe earlier. We had a family-run business that used to be a Chinese restaurant. … (Now, the Kwans own two ice rinks in California.) It used to be that [my dad] woke up in the morning to drive us to the ice rink.
ON HOW SHE STARTED:
MK: A lot of people don’t know — I started skating because my parents wanted us to do a good extracurricular activity. Because I’m the baby, my sister and my brother tried piano, flute, and violin. They were not very good. (She laughs.) Recitals were like, bleghh. And so when it came to when I’d be of age, they were like, “We don’t have the genes. You’re not going to play any instruments!” I was always the active one — the little monkey. (Kwan was born in 1980, the lunar year of the monkey.)
My parents just encouraged us to get involved in sports and extracurricular activities because, bottom line, [my dad was like,] “I can’t afford three kids in college!”
ON HER HUSBAND AND HAVING CHILDREN:
MK: No kids yet. Did my mom ask you [to ask me] this? (She laughs.) …
I want kids. We’re never in the same city. That is the challenge these days.
(Kwan is married to Clay Pell, a lawyer and military officer in the U.S. Coast Guard. Pell unsuccessfully ran for Rhode Island governor in 2014.)
MK: [My husband] was an exchange student in China. He was there in high school and then he went back for law school. He learned Chinese in law school [at Georgetown University]. His Mandarin is quite good. (Pell also speaks Spanish and Arabic.)
ON SATURDAY SCHOOL:
MK: I had no time to [go to Saturday language school] actually. That’s probably another reason why I don’t speak Mandarin, otherwise, I would have loved to. I heard it was hard though. My cousins did it, and they would always say, “School again?” But now, they’re very appreciative [that they attended Saturday school]. (Kwan speaks Cantonese, but cannot write Chinese.)
ON SKATING AND SEATTLE:
MK: I do [miss skating]. The world championships are actually coming up, and they’re in the United States. I’m so out of touch, but we’re just so busy on the campaign trail. It does bring back memories, being here in Seattle. … The last time I was here, I was performing. It does bring back very fond memories, of being on the ice at the KeyArena, looking up and [seeing] 15,000 people. … For 14 years, I would perform at the KeyArena. Seattle was a big market for us. …
The last time I skated was a few months ago. I went from skating four times a day to once every four months. The body doesn’t like it as much as it used to. (She laughs.)
ON WHETHER SHE’LL BE ON “DANCING WITH THE STARS”:
MK: I was in school [at the University of Denver] and [“Dancing with the Stars”] offered to fly me in and out, from Colorado to Los Angeles [for taping], but [at that time,] it just didn’t make any sense because I had pushed back my education for so long, so many years. And then after I graduated, I ended going to grad school [at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy of Tufts University] and so that was even farther. I was in Boston, so the commute would have been impossible.[As for whether I’ll do the show now,] I don’t know. It’s so hard. It’s hard to know where I’ll be next year.
ON WHY SHE’S #WITHHER:
MK: The person I’m voting for, the person that I am glad to be on the campaign with is Hillary, because of her experiences, as Secretary of State, as a senator, as first lady. … She has more experience than any other candidate, understanding both domestic and foreign policy. We want somebody who can hit the ground running on day one, and to me, that’s her.
The policies she has put forward are very progressive, very forward-thinking. (end)
Washington state’s Democratic Party caucus is on March 26 at 10 a.m. For more information or to find your caucus location, visit wa-democrats.org. For more information about the Hillary Clinton campaign, visit hillaryclinton.com/WA.
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.