By Vanessa Wang
Winning 69.9% of votes in the midterm election on November 4, Democrat Susan C. Lee is the first Asian American to win the Maryland State Senate. Lee received a total of 25,975 votes, defeating her rival, Meyer Marks.
Susan Lee was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates in 2002 to represent District 16 (Montgomery County) and was the first Asian American woman elected to the Maryland General Assembly. She has also taken roles as Deputy Majority Whip, Judiciary Committee Member, Chair of Family Law Subcommittee, Maryland Identity Theft Task Force, and Maryland Nanobiotechnology Task Force. Having served as delegate for twelve years, Lee decided to run for Maryland senate this year, and has successfully replaced Past-Senator Brian Frosh’s seat. In Lee’s own words, “I would like to continue working side-by-side with my good partner, Brian Frosh.” Frosh has been elected Maryland attorney general.
On October 28th, exactly one week before midterm elections, Lee’s supporters were already pre-celebrating her victory at Seven Seas restaurant in Rockville. Lee’s supporters were confident of Lee’s success, as she had taken 85% of votes in the primary election and had received strong endorsements from Frosh. “Susan and I are like sisters,” said Corinna Shen, owner of Seven Seas restaurant, as she brought out a “congratulatory” cake. More than a hundred people were present for the event, including members from Chinese, Korean, Indian, Pakistani, Thai, and Taiwanese communities. Lee bowed before the crowd to express her gratitude.
Lee’s mother, Mee Lee, recalls her daughter’s journey into politics: “My husband and I, we always discussed politics during dinner at home—I think that’s how she got interested in politics. She was an intern during the Watergate era on Capitol Hill, and she interned for congressmen in California and Texas. After she graduated from college, she said she wanted to go to law, and we encouraged her to do so.” But Lee had her share of hardship as a Chinese-American minority. “We were, I think, the first Chinese family in Potomac during the early 60s,” says Mee. “Susan encountered a lot of discrimination in middle school and high school. She’d come home and tell us about it, and we’d just say, ‘It’s OK. You go ahead.’”
Remembering her time in Winston Churchill High School, Lee says she’s proud to see how Asian students in Montgomery County has “grown by leaps and bounds.” “It’s a very positive thing,” says Lee, “for these young people have changed perceptions in our community. Young Asian Americans are going into politics now, in addition to the traditional medicine, law, teaching, and social work professions. They’re becoming more politically aware, and know that you have to be an active participant in the passing of laws that affect our fast-growing community.”
Lee is optimistic of Asian Americans’ roles in U.S. politics, but says it is necessary to “break perceptions and stereotypes.” “The Asian American community used to be voiceless and underrepresented,” says Lee, “but now we can actually do stuff to pass laws to benefit ourselves. We’re making progress.” Lee gives the example of Asian American judges and congresswoman Judy Chu as pioneers that “opened doors for the rest of us.” “Because when we finally get there, people see that we can do a good job. Everything is a working progress.”
As an Asian American, Lee says, “We have a lot of talent, resources, we pay a lot of taxes, and we have a lot to contribute. We should be more active in the legal process, so we can have more control over our destinies, and we got to do it not just for ourselves, but for our families, children, and grandchildren.”