Meet the City of Plano’s First Asian-American City Council Members
This spring, something historic happened. Plano residents elected for the very first time an Asian-American resident to its city council. Two, in fact. And they both happen to be highly educated, female Chinese immigrants. With Asians comprising roughly 19% of our city’s population – about 55,000 people – and that number slowly growing, it seemed inevitable that we have Asian representation on city council. Maria Tu and Lily Bao sat down together to discuss why more than 13,000 Chinese people call Plano home, how that population is becoming more integrated into the mainstream, and why they feel that Plano’s diversity is one of its greatest strengths.
Maria, where did you grow up?
Maria: I was born in Taiwan and came to the U.S. in 1973 when I was 10 years old. We lived in Washington until 1993. I was about 30, then moved to Weslaco, Texas, at the very southern border of Texas. I spent one year there and realized, “No way. I’m a metropolitan kid. I grew up in the city.” So we moved in 1994 to Plano.
What brought your parents to the U.S.?
M: When my father finished his military career in Taiwan, he wanted to immigrate to America. Money was always a problem. He and my mom decided they were going to come over together, and they were going to leave my brother and me in Taiwan. I was nine at the time, and I called a family meeting. “Let me just tell you, you’re not leaving me behind.” I said, “Don’t worry about money. I will make my own money, just get me an airline ticket.” We kept our promises. I started working when I was 10. As soon as I hit American soil, I was working as a babysitter, as a house cleaner. I did everything back then.
And Lily, where did you grow up?
Lily: I grew up in mainland China. I came here in 1991 as a college junior.
What do you both do for a career?
M: I’m a lawyer, primarily criminal defense. I’m a litigator.
L: And I’m a Realtor.
How do you spend time when not at work?
L: We go to Collin County Chinese Fellowship Church. I also like to watch movies at home with my husband.
M: I’m normally volunteering at Chinese community activities. I’m an advocate of Chinese people’s rights and promoting them to become a part of the community. I used to do a lot of free legal clinics through the Chinese Community Center. A lot of immigrants, when they first come, they’re not integrated. The younger students don’t even know what the law is. So I try to do cultural education. Fifteen years and I’m still the only Chinese criminal defense lawyer in Collin County; this is my destiny.
What made you want to run for Plano city council? Did you always want to go into politics?
L: When I ran for the first time in 2017 in the mayoral race, I did not plan on it long before. It was an opportunity that just happened. First of all, I have long felt that the Asian community has not historically gotten involved in politics, especially not in local elections, and is lacking representation. We as “model minorities” work hard and pay taxes, but seldom have our voices heard. Second of all, I wanted to influence the city’s future direction and ensure its continual excellence.
L: Fortunately I met a group of dedicated volunteers with similar views and they believed I would be a great candidate to run and encouraged me to run. I prayed about it and felt that as a Christian, this would be a good way to give back to the communities and show the public that we Asian-Americans love this city and want to serve others. Personally, I have always been very grateful for the opportunities I have been given ever since I came to this great country.
M: People have always asked me to run for something, ever since I got back into the legal field. I thought hard about whether or not I want to be a judge. But I said no, because I don’t want to be a referee; I want to be an advocate. So I started looking at other ways that I can contribute and be a part of not only the mainstream society but also an advocate for the Chinese community. There have been several Chinese candidates that have run, none of them very successful until Lily came along. I looked at the climate of Plano and realized that Plano is ready. It is the first and foremost city that is willing to not only consider but vote for a non-white or non-native U.S. citizen in the city.
What do you think has attracted so many Chinese residents to Plano?
M: It has to be our schools. Historically Chinese families will move for the sake of schools. Richardson used to be the place for the Chinese community and that’s the reason Chinatown’s there. At one time, the population was probably 30 to 40 percent Chinese people. But Richardson stopped developing, things became stale, the schools started going downhill. That was when Plano started picking up and our school district became better.
Do you mean our Plano ISD schools?
M: Absolutely. The Chinese people, they like free, they like good and they like competition. (Lily laughs.)
Lily, do you agree?
L: Oh yeah. That’s the reason we moved here, and one of my priorities is to support PISD. We need to make sure the policies we make keep PISD top notch.
What benefits does Plano have because of our diverse population?
L: Our diverse population keeps Plano ISD outstanding because parents pay attention to education and drive their kids to succeed academically. It offers Plano a highly skilled workforce, too, because our residents are usually highly educated. The diversity we have also makes people more friendly toward immigrants. We, as minorities, love this country and want to contribute back. Throughout my campaign, I didn’t see or face much discrimination. I feel like people here look at your policies and values and support you based on that.
How do you think it influences kids to grow up in a multicultural environment?
L: It prepares the kids by widening their horizons and perspectives.
M: And they’re not as discriminatory. Although Texas is much more conservative when it comes to accepting people of color than when I was growing up [in Washington state]. I didn’t even see color – it’s not something I even noticed. Texas is growing that way, and I think Plano is actually in the forefront. It gives a picture to our kids, don’t look at somebody because of color. Look at somebody because of the qualities they have within. You see a lot of different races, different ethnic backgrounds, and people try to co-exist together. That’s what makes Plano so unique.
By serving on city council, how can you help bring our diverse communities together?
M: I don’t know about other minority groups, but for the Asian population, it’s important for them to see us in different leadership positions so that they feel like maybe they have a shot in doing this. Since Lily and I have been elected, Anthony Lo has come out to run. Several other Asian young people are putting their names in the hat, like Teresa Bui [Creevy]. And we need young people. I mean, I’m almost 60. I’d like to educate and bring forth another young Asian person who is willing to get into politics.
M: The Asian community is shy, so if they don’t have somebody like Lily or me to approach, they’re not going to approach anybody. They’re very self-conscious about the way they speak. But now, they’re louder than ever. They’ll find us, or they’ll find [council member] Anthony [Ricciardelli]. They call Anthony the “Taiwanese in-law.” His wife is from Taiwan. I’m seeing a lot more activity that I’ve never seen before. I don’t really have any expectations of the older generation. I do have a very high expectation of the younger generation.
L: The contribution we made is to inspire others. I sacrificed a lot to get here. I constantly have people tell me they are inspired and feel encouraged to participate. A parent told me her daughter block-walked with her for my campaign. She was in seventh grade last year, and she actually ran for school council. She was the only Asian student who ran and won. She said, “My daughter did this because she felt encouraged and then she became more bold.”
It seems that both being Chinese-born female immigrants, you have an appreciation for each other’s strengths.
M: Lily gave me the encouragement to run because two years ago, she ran and did really well. That helped me make my decision. I don’t think it’s really a detraction that she carries a different view than I do; we’re all our own human being.
L: She did great as a litigator, as an attorney. To be the only Chinese-speaking litigator, that in itself is remarkable. I think she is very tough, coming here, being an immigrant. I’m tough too, honestly, raising four girls. I think we share this, we are both hard workers. And we both want the best for Plano.