Tiffany Au, daughter of Vietnam boat refugees runs for Hawaii House of Rep.

For Tiffany Au, all it took was one generation to rise up as a community leader and a Republican candidate in Hawaii.

HONOLULU, August 28, 2012 – As the end of the Vietnam War sparked a diaspora of hundreds of thousands of people who took to boats to escape the communist takeover, many would face disease, starvation and deadly storms at sea, never making it to freedom.

Among the fortunate few who braved the rough seas and reached safety were Lily and Tien Au, barely married and in their early twenties. The Aus would make it as far as Singapore where they were spotted by jet skiers and rescued and taken to a refugee camp in Malaysia. After waiting a long year, the two were granted asylum in the United States and settled in Hawaii.

Today, just one generation later Tiffany Au, the youngest daughter of Lily and Tien Au is making waves in Hawaii as a rising community leader and the reigning local 2012 Narcissus Queen. Now running for office as a Republican candidate for state representative, Tiffany Au is perhaps one of the most amazing examples of the dynamic, ongoing miracle of the American Dream.

As a generational bridge between Asia and America, Tiffany Au has a special perspective on the past, present and future of Asia-Pacific policy. Curious about what she thought about the changing economies of Southeast Asia and China’s military buildup, I sought out Ms. Au for a few questions. Here is a transcript, with light edits for clarity.

Danny de Gracia: Tiffany, you have a very unique story and place in America’s history. Your mother in particular was one of the boat people who fled from Vietnam following the war and then after waiting for asylum finally settled down in the United States. Tell us what it was like for you in particular growing up and what made you decide to get into elected politics?

Tiffany Au: Lily and Tien Au were Chinese boat-people refugees from Vietnam and are living examples of the American Dream. They came to Hawaii to escape communism with just a few belongings and a desire for a better life. Hard work was a way of life for my parents, and they instilled those values in my sister and I.

We understood that a good education and a lot of hard work were key components to being successful in America, a country that allowed those who are determined to persevere.  By example, they taught us to look forward, find ways to improve our situation, and make the most out of the opportunities presented to us. 

While working for Representative Corinne Ching at the Hawaii State Capitol, I saw bills that went through that were alarming to me. I found the overspending by our elected officials so disturbing that I decided to run for office.  Those opportunities that made our country great and allowed hard-working individuals, such as my parents, to succeed will be limited for my generation if our government continues to overspend, tax us heavily, and over-regulate.  

“Those opportunities that made our country great and allowed hard-working individuals, such as my parents, to succeed will be limited for my generation if our government continues to overspend, tax us heavily, and over-regulate.”

DDG: A lot of our D.C. readers have never been to Hawaii before. What’s it like living there?

Au: Hawaii is fantastic. There’s a reason why Hawaii is a top vacation destination: the weather is usually 80 degrees and always sunny, the people are always friendly, and the food always incredible. It’s paradise. 

DDG: What do you think about America’s current trade relationship and foreign policy towards Southeast Asian nations?

Au: For too long the United States has allowed nations like China to impose high tariffs on U.S. imports. In spite of that, however, free and open trade is always a good thing.

DDG: A lot of policymakers in Washington D.C. are starting to get extremely concerned about China’s conventional military buildup. Since you live in Hawaii which is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, what are your thoughts about the developing arms race between the United States and the People’s Republic of China?

Au: Although China and the United States are tied at the hip economically, China’s recent show of force by its naval deployments, sea trials of its Soviet era Varyag Admiral Kuznetsov-class aircraft carrier and their long held belief that it owns the South China Sea and everything in it are causes for great concern. China knows that it cannot currently match the United States weapon-for-weapon and that its military technology is at least twenty years behind ours, however, they still may pose a threat one day.

DDG: If you’re elected to office, what are some of the things you’d like to do or change?

Au: The Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA) has as its vision a “Live, Work and Play” community. I share a parallel vision of an “Enjoy, Thrive and Stay” community. By this I mean:

“Enjoy” – roads, sewers, and our infrastructure must be fixed. We also need better enforcement of laws that deter crime and promote a safe and friendly environment, as well as more urban green spaces and the improved utilization of areas like Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, Aloha Tower Marketplace and Mother Waldron Park.

“Thrive” – small businesses need to have a role and a future in Hawaii. State, local and HCDA planning and policies should reflect this.  Over regulation and high taxes inhibit the growth of small business. Streamlining the State’s regulatory commission and lowering the corporate tax rate will allow businesses to lower operating costs thus creating more jobs. 

“Stay” – along with high-end condos, development patterns need to incorporate housing aimed at families of all income brackets, creating a sense of place in a community that is safe, clean, modern and exciting.

Furthermore, I stand for education reform. Education is the key to a strong economy. The state must dedicate its tax dollars toward repairing schools and giving our teachers the tools necessary to do their jobs teaching and mentoring our students.

[I also support] growing tourism. Hawaii’s geographic location makes it ideal for us to be that bridge between Asia and the United States. China, Korea, and Vietnam are emerging markets that we must grow to keep our number one industry vibrant and prosperous.

DDG: What’s your thoughts about this presidential race? As a Republican, how do you feel about Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate?

Au: I believe it was good for the country to elect its first African American President. That said, I feel as a Nation we’ve moved in the wrong direction and that a course correction is in order. What I know of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is they are both self-made individuals who believe that through hard work and perseverance one can achieve anything. The successes in their respective professions bear this out and under their leadership, we can get back to the business of being the greatest Nation on earth. 

DDG: What are some of the national issues that you are most concerned with right now?

Au: Just one: the national debt!

DDG: What do you think about the Supreme Court’s upholding of Obamacare?

Au: Justice Roberts’ judgment was the deciding vote to uphold Obamacare and the consequence of that decision is now approximately 40 million new enrollees in a health care system already bursting at the seams. And to pay for it, this October the Obama administration will raid Medicare to the tune of $716 billion dollars. Is this what President Obama means by “shared sacrifice”? 

DDG: Last but not least, is there anything you would like to tell our readers in D.C.?

Au: Aloha! You’re always welcome to Hawaii and don’t forget to “Circle Island” and try some dishes from our local shrimp trucks, malasadas and shave ice!

We appreciate Ms. Au for her time and the opportunity to interview her.


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More from Making Waves: A Hawaii Perspective on Washington Politics
 
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Danny de Gracia

Dr. Danny de Gracia is a political scientist and a former senior adviser to the Human Services and International Affairs committees at the Hawaii State Legislature. From 2011-2013 he served as an elected municipal board member in Waipahu. As an expert in international relations theory, military policy, political psychology and economics, Danny has advised numerous policymakers and elected officials and his opinions have been featured worldwide. Now working on his first novel, Danny resides on the island of Oahu.

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