Mark Keam at his office opening on February 28, 2009
With the departure of Delegate Steve Shannon, who is moving on to bigger and better things, voters in central Fairfax County have the chance to make history on June 9th by voting for Mark Keam.
Born in Seoul, Korea, he moved to Vietnam at the age of four, where he and his family left after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Keam then took an interest in politics, serving in the Clinton administration and then on Capitol Hill for Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. But it was another Illinois Senator that brought Keam to me.
I first met Mark last year, as he was helping Barack Obama organize a historic win in Virginia. Keam was tireless, recruiting volunteers and filling shifts, representing the nascent Obama movement at district Democratic committee meetings. Keam is the finest sort of grassroots warrior. At left, he cheers on Mark Warner during his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
For me, however, Keam represents even more than politics.
|For the 160,000 Asian-Americans who live in Fairfax County--40% of the state's total--Keam's election would represent a historic moment. In nearly 400 years, the Virginia House of Delegates has not had one single Asian elected.
A Keam victory would not even necessarily be a victory for the Korean-American community, it would be a victory for Asian-Americans as a whole. My grandparents, born in China, left for Vietnam as the Communists took over. Both sides of my family fled as Vietnam fell to Communism, finally coming to the United States.
Despite the sacrifices that Asian families made on their way over here, too few of them take the chance to finally participate in politics, the right they fought so hard for.
Asians are asserting themselves politically more so than ever before, but Asians in elected office are still rare. It is too often that I am the only Asian-American at political events and functions. In a county which prides itself on its racial diversity, every single member of our General Assembly delegation is white. On June 9th, I urge the people of the 35th District to seize this chance to make history.