Former presidential speechwriter and activist Eric Liu speaks at NU
  • Liu, whose Chinese parents immigrated to the United States from Taiwan, talked about his personal experiences at Yale University and beginning his career in Washington.
  • Activist and former presidential speechwriter Eric Liu speaks about the importance of Asian American political participation in Harris Hall as the Chinese Students Association fall speaker.
Photos by Mia Zanzucchi / North by Northwestern

On Thursday night, students and members of the Chinese Student Association (CSA) gathered in Harris Hall to hear former presidential speechwriter and founder of Citizens University Eric Liu speak about Asian American civic engagement. Liu, who is a second-generation Chinese immigrant, encouraged all students to harness the privilege they have from living in the U.S. into being an active member of their community.

“I got the message early on in life that all I’d done was to have the dumb luck to be born in the United States,” Liu said during his speech. He discussed how he felt he had to “earn” the privilege he was automatically afforded that his immigrant parents were not, and how he wanted to “be useful, not useless.”

CSA brought Liu to campus after reaching out to him over the summer and inviting him to come speak. Programming chair and Weinberg sophomore Chris Yang said he has idolized Liu since high school after his parents introduced him to two of Liu’s books, The Accidental Asian and A Chinaman’s Chance.

“I thought [his speech] was incredible,” Yang said. “I’d read his books so I knew kind of what he was going to talk about, but I’d never heard him speak live, and I was just blown away. Aside from being so well-versed in everything, he’s just so eloquent and captivating when he speaks. I don’t think it could’ve went better.”

Liu explained that young Asian Americans were fortunate to be coming of age in today’s world, because soon the majority of people in the U.S. will be people of color. However, he pointed out that with this rise of minorities, Asians are still underrepresented in civic engagement; for example, in the 2012 election, Asian American turnout was under 40 percent.

“He made a lot of good points about the intersectionality between class and race, and how Asian Americans haven’t been as civically engaged as we have in our economic power,” Communication sophomore and CSA publicity chair Alice Wu said.

Liu also encouraged the students to stop thinking of ‘power’ as a “dirty word” and instead exert power in ways even as small as raising your hand in class, or speaking up when someone says something offensive. Taking back power will then allow students to create a community and build trust with other people who share their values, he said.

“We have to start socializing each other to make noise,” Liu said toward the end of his lecture.

The turnout for the event was sizeable; however, it was not as large as some of CSA’s past events. Yang said this was likely because many students weren’t familiar with Liu’s influential history in civic engagement, but those that did come were very invested.

“He is not a household name, so I didn’t expect a huge turnout, but I think the people that did come were really engaged,” Yang said. “They’re people that are interested in the things that he’s talking about, and the fact that they know who he is or they were interested in these topics means that they are very passionate. I think the impact he had on the people here was really great.”


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