Political speechwriter discusses Asian-American civic engagement


Jeremy Yu/The Daily Northwestern

Author Eric Liu speaks at an event put on by the Chinese Students Association. Liu, former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, spoke about citizenship and identity.

Hannah Brown, Reporter

Political speechwriter and author Eric Liu called for higher Asian-American civic engagement at a talk Thursday night, drawing on his experience as a second-generation Chinese American.

At a Chinese Students Association event held at Harris Hall, Liu spoke about the challenges faced by many Asian-American students and citizens as they strive for social advancement.

He said his parents would call him by the Mandarin word for “useless” as a mark of the privilege he had been born into, which encouraged him to not take his circumstance for granted, Liu said. Even after getting accepted to Yale University, Liu said he didn’t discover his path in life until he was well into his freshman year.

“Early on, I sensed that I had only had the dumb luck to have been born in the United States,” Liu said. “I had really been given everything, and my parents made that clear.”

Liu said he was raised in an apolitical environment and was not familiar with the political arena until he interned for then-Oklahoma Sen. David Boren during the spring of his freshman year.

“It’s no wonder he’s the president of Oklahoma University now because as a senator, he was a real teacher and mentor,” he said. “Even (when I was) a lowly intern, he cultivated in me a sense of the importance of civil service through political involvement.”

After college, Liu worked for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign before becoming chief speechwriter. Later, Liu founded Citizen University — an organization focused on promoting active civic engagement on a national level — and went on to become the executive director of the Aspen Institute Citizenship and American Identity Program, write for CNN and author several books.

Rex Tai (Weinberg ‘15) said Liu’s well-framed understanding of a citizen’s role in politics drove his message home.

“It really stuck out to me how comprehensive his view of life and civic responsibility is,” Tai said. “To him, it’s not just a top-down understanding.”

Weinberg sophomore Nina Zhou said one of the most valuable parts of Liu’s talk was his acknowledgement of everyone’s individual power to make change.

Liu said it was the responsibility of every American to take an active role in politics. Liu told the audience it doesn’t matter what their opinions are, but they have a duty to form opinions.

“And not a weak, surface-level opinion,” he said. “One as rigorous and thoughtful and deeply researched as you as a student at Northwestern are capable of.”

CSA program chair Chris Yang told The Daily he wanted to bring Liu to speak not only for his eloquence but also because his message is accessible to all students.

“Events like these aren’t just for people of Chinese or Asian descent, but for anyone who wants to experience Asian culture,” Yang said.

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