Mason Fong breaks barriers as a South Bay councilman
Photo Courtesy of Mason Fong.

At 27 years old, Councilmember Mason Fong is believed to be the youngest person elected to the Sunnyvale City Council.

His captivation with politics started at a young age as his parents fostered the importance of civic engagement, taking him to rallies like the ones held against the Iraq War. The grandson of Chinese immigrants, Fong’s political voice began to emerge at the University of California, San Diego when he became active in Asian-American politics on campus.

But after stints in the offices of Congressmen Mike Honda, Ro Khanna and San Jose Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, Fong decided to amplify his voice and get involved with Sunnyvale’s Board of Library Trustees. A decision, that he said was made in part of the aftermath of the 2016 election.

“After our new president and this wave of young people getting involved, I just felt that this is a time where Sunnyvale is open to new thoughts and new leadership,” Fong said. “I could give back to my community.”

Edith Alanis, president of the Sunnyvale Employees Association, agrees. The union solely endorsed Fong in last year’s election.

“He has a pretty progressive agenda, which we were happy to see. He’s focused on climate change and climate action,” she said. “We knew that he had a first-hand knowledge of what it was to have a working family.”

Although he identifies as a progressive, Fong also has strong ties with the business community. He works as the director of public policy communications for the silicon valley organization, the South Bay’s largest chamber of commerce, a job he’s held since January.

Coming from a working family and with a degree in planning, Fong said he’s focused on solutions to address the state’s seemingly insurmountable housing crisis, especially when it comes to making room in the market for young people and workers.

“I really wanted to figure out how we’re doing housing now, but how do we alter that approach to make sure there’s missing middle income (and) workforce housing,” he said.

Since taking his seat on the seven-member council earlier this year, he’s drawn on his day job at the silicon valley organization to help find those solutions. He tracks state legislation – like the controversial housing density bill, SB 50, from Sen. Scott Weiner – to see how it could affect businesses in San Jose.

Fong also attends various meetings for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the San Jose City Council, which he said has given him ideas for Sunnyvale as new policy is often pushed out in large cities first. The region’s bigger cities were having critical housing and transportation conversations that Sunnyvale wasn’t, he added.

“(I thought) maybe I could provide a different perspective,” Fong said, “a different direction to staff to get the needle moved a little bit toward the right direction.”

Diversity in public service

Assemblymember Evan Low, who became the youngest Asian-American mayor in the country in 2009 with his election to the Campbell City Council, has worked with Fong in local Asian and Pacific Islander groups.

“Aside from the Asian stereotype of being a doctor or engineer, he’s answered the call to public service,” Low said. “I really appreciate and welcome more people like him who come from the Asian Pacific Islander community where this isn’t a typical occupation.”

Low added that he’s working on developing a pipeline of Asian-American elected officials, which is crucial in cities such as Sunnyvale that have a high Asian Pacific Islander population. Fong is the only Asian-American on the council.

“It goes to show the strength of diversity,” Low added. “He has a lot on his shoulder (as a) role model for the new crop of public servants, but I know he’s up to the challenge.”

Fong said that while representation of identity is important, so is allyship – a representation of values and understanding.

“(It’s) something that needs to be added to the conversation,” he said. “The civil rights movement wouldn’t have been as great if there weren’t allies that were caucasian that marched with people in Alabama or marched with people in Washington D.C.”

To prevent history from repeating itself, he said that Americans also need to discuss how the past relates to the present. He pointed toward the Chinese Exclusion Act, a racist piece of legislation that was passed in 1882 to ban the immigration of Chinese workers. It wasn’t until 1943 that Chinese immigrants became eligible for citizenship.

“When we talk about (Trump’s) Muslim ban on a national scale, we don’t talk about the Chinese American Exclusion Act,” Fong said. “It’s the same kind of concept.”

Contact Grace Hase at grace@sanjosepotlight.com or follow @grace_hase on Twitter.

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