Taiwanese American Michelle Wu makes history as she is elected mayor of Boston – the first elected female mayor of Boston ever (current Mayor Kim Janey was appointed after Boston mayor Marty Walsh became Secretary of Labor in the Biden administration) – and I have to believe, the first Taiwanese American ever to be elected as mayor of a major U.S. city.
“Ms. Wu was born shortly after her parents immigrated from Taiwan, intent on setting the next generation up for success.
Han Wu, a chemical engineer, had been offered a spot as a graduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology. But he and his wife, Yu-Min, barely spoke English, and so, from the age of 4 or 5, their oldest daughter, known in Mandarin as Wu Mi, served as their interpreter, helping them navigate bureaucracy and fill out forms.
At her suburban Chicago high school, she was Michelle. She stacked up A.P. classes, joined the math team and color guard, and earned perfect scores on the SAT and ACT exams. As co-valedictorian, she wowed the audience at graduation with a piano solo from Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”
Politics, however, was off the table; their parents, raised by parents who fled famine and civil war in China, viewed it as a corrupt, high-risk vocation. They wanted Michelle to go into medicine, along a “pipeline of tests and degrees to a stable, happy life,” she said. When she left for Harvard — something her parents had hoped for her whole life — Ms. Wu was not sure whether she was a Republican or a Democrat.
It was while she was at Harvard that her family came unraveled.
Her father had lived apart from the family starting when she was in high school; her parents would eventually divorce. Her mother, isolated in their suburban neighborhood, began acting erratically, shouting at the television and dialing 911 to report strange threats. Ms. Wu, newly graduated, had started a fast-track job at the Boston Consulting Group when Sherelle Wu called and said, “We need you home, now.”
Thrust into position as the head of the family, Ms. Wu, then 22, dived in. She became a primary parent to her youngest sister, who was 11, eventually filing for legal guardianship. She managed psychiatric treatment for her mother, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and opened a small tea shop, thinking her mother might take it over.
Then, frustrated by the bureaucratic obstacles she had encountered, she enrolled at Harvard Law School, bringing her mother and sister back to Boston with her. This time, she intended to stay.
Ms. Warren, who taught contract law, remembers Ms. Wu coming to her office hours in her first semester of law school.
Ms. Wu had come to apologize for some academic shortcoming, though Ms. Warren had not noticed any. “She felt she hadn’t done her best and wanted me to know she had not intended any disrespect,” Ms. Warren recalled.
As they sat together, Ms. Wu told the story about how she had come to care for her mother and sisters. Ms. Warren listened, marveling. “Michelle was doing something in law school that, in 25 years of teaching, I never knew another student to be doing,” she said.”
When Ms. Warren decided to run for Senate, Ms. Wu asked for a job on her campaign. John Connolly, a former city councilor who ran against Mr. Walsh in 2013, credits her with “a phenomenal, genius-level understanding of field politics,” similar to Mr. Menino in her “photographic memory of the nooks and crannies of Boston.”
“She can tell you the six places Albanians socialize in Roslindale,” he said.
“Ms. Wu — who grew up outside Chicago and moved to the Boston area to attend Harvard — was an unusual candidate for this city, and her victory sets a number of precedents. Upon taking office later this month, she will be the only Asian American mayor in a large U.S. city outside California and Texas.
Ms. Wu is the first woman and the first person of color to be elected mayor in Boston, which has been led by an unbroken string of Irish American or Italian American men since the 1930s. Kim Janey, a Black woman, has served as acting mayor since March, when Mr. Walsh was confirmed as the U.S. labor secretary. Ms. Wu will also be the first mayor of Boston not born in the city since 1925.”
I am overwhelmed by emotion of Michelle’s win. I hope that this will invigorate the apathetic Asian American and Taiwanese American citizenry to at least vote, apossibly be more engaged, and maybe aim for elected office. To think that Wu breaks a 199-year streak of white, male city leaders to become Boston first woman and first person of color elected to the post is truly making history!