Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gary Locke reflects on his Asian roots, the importance of sharing his story

Gary Locke, the first Chinese-American governor (Washington) and US Commerce Secretary, is shown here in 1997 during a visit to his ancestral home in Jilong village, southeast China. Locke is expected to be nominated as the next US Ambassador to China.
Raymond Chow
The Associated Press
Gary Locke shakes hands and waves to the crowd during his first visit to his ancestral home in Jilong village in southeastern China on Oct. 11, 1997. Locke was the first Chinese American governor of any U.S. state.


As a Japanese American kid, Julia Furukawa grew up seeing Gary Locke as one of the few Asian faces in politics. Locke was the first Chinese American governor and later went on to serve with the Obama administration as the ambassador to China.


Furukawa, now in her early 20s, spoke with Locke, the interim president of Bellevue College, about how being an Asian American has changed throughout the generations -- and why sharing stories matters.


Julia Furukawa: What do you think are the key differences between generations, yours and mine?

Gary Locke: As they go through the generations and we're more distant from our immigrant parents or ancestors,I think we tend to lose some of that cultural affinity and some of the customs and traditions, and they don't really make as much sense or they don't seem as precious or as relevant. And I think it's important that we really try to pass on these traditions and not just the practice of the traditions but also the meaning of the significance and the rationale for some of these traditions.

Credit Courtesy of Gary Locke
Gary Locke

Furukawa: Having grown up in this country, Locke didn’t fully understand a lot of those traditions, or why his parents did some of the things they did until he visited his ancestral home, Jilong village in southern China, in the 1990s.

Locke: This was just two miles from a city of millions of people with tall skyscrapers and a super-modern cosmopolitan city and, yet, the village had outhouses. Nobody had toilets, they pumped water from a well and there's a water pump, almost in the middle of the house, one light bulb hanging from the rafters in every room.


Furukawa: Locke learned the reason his grandfather was able to make it to Washington state in the 1890s was because residents of Jilong pooled their money to send him to America, where he settled in Olympia. It then made sense why his parents were always sending money back home to the village and why they would host new immigrants until they could find their footing. It was a way to give back. Years later, he brought his three kids to the family village in China.

Locke: I think they have a much better appreciation of, you know, customs that grandma, grandpa, were talking about, and that our kids could witness. And I'm really happy that they've gotten a glimpse of our story.

Furukawa: During his time as governor of Washington and in the public eye, Locke was faced with hate head-on, including people who expressed they would not vote for a candidate of color. The FBI even uncovered a plot to assassinate him. While he said he hopes circumstances would be different today, he says we have to remain ever-vigilant, especially in the face of the recent spike in hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. That’s why he’s sharing his story publicly through an oral history project with the Wing Luke Museum —“Our Stories Are Your Stories” — and encourages other Asian Americans to do the same.

Locke: It's important to share our stories with the broader community and to let people know that, quite frankly, our stories are the stories of all Americans, whether we're first generation or 10th generation, that we are part and parcel, an indelible part of America, and, in fact, what happens to American society in general, happens to us, affects us. And what happens to us and what affects us as AAPIs happens to America, affects all of America.

More of Gary Locke's oral history will be posted on @ourstoriesareyourstories on Instagram on May 25. Learn more about the Wing Luke Museum's stories project here.