Wednesday, December 23, 2009

TJR Interview: Tina Park

Tina Park! Welcome to The Jennerjahn Report!

Thank you for the warm welcome~! And also, Happy Holidays~!

I haven't seen you for a while. How have you been?

I have been doing great and have been very busy. There were many highlights in December alone. This month I focused on doing my school tour. Being able to see each campus in detail, it gave me a better idea of how we can improve our schools and also see how students interact throughout the campus. I hope to finish all nine by next month, but so far I am very excited about the development our LACCD Colleges have been making.

On December 13th, I was apart of the Lincoln Heights Christmas Parade. The parade was eventful and filled with many participants who were important community leaders. It was well organized and I had a chance to see the whole community come out to celebrate in the Christmas spirit. I enjoyed seeing the community come out in support of the participants and to represent Lincoln Heights. There was a large turnout and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Another thing that I was honored to attend was an event at the Veterans Hospital in Santa Monica remembering the Korean War Veterans. It was an honor to be able to speak at an event which remembered our brave soldiers. Veterans truly are the real American heroes in whom we should never forget. It was amazing to see every generation of American soldiers show up to this event and have this kind of unity threading through the generational lines.

Another recent achievement was that I received an award from CAUSE (Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment) at their Women in Power Holiday Party. I was recognized by receiving the Women in Power Award, alongside several other Asian Americans who are leaders in their respective communities.
A lot of great things have been happening to me this year, and I know that the New Year will be even busier. I am looking forward to all the opportunities 2010 will present~!

1. We are going to start this interview on a serious note. You are originally from New York. You were working at the World Trade Center on 9/11. There are many New Yorkers living here in Los Angeles. Can you share with us your personal story about what happened to you on 9/11, and can you give us some insight on how it continues to shape your life to this day?

I was actually working at the New York Stock Exchange as an auditor and I was examining a firm at the World Trade Center. It started off as a beautiful day which is rare in New York. The sky was so clear and the weather was fair. I was actually looking forward to work that day and subsequently heading to a Yankee game thereafter. It was a usual day and it was my first time going on-site at the firm inside the World Trade Center that we were auditing. I took the subway from Penn Station to World Trade Center, the 1/9 train. I got off the train which exited below tower number one, which was the first tower to be attacked by the planes.
As I exited the train, a wave of people was running towards the exit out of the building. All I could think was, “What is going on?” I tried asking people around me what was going on but no one would answer me, and finally I had to literally halt someone and force them to give me an answer. He told me, “a bomb exploded in the building, we need to get out!” This really freaked me out and in a state of daze I walked slowly towards the exit unable to comprehend what was happening around me. As I approached the street, I saw bricks and paper-like material raining onto the pavement. I took a quick glance upward to see what was happening, and caught a glimpse of an object falling from the building. I tried to make out what it was and when I saw it make a sudden movement, I just turned my eyes the other way knowing that the object was actually a person. I started walking away from the World Trade Center and found safety in a building on Berkley Street as I was forced to watch the attack unfold around me. Suddenly, I saw the second plane hit with my own eyes, realizing that we were under attack by planes, not by a bomb.

At that instant, the whole building shook from an explosive sound and almost knocked me right off my feet. The experience was surreal and I could not believe what was happening.
I felt as if this was a scene from an “End of the world type of movie.” I looked around and saw that people were in a ghostly state of mind, not believing what had just happened. I was soon brought to reality when a colleague who happened to see me, grabbed my arm and shook me so hard screaming, “Tina we need to get out of this city, now~!”
Even though I wanted to run, the crowd was so thick because everyone was trying to find safety away from the World Trade Center. I walked all the way to Chinatown and my colleague and I were separated. I felt so alone and not a single individual or taxi cab stopped for me. I felt trapped and in that thought, a cab stopped and told me to come in. I sat inside the car and as I looked back, the first tower collapsed. I could see a white fog spread thickly over the city and come straight towards the vehicle. We made it safely outside of the city, but I was very much in a daze for a couple days afterwards.

From this experience I’ve learned one true valuable lesson. We are all trying to make something of our life and we add to the pages of our life by filling it with money or material gain. But the most important thing is that we all live for the person next to us. We only leave a legacy through creating relationships with people around us. We have to understand that we all have a story, big or small, and that every story is worth its value and place. I realize that although life is important, it is what we make of it that defines the value of our life. I wish that we would all stop trying to survive life, but instead enjoy it and live it. I am so grateful that I was blessed to learn this early on in my life and apply this to my job by constantly asking myself, “What have I done for the tax payers, the students and their families who have voted for me?”
I am not the only person who lived through the tragedy of 9/11, but I know that each individual who lived through this would agree that life is too short to waste. This all sounds so cliché, but on this day I just understood what wise men in the past have said about the importance of living.

2. Tina, both you and City Attorney Nuch Trutanich became kind of heroic figures in the Republican community by reversing your results in the March Primary Elections - where you both finished in second place - and turning around and winning solid victories in the May 2009 General Election. In your case, you lost the primary to Angela Reddock by 72,000 votes, yet in the General Election in May you defeated her by over 24,000 votes. It was a stunning turnaround that not many had predicted. How did you do it? Mailers? Robo-calls? A team of coordinated supporters? Share with us the secrets of your success.

Well the secret to my success will cost you. (Kidding) Seriously though, I think with education we need to focus on education and cut out the politics that have eased its way in. I really got in this for the educational side more than the political side. I knew that raising money was important, but in the end we have to really focus on the students, their families and the tax payers. I have had such great support during my campaign and still do, and for that I am very grateful. I knew that if I just reached out to the public and addressed the concerns that they have, they would see that change was necessary and that I could become part of that change on the board. Although I continue to enhance my development, so far I feel that I have made great progress and I am definitely keeping in mind the people who brought me to this opportunity. I did not elect myself, but I know that those who casted their voted for me believe in my abilities and what I stand for.

3. Your victory in the election made you the youngest member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. You were also the first Korean-American elected to this Board in its history. Your election made you somewhat of a celebrity back in Korea, and you were invited to do many publicity events and interviews over there. It has been a bit of a whirlwind for you. Share with us some of your experiences over there.

Since winning my election, I have been really under the spotlight in the Los Angeles community and also overseas in Korea. Since Korean-Americans have been in LA for so long and Korea-town is such apart of LA life, they were excited to see someone being brought out onto the political stage. Since then, SBS a Korean Network, filmed me for a special documentary called, “Two Days with Tina Park.” It aired in Korea and I was voted the Number 3 most searched individual on Naver, (the number one Korean search engine.) I also ranked the most popular political figures in Korea. I think the most amazing thing overseas was when I met the First Lady of Korea. She was so cute and sweet!!

4. I attended your swearing-in ceremony and enjoyed it very much. You gave a great speech. You even said a few words in Korean at the end to thank your family. Then you turned around and sat back in the audience with your family and supporters until the emcee said "Ummm....Tina? We need you up here on the Board of Trustees!" There were some giggles and a lot of nervous laughter from the audience as you walked back up to the stage and took your elected position. I am sure you were a little embarrassed, but I personally thought it was a very charming moment and showed that you were not a career politician. Do any of your friends and family tease you about that moment? Also, do you plan to seek higher elected office in the future here in Los Angeles?

People still talk about that moment, and it was quite funny. I would not say I was embarrassed, but definitely there was a feeling of realization that from this moment on, I would be responsible over the well being of our community.
I am going to be frank and tell you that I am definitely not a career politician. Because of this, I believe I am more impartial to finding efficient ways to bridge the gap between education, the students, and our community.

5. You are young and female. It makes you stand out a little bit in the rough-and-tumble world of Los Angeles politics. I have heard at many political events that you already have quite a few secret admirers. One political activist went so far as to say "Tina Park is the number one sex symbol in Los Angeles politics." I thought that was quite a compliment. Do you care to respond or comment?

I am extremely flattered, because I have not heard anything like that. Who is this person? Please tell them thank you and I am very flattered. I think that with the right attitude and determination, you can have it all. These days we are so jaded and focused on the artificial and material things. Media and society focuses too much on beauty as being something of a physical quality, but to be beautiful is to be educated and all the while remembering to take care of yourself. Beauty is not only about focusing on your appearances, but about taking care of your person as a whole: mind, body, and soul. Inner beauty is much more precious than what we see on the outside. We need to constantly be renewing ourselves on the inside and eventually people will see your inner beauty much more clearly.