His honesty appeared to impress his interviewer as a result of he was informed to begin on Monday. However destiny, too, performed a task. Lau later found the advert had mistakenly been positioned by a former intern; these positions are usually not normally marketed in any respect. Lau was one in all simply three individuals who utilized, together with a 13-year-old and middle-aged man who confirmed up for his interview in a clown T-shirt.

Lau, because it turned out, had a knack for politics and a protracted profession forward of him. In February, Lau, 43, was named deputy govt director of the Democratic Nationwide Committee, changing into the social gathering’s highest-ranking Asian American staffer. A resident of Somerville (and shortly, Washington, D.C.), he had made historical past two years earlier when, working for Senator Elizabeth Warren, he turned the first Asian American to handle a significant presidential marketing campaign.

Now, at a time of rising anti-Asian bigotry throughout the nation — fueled by the coronavirus pandemic and former president Donald Trump’s racist “Chinese virus” rhetoric — Lau hopes he can use his platform to extend Asian American political energy and illustration. For Lau, a part of which means stepping far exterior his consolation zone, and sharing his story extra extensively.

“Somebody has to talk to humanize us,” Lau stated. “On this second, on this time, on this function, each for the surface world and for our communities and for youthful Asian-Individuals who need to do the stuff, I simply need to arise — not even increase my hand — however arise, to let individuals know that I’m right here. You could be, too.”

Lau’s quiet political workmanship has influenced nearly each vital Democratic marketing campaign in Massachusetts over the previous 20 years, together with Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004 and Senate marketing campaign in 2008. In 2012, Kerry beneficial him to Warren as she entered the US Senate contest to unseat Republican Scott Brown. Warren employed Lau as her political director.

“Roger is a type of gifted organizers at a grass-roots degree who understands individuals,” Kerry stated. “And that’s what politics is about — it’s about individuals, and Roger actually is a individuals particular person.”

Lau has since earned a fame as a savvy but self-effacing strategist who avoids the highlight. (Reached by telephone, associates, kin, and former colleagues had been stunned Lau agreed to speak for this story. “I ponder if this was an ‘Invasion of the Physique Snatchers’ second,” Warren quipped. “He’s the man who by no means desires to be within the image.”)

In at this time’s fractured media atmosphere, the place pundits and politicians commerce barbs for clout on Twitter and cable information, Lau is the uncommon political fixture who stays out of the fray.

“He places his head down, does the work, and by no means ever seeks the glory or the credit score or the popularity,” stated Nikko Mendoza, Warren’s state director, who met Lau nearly 20 years in the past at first of each their careers. And as such, he’s universally well-liked, Mendoza added, even amongst those that disagree with him.

Considered one of Lau’s strengths, in line with Warren, is that he’s by no means overlooked the place he got here from. “He by no means forgot how shut he got here to being a type of children who was going to dwell endlessly on the margins,” she stated.

Certainly, within the rarefied echelons of American politics, dominated by white, well-connected Ivy Leaguers, Lau’s story stands out — and never in a approach he’s solely comfy with. The oldest son of working-class Chinese language immigrants, Lau dropped out of his New York Metropolis highschool and racked up a minor arrest file earlier than incomes his GED and matriculating on the College of Massachusetts Amherst, the place he stumbled by his freshman and sophomore years.

“It simply wasn’t one thing I used to be proud to inform in that world,” Lau stated. “And if I’m being fully trustworthy, I do assume that a few of it was additionally being an Asian American and being a son of Asian American immigrants. My story and my background was simply not a narrative that’s informed in our neighborhood.

“When you run afoul,” he added, “you don’t speak about it.”

Lau grew up within the immigrant enclave of Woodside, Queens. In 1976, his mother and father fled China underneath Mao’s communist regime and settled in New York. Neither had completed faculty past third or fourth grade. They labored laborious — his mom at garment manufacturing facility and his father peddling tchotchkes in Chinatown, ready tables at a restaurant, and stocking the warehouse of an Empire State Constructing memento store. They’d typically go away dwelling at 7 a.m., returning 16 hours later, and Lau, the oldest of their three sons, was left in the care of his grandparents.

An unserious pupil who admittedly lacked self-discipline, Lau examined effectively sufficient to earn a seat on the Bronx Excessive Faculty of Science, one of many metropolis’s elite public colleges. However “temptation,” as Lau put it, ceaselessly obtained one of the best of him. Lau skipped faculty to shoot pool together with his associates and typically bumped into hassle with the police. Sometimes, the cops would present up on the pool corridor, and drag Lau and his buddies to the station to take part in a lineup.

It was scary,” Lau stated. “For all we knew, the individuals standing subsequent to us had been murderers.”

Lau finally dropped out. A former girlfriend — who pointedly informed Lau, “’I’m not going to this point a loser’” — lastly satisfied him to review for the highschool equivalency examination. In 1996, Lau enrolled at UMass Amherst.

Along with his GED and middling SAT scores, Lau doubts he would have gotten in had he utilized at this time. However UMass “took an opportunity on me,” Lau stated. He struggled mightily to start with. The primary time he obtained an “A” was in a political science class. He beloved the way in which his professor talked about authorities and the ability of political organizing. He switched his main from biology to political science.

However academically, Lau needed to make up for misplaced time after failing a number of lessons early on. He moved off campus to cut back distractions and began taking 9 programs per semester. To make ends meet, he labored three part-time jobs, together with one delivering newspapers and one other at a corrugated cardboard manufacturing facility.

He was exhausted, and his endurance together with his associates who typically stayed at his house — smoking, ingesting, and hanging out — wore skinny. At some point, Lau purchased a stack of newspapers for his buddies and flung them open to the categorised sections. As they perused the listings, they noticed an advert for an internship at then-Senator Kerry’s workplace in Springfield. His associates challenged Lau to use, and to humor them, Lau did simply that.

The internship marked the start of Lau’s profession. Kerry’s workplace employed him when he graduated in 2000, and he began in constituent providers. On the time, Lau was one in all a simply few Asian Individuals working in state politics, and he’d by no means felt extra misplaced, rubbing shoulders with staffers who all got here from the identical cities, went to the identical colleges, and summered in the identical locations. (”This was earlier than I even knew ‘summer time’ could possibly be used as a verb,” Lau stated.)

It was a lonely place to be in. And at instances, Lau questioned whether or not he belonged.

“We’ve all lived by microaggressions and typically worse,” he stated. “I’ve been requested, ‘Am I an intern?’ or ‘Who’s your boss?’ even after I was a marketing campaign supervisor or state director.”

For Asian Individuals, Lau’s ascension feels deeply private. Boston Metropolis Councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu obtained to know Lau whereas she was working as an organizer and constituency director for Warren’s 2012 senate marketing campaign.

Rising up within the Chicago suburbs, Wu, who’s Taiwanese American, typically felt invisible as a result of Asian illustration — in politics, media, leisure, and sports activities — was so sparse. Earlier than making historical past herself in 2013 as the primary Asian American lady to serve on the Boston Metropolis Council, she was warned repeatedly by well-meaning advisers about her implausible candidacy.

Watching Lau’s rise has confirmed what’s attainable, she stated.

“I nonetheless get emotional,” Wu stated, “serious about how he broke an enormous barrier.”

As Lau seems to be forward to the 2022 midterms and past, he sees a possibility to form the way forward for the Democratic Celebration by partaking extra Asian Individuals, a strong and fast-growing voting bloc that has typically felt sidelined or ignored by each main events. In accordance with new Census data, voter turnout amongst Asian Individuals reached a file excessive 59 % in 2020 — a ten proportion level leap from 2016.

After Congress handed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Might 18, which goals to expedite Division of Justice evaluations of pandemic-related hate crimes, the DNC launched a significant multilingual promoting marketing campaign in additional than 25 states and territories to advertise the American Rescue Plan and have fun Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The marketing campaign, which Lau had a hand in, is a part of the social gathering’s technique of investing early in communities of colour.

“This second in time that we’re in might be essentially the most the Asian American neighborhood has been within the political consciousness, no less than so far as I can bear in mind,” Lau stated. “I believe that our energy comes from constructing that neighborhood and embracing it as a lot as we will, and if we stand collectively and share our successes … that’s going to offer us much more alternative to say more room on this nation.”


Deanna Pan could be reached at deanna.pan@globe.com. Comply with her on Twitter @DDpan.





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