Former New Jersey councilwoman is first East Asian woman to serve in state Legislature
Commemorating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month this May, and News 12 is honoring pioneers in fields from art to business to politics.
New Jersey State Assemblywoman Ellen Park came to America from South Korea as a young girl, and now, the former Englewood Cliffs councilwoman is the first East Asian woman to serve in the state Legislature.
“It takes one, then it takes two then it takes a few more and I definitely think this is the beginning,” says Park.
Park is the first woman of East Asian descent to be elected to the New Jersey state Legislature, voted in last year as a Democrat representing 13 towns in Bergen County.
“It's all about that immigrant mentality, keep your head down work hard and make your American Dream happen,” says Park.
The district includes towns like Leonia, Fort Lee and Palisades Park, which is one of the highest concentrations of Koreans in the Western Hemisphere, and now, they have a member of their community representing them at the Statehouse in Trenton.
Born in South Korea, Park and her sister lived with grandparents for a few years while their parents prepared the way. Park was 6 years old, and her sister just 4 years old -- when just the two of them went on a journey to their new home.
“I remember arriving here from Hawaii and we had to go to California and my sister and I traveled together and my dad came to pick us up from L.A. because he had to come from New York and my sister didn't recognize him,” says Park.
The family of four lived in a one bedroom apartment, sometimes with an uncle crashing there too. Her father was a dreamer who had a side job as a wedding singer. Her mother was practical, tough, a role model.
“She's very resilient, very resourceful and I'm sure she will be shocked when she hears she's sort of my hero,” says Park. “She's certainly the one who made it happen for our family.”
Pride in her heritage strengthens her, passion for helping others follow in her footsteps drives her.
“I hope we don't lose momentum,” says Park. “I hope we're not the only ones. So, over the years they'll be a few more and a few more so I'm just very excited and very hopeful.
Park says her second grade teacher at P.S. 150, Rachel Bissom, was an inspiration for her, but she's lost touch and is trying to find the former teacher and tell Bissom what she's meant to her.