An immigrant experience and upbringing in urban schools helped shape the person Tony Hwang has become. His story is one that evokes the essence of the American Dream, celebrates diversity and serves to remind us all that racial and ethnic barriers can be broken down with an excellent education, hard work and supportive family and friends. With an unwavering commitment to giving back to the community, Tony served as a state Representative of the 134th District for six years before becoming the first Asian-Pacific American state Senator in Connecticut history when he was sworn into office on Jan. 7, 2015. A Republican state Senator of the 28th District representing the towns of Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport, Tony is the ranking member on the Housing and Labor and Public Employees committees, and a member of the Commerce and Veterans’ Affairs committees. He lives in Fairfield with his wife, Grace, and their children, Christina and Peter.
The 50-year-old Fairfield resident and married father of two was born in Taiwan – one of three children — to parents that had escaped Communist China as teens and lived under martial law in Taiwan. Neither had attended college and both worked as blue collar laborers.
“Without education, their prospects of economic success and future opportunities for his family and children were limited,” said Hwang, of his parents,”so my dad came to the U.S. by himself to the United States to seek better opportunities and The American Dream for his family.”
Hwang did not see his father for nearly seven years growing up. The patriarch would send a paycheck back to the family – four generations, at times, living under one roof.
Ultimately, Hwang’s father brought the family to the States, and they settled in Watertown, NY. “My first living quarters were in a federal housing project,” he said. “That experience has shaped and gave me a better perspective in regards to the cycle and frustrations of poverty.”
Hwang took remedial English as a second language (ESL) classes and benefited greatly from what he described as “passionate, caring teachers and administrators” that helped him adapt academically.
Though his father had a modest income as a restaurant employee, on one occasion he invited the entire elementary school staff to the family’s housing complex for a feast. “I remember him asking administrators and teachers to do their best to teach and motivate me and that they had my parent’s full support in obtaining academic success,” Hwang said. “That focus on our education was paramount. That insight was an inspiration that has influenced my attitudes and actions in educational reform in local urban centers and that parental input is critically to educational success.”
From Watertown, the family moved to Syracuse, NY, when Hwang was in elementary school on the south side of the city, which Hwang called “a tough and mixed demographic neighborhood”
In terms of education there, Hwang was enrolled public schools and moved through the grades with mixed success and struggles. Hwang received invaluable support from Head Start and Upper Bound educational assistance programs, sacrificing Saturdays and summer vacation to receive instruction and coaching. “These lessons were transformational, providing resources and support that would otherwise not have been available by my parents, despite how much they wanted to help” Hwang explained.
After graduating from an urban-based high school — “not much different from an inner city Bridgeport/Norwalk/Stamford schools” said Hwang – the young man was fortunate to be admitted to Cornell University.
“A Cornell University admissions officer said to Hwang at the time, ‘We see the potential in you and I will simply ask that, when you graduate and in whatever you end up doing, you remember to give back to others that may need a helping hand,” Hwang recalled. “That’s been a mission that has guided me ever since my Cornell years.”
Hwang graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in labor relations and organizational behavior in 1987, worked briefly in corporate with United Technologies and then entered the executive search business, ultimately founding his own company recruiting technology executives. For the past twelve years, he has been involved in residential real estate, currently with William Raveis Real Estate.
During his corporate climb, Hwang started a family, relocated to Fairfield and today has two children. “Education, as such, and my community became even more important to me,” he said. Hwang got involved with the PTA, Rotary Club and recreational sports leagues.
A town educational issue in 2005 motivated Hwang to run for the Representative Town Meeting. Believing that we need to be engaged and participate in determining our political future. Despite no political experience, Hwang was able to garner the most votes amongst nearly 100 candidates and won a position.
In 2008, noticing a lack of representation by his local state leader in his community and in Hartford, Hwang was then inspired to run for State Representative representing the 134th district. Though there was a decidedly Democratic ‘Obama tsunami’ at the time, Hwang defeated an incumbent to win the 134th District. It was one of the few election triumphs of this kind of state government elections throughout the country.”
Hwang quickly established a track record of what he termed “fiscal responsibility, moderate social views and an unwavering passion and commitment” to his community. As a result, in 2010, he was re-elected — by nearly 70% of the voting members in his district.
“I am very proud of our community involvement as their state representative and the legislative processes in the areas of election reform, bone marrow cancer testing and community organization advocacy – Operation Hope for homelessness and the Center for Women & Families related to domestic violence for example,” Hwang reflected. “I currently serve in the environmental and appropriations (budget writing) committees and have taken a leadership roles on the government administration & elections committee.”
Hwang is EXPLORING extending his public service role, bolstered by the mission that more work that needs to be done in representing the community and its residents in Hartford. “I love this country and I love our community,” he said. “It has provided a wonderful growing environment for my children and allowed me to set down roots and build lasting friendships. I value the opportunity to serve my fellow residents in our community and serve their interests in the legislative process in Hartford.”
Hwang added, “My passionate commitment to my community drives everything that I do as their representative. Those of us that are able to give have a responsibility to support and help those less fortunate. Government should ensure that those that are most vulnerable – especially our youth, disabled and elderly. We need to protect the idea that everyone deserves an opportunity to live with dignity and a sense of belonging in our community.”