Conn. Senate candidate only Asian in lower 48

By Susan Haigh

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Feb. 16 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

"When somebody finally gave him a chance, he took the NBA by storm. He's arrived, but he got here with a decade of hard work and confidence against the odds. He's the underdog who made it. He's living the American Dream," Tong wrote. "The dream I've lived, the dream Jeremy Lin is living, is the dream we can all live. But we have to fight for it."

Last year, Tong stood on the floor of the Connecticut House of Representatives during a debate on legislation providing reduced, in-state tuition at state colleges and universities to the children of illegal immigrants. He told the story about how his parents came to the U.S. on a tourist visa with 57 cents before he was born. They faced deportation after a rival Chinese restaurant owner likely reported them to the federal immigration service. Tong said his father reluctantly decided to leave the U.S. voluntarily, but wrote a last-ditch, six-page, handwritten letter to then-President Richard Nixon begging for the opportunity to stay in this country.

"He sent it off, thinking nothing would come of it," Tong said.

A week before his parents planned to leave, the same federal agent came to the couple's restaurant and handed them a letter from the U.S. attorney general, welcoming them to the U.S. but informing them they would have to go to the back of the line and wait their turn for citizenship.

"Because of that act of grace and compassion, I was born an American here in Connecticut," Tong said.

The in-state tuition bill wound up passing the Connecticut General Assembly and was signed into law. Tong said he plans to tell his story if he is sent to Washington.

"I want to do that in the U.S. Senate," he said. "I think it's important to speak with passion, to speak from experience about what you know."

Tong took a public stance earlier this month when he condemned a campaign ad aired by a Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra in Michigan. It featured a young Asian woman talking in broken English about China taking away American jobs. Tong called the ad "deeply hurtful" and demanded Hoekstra pull the spot.

"That affects me even though I'm in Connecticut," Tong said. "It demeans the level of discourse."

Hoekstra has defended the ad, saying it is "insensitive" only to the spending philosophy of his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, and Democratic President Barack Obama.

"We knew we were taking an aggressive approach on this. But this is a time where the people in Michigan and across the country are fed up with the spending, and we wanted to capture that frustration that they had with Washington, D.C.," Hoekstra said.

Tong said he has not experienced any anti-Chinese sentiment while on the campaign trail.

"I've been received very warmly by the people of this state and I think they understand my life, my story is an American story," he said.

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