It seems my career and life have been made to bring me to this moment, and each day I am amazed and honored to serve as Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Serving this Administration gives me a sense of pride and wonder at the great country we live in, and it is an honor to witness the dedication of the men and women who serve in our Government. Simply put, walking through the iron gates of the White House every day takes my breath away.
I was born in Columbus, Ohio, and my parents arrived in the United States in 1949, leaving their parents and many of their family members behind in China. My sister and I were raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where my dad was a physician and my mom, who was trained as a chemist, stayed home to raise my sister and me. Early on, my parents instilled in me a strong sense of service, especially my mother who served as a Girl Scout leader and community activist, even as she battled the crippling disease rheumatoid arthritis.
In 1978, as the fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) heated up in Illinois, I moved to Springfield. It was there I learned about the importance of public engagement, and some of the frustrations of the political process. While it was disappointing that the ERA failed in 1982, I was proud to work with the activated grass roots movement to pass the Illinois Criminal Sexual Assault Act - a sweeping modernization of Illinois’s arcane rape laws the next year.
From then on, community action and public service would remain an important part of my life and career, including my 23 years as a lawyer in Chicago at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. At Skadden, I chaired the pro bono committee and encouraged lawyers to represent cases that protected victims of domestic violence, fought gender discrimination in high school athletic programs, and helped community groups organize themselves. I also worked with the Chinese American Service League, a major social service agency that provides child care, job and citizenship training, and senior care in Chicago’s Chinatown. As I’ve often said, our obligation as attorneys is to use our unique skills to help those in need, and working with the community can provide a wealth of rewarding experiences and life-long friends.
This community action and public service was a key part of the Obama campaign, and I, like so many others, was thrilled to be a part of this groundbreaking election. I first joined the Administration as Director of the Office of Public Engagement, and I quickly realized my involvement with a broad range of constituency groups in Chicago had prepared me for precisely this job. I was tasked with building the outreach office for the White House, and making sure all Americans had the ability to participate in our government and the rich diversity of our country would be represented. During my time at OPE, the President signed Executive Orders to reestablish the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (WHIAAPI), and to create the White House Council on Women and Girls — both personal highlights for me.
The WHIAAPI aims to assist those in need, and works to increase participation in Federal programs where AAPIs remain underserved. The opportunity to help meet the needs and highlight the dynamic assets of the AAPI community reminded of my work the Chinese American Service League, and I was grateful to be working on these issues once again. When the Council on Women and Girls was created, I was thrilled to become the Executive Director. As a convening council, we have a substantial impact on the policies affecting America’s women and girls. In my role, I work to ensure every part of the Federal Government takes their interests into account, and that they are treated fairly in all matters of public policy. I strongly believe that when we protect and advance the role of women and girls we strengthen our Nation.
In late January, I was honored to join the Office of the First Lady as Chief of Staff. Mrs. Obama and I share a commitment to nurturing young women and supporting families, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to help her carry out her vision. We are working to support military families, encouraging young girls at home and abroad to reach for their dreams, striving to improve the health of our Nation’s children, and highlighting the rich culture of our country.
As we celebrate AAPI Heritage Month I am proud of the many ways this Administration is engaging diverse communities, working to improve the lives of all people, and supporting the causes that are so close to my heart. I know together we will make great strides towards progress, and I look forward to continuing this amazing work.
Tina Tchen is Assistant to the President, Chief of Staff to the First Lady and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Ms. Tchen most recently served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Public Engagement.