Evan Low wants everyone to realize the American dream. The grandchild of cannery workers and son of an Almaden Valley optometrist, Low, ’03 Political Science, has seen significant social and economic changes shape Silicon Valley.
“My grandparents worked blue-collar jobs,” he says. “But they made sufficient income to put food on the table, buy a home and put four kids through college. That’s typically what the American dream is: it’s a social contract. You get yourself educated and that will give you the skillsets to become a productive member of society, which will then allow you to live the California-American dream. And that’s no longer attainable now.”
The “sense of active citizenry” Low inherited from his parents inspired him to run for Campbell City Council in 2006—the first Asian-American to be elected—and become the youngest openly gay mayor of an American city in 2010. He realized he could host a blood drive on city property but could not, by law, donate blood himself. In response to the 1980s AIDS epidemic, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recommended that blood banks refuse donations from anyone displaying “risk factors” for HIV, including any men who have had sex with men since 1977. A 2017 revision of the FDA guidelines states that gay men may donate after abstaining from sex for one year. While this does increase eligibility for donating blood, its conditional acceptance of the LGBTQ community is still far from Low’s vision for inclusion.
He has also learned to deflect cultural stereotypes—not to mention fundamental untruths—about his background, ethnicity and identity. As a fourth-generation Chinese-American, he speaks more Spanish than Chinese, yet is often perceived as a perpetual foreigner. Being the youngest or the first has never been as important to him as challenging social inequality or rallying for causes he supports—though he believes that representation matters.
“I am many more generations native to my community, even in Silicon Valley … but I’m not seen as truly American,” he says. “That’s a continuous challenge, which is why I feel the importance of community, being engaged and embracing the strengths of our diversity.”
Elected to the California Assembly in 2014, Low says there are “tremendous opportunities for fellow Spartans to be great leaders. Take time to recognize that you are in the heart of innovation, not only in the state, not only in the nation, but in the world.”