By Yvonne Lim Wilson
Jade Chang Sheppard came to America as a two-year-old girl whose Taiwanese parents sought a better life for their family and a shot at the American Dream. Her parents didn’t have much, but they pursued higher education, worked their way into the middle class, bought a home and saved enough to send their children to college without any debt. As a student at The University of Texas, Jade fell in love with Austin and never left. She worked at Dell before opening her own business, Gideon Contracting. Starting with nothing but loans and a strong work ethic, Jade grew Gideon into a multi-million dollar company responsible for construction, renovation and repair of federal government facilities.
Jade and her husband John have two sons and live in Northwest Austin. Jade has given back to her community as a board member, donor, and supporter of numerous civic and charitable organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Austin Children’s Shelter, Young President’s Organization, Texas Lyceum, Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Asian American Resource Center. Jade states that she is now running for State Representative to continue her public service work and ensure that the next generation of Texans is able to achieve the American Dream, just as she did.
AA: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life or did it just happen?
JCS: I believe in setting five-year goals. No, I didn’t know growing up that I would love politics. I’ve always loved community service, but I thought that I would be a doctor or social worker. Then it turned out I excelled in the business field and loved it, so I tried to tie my business back to helping the community. In the end, politics, community service, and building a successful company where people love to work and your product is meaningful, all ties together to a purposeful life for me.
AA: What was your attraction to your vocation? What drew you to do the work you do?
JCS: Business is like a game of strategy, and it’s fun, exciting, and crazy. The lows are so low and the highs are amazing, but in between, it’s figuring out how to make it, and envisioning what “make it” means is half the battle. Politics is the same in almost every way. The risk, calculations, strategy, and investment of time, energy, and resources are so similar. I’m drawn to stepping out and putting it all on the line. Every day may be your last, so you want to know that you’ve done your best with every day you have.
AA: What does the American Dream mean to you?
JCS: To me, it means taking what my parents gave me and going to new heights. My parents risked it all for my brother and I. It wasn’t enough for me to then lead a comfortable life and forget where I came from. It was my turn to help others who were climbing that ladder, and to be an example for my children. Hopefully they can achieve even more than I can in my lifetime.
AA: Is there anything particular about Austin that inspires you?
JCS: Everything about Austin inspires me! I love the energy, the innovation, the progressiveness. I love that people love the outdoors and athletics. Running Lady Bird Lake is one of my favorite things to do, followed by a swim at Barton Springs. The food is incredible. It has managed to grow, yet keep its own identity.
AA: Are there generational issues, or cultural issues, or both, between young and old Asian American Austinites?
JCS: There are a lot of cultural and generational differences, but the biggest one that I believe needs to, and will change, is the lack of involvement in community advocacy and politics. In my parent’s generation, people who spoke up caused “trouble,” so it’s hard for them to understand why they need to vote and make their voice heard. A new generation of Asian Americans is rising up as more and more role models emerge, it is very exciting.
AA: Asian Americans are becoming a powerful force in Austin economically, culturally, politically and otherwise. How do you see Asian Americans fitting into the larger Austin culture and community?
JCS: Yes, it’s about time. I see it only becoming stronger and stronger.
AA: What do you consider the most important cultural value for you and for those close to you?
JCS: Family is number one. We would not be here in America if it weren’t for my parents wanting a better future for their family. Now with my own children and a loving husband, these familial units are everything to me. If everything is good at home, then life is great. My parents, brother and sister in law, aunt and cousin all live on the same street as me, and we all form a traditional Asian familial ecosystem, it’s wonderful.
Originally published July 2013