Asian Austin’s A-List: Todd Wong

By Yvonne Lim Wilson

Long-time community activist and attorney Todd Wong recently announced his decision to run for Travis County Court at Law #1 Judge. He is a third-generation American; his grandparents emigrated from China in the early 1900’s and opened grocery stores in San Antonio. His wife Paula operates Paula Wong Piano Academy; their daughter Brennan is a senior at Wake Forest University and their son Matthew is a graduating senior at St. Stephen’s Episcopal School. Wong has been a litigator for 26 years and has been named as one of Texas Monthly’s Super Lawyers, and has consistently received the top rating on the LexisNexis Martindate-Hubbell list of Top Rated Lawyers. Wong serves in a variety of roles in local community organizations and has been recognized with many professional and community service awards. For more information visit toddwongforjudge.com.

AA: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life or did it just happen?
TW: If the question is, “Did you know you wanted to become a lawyer when you were young?” The answer is most definitely “No.” Did I know that I wanted to become a lawyer after my first day of organic chem, physics and calculus classes during my sophomore year? The answer is  “Yes.” I didn’t plan to meet my wife, Paula, when I worked in Dallas, but we definitely planned to make our home in Austin.

AA: What was your attraction to your vocation? What drew you to do the work you do?
TW: My high school speech and debate coach, and senior English teacher, L.D. Naegelin, was instrumental in my development as an advocate, both in written and verbal form. I was fortunate to have such an excellent mentor in him, as well as my close friends, who also were amazing advocates (my high school debate partner, David Frederick, frequently argues before the United States Supreme Court, and my other friends have also become excellent attorneys throughout the country). I was drawn to become an advocate—while I thought my service to our community would be as a physician—it turns out my advocacy would be as an attorney. I have truly enjoyed the experience of helping people with their legal issues. After practicing twenty six years, I have taken that next step and would like to serve our community as our next County Court at Law Judge.

AA: What does the American Dream mean to you?
TW: It means hope and opportunity. When I attended the IACT [Interfaith Action of Central Texas] dinner the other night as a guest of Amy and Al Mok, there were so many stories of courage from immigrants who have come to Austin with nothing except hope. Some injured, even blinded, as a result of civil war; others tortured or beaten for standing up for justice for their countrymen—they arrived in the United States with nothing except a true belief that they are coming to a new place with unbounded opportunities, with a chance to live their lives, to love others, and to, above all else, have peace. It really struck me that all of our families, from generations past, have walked in those shoes and have worn the same tattered clothing … to be here, to forge that opportunity. I am so thankful that my grandparents made those sacrifices, to leave all that was familiar, to leave what was home, and to come to a place where they knew no one, could not speak English, had no prospect for work—and to make a new home.  I also understand that my parents made sacrifices that they will never mention, endured hardships that I will never know, suffered overt and benign discrimination that they will refuse to reveal—all of which so that my brother, my sister, and I may live this “American Dream” with boundless hope, opportunity, and peace.

AA: Is there anything particular about Austin that inspires you?
TW: During my campaign, I have been introduced to so many people doing so many good things for our community—it’s really amazing. From helping the elderly to increasing minority involvement and leadership, from creating early childhood education opportunities to making our schools the best and safest places for our kids to learn—Austin’s people are inspiring and truly care for one other.

AA: Are there generational issues, or cultural issues, or both, between young and old Asian American Austinites?
TW: I’m sort of in the middle of both, I guess. I will say that the young Asian American Austinites are proud of their cultural and ethnic background while actively participating in our multicultural city. The continuing connections between our elders and youth bodes well.

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?
TW: We have four Asian American candidates in races for the Texas House of Representatives, Travis County Commissioner’s Court, and Travis County Court at Law; the new Community Center will open this year; businesses are a part of the rich fabric of our community—yes, we are rapidly growing as a voice within this community, and I expect that voice will grow stronger.

AA: What do you consider the most important cultural value for you and for those close to you?
TW: Respect and learn from those who have come before you, and confidently make your way forward. We’ll stand beside you and run with you until we cannot run further—and then we’ll have your back.

Join Todd Wong’s campaign kickoff event Wednesday, May 29 from 5 to 7 p.m. at Peso and Bucks on Barton Springs Road. For more information visit toddwongforjudge.com.

Originally published May 2013

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