Your Corner - I have never thought of myself as a politician: Jimmy Chen
- he came from Taiwan 20 years back
My name is Jimmy Chen and I am a two-term sitting Christchurch City Councillor.
I came to Christchurch with my family (my wife and two daughters) in September 1996. My first daughter who is a Medical Doctor, and my second daughter she is a Dental Hygienist & Therapist. I am delighted that we as family are well settled in New Zealand.
Before coming to New Zealand, I was working as a project manager in an electronics company in Taiwan. One of my friend who immigrated to Christchurch, when he visited Taiwan, he shared with me his experience regarding how New Zealand is one of the best countries to live, work and raise a family. It needed some convincing, as my wife was concerned about moving to an English-speaking country, because she was not proficient in the language. But she got around and we moved to the land of the long white cloud.
That was also the time when the New Zealand Government initiated an open immigration policy, and was attracting immigrants particularly from Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. I was part of that wave.
After we immigrated to Christchurch, like every other migrant family, we needed time to settle-in. And I decided to use that settling-in period to improve my English and fit in the New Zealand system.
In 1998, I got my first job in the Inland Revenue Department where I worked for the next three years.
Then In 2001, which was a path breaking year for me, I joined one of my church friend's healthy products company as the marketing consultant for promoting the products in Christchurch and the Canterbury region. Also importantly, I started working as an interpreter between English- Chinese languages.
Professionally, I workedat healthy products company for three years. In 2004, I decided to work as a tour guide catering to Chinese tourists visiting NZ from China and Taiwan. This carried on till 2007 when I stand for and won the local government election as a Community Board member.
But my story is not about what I did professionally. It is more about my community engagement and social networking that started in 2001. Working as an interpreter, I got a chance to cover the courts working within the Ministry of Justice, other government agencies, including Ministry of Fishery, Department of Correction, Immigration Service, The Police, as well as various hospitals across Christchurch including Hillmorton, Princess Margaret and Christchurch Central. This helped me gather a deeper understanding of the social norms, laws, culture, structures, and processes of New Zealand.
In a nutshell, I got to know how the system of New Zealand works!
Then when I started working as tour guide, I got to know and experience the New Zealand outside of Christchurch, covering almost the entire South Island.
Since my daughters were studying at Burnside High School, I got involved in the PTA and later gravitated to the School's Board of Trustees, which helped me learn the knowledge and skills required for management and governance.
During this time period, I also participated in the Christchurch Inter-cultural Assembly as a committee member, Deputy Chair and Chair. This assembly consisted of several NGOs and multi-ethnic communities for fostering the cultural diversity in Christchurch.
All these working experiences, made me a known face in the wider community, and quite a few people encouraged and supported me to stand for the local government elections.
I had a discussion with my family and considered for few months. Then I made the decision to stand for the Local Government Elections 2007.
The road to success was tough. There were only a handful of ward members from ethnic background during that time. But my work was recognized and I won the election as a Riccarton/Wigram Community Board member.
As a community board member, during the three years, I dedicated myself to engage with the community as well as individual residents to listen to their concerns, advocate for the community as well as give feedback to them regarding the issue they raised to me.
In 2010 Local Government Election, I stood for the Council and Community Board. I won both Council and Community Board seats. I was so exciting to win the Council seat because this was the first time a migrant candidate for whom English was the second language won the election as a Councillor.
This win, and being the first Councillor from ethnic background, increased my sense of responsibility even more. I wanted to work harder and repay the faith and trust bestowed on me.
Moreover, when I was elected as a Councillor in October 2010, it was only one month after the September 2010's earthquake. Also several months later, the February 2011's earthquake happened, which changed our lives forever. As a Councillor, I was part of of the Earthquake Emergency Response team looking after the severe damaged areas of my ward Halswell and Westmorland, with the added responsibility of dealing with international media from China, Korea and Taiwan.
Those were challenging times. In the morning we gathered at the Christchurch Art Gallery (Earthquake Recovery Operation Centre) to diverse the emergency strategy, then in the afternoon I visited the community of Halswell and Westmorland to help them in their hours need.
Later on, I was also the part of the Council's team which went to San Francisco, US- a city which had faced and recovered two times from severe earthquakes in the past - to study and frame our own strategy for the earthquake recovery.
I never thought of myself as a politician, rather than just a public servant who was approachable, reliable and engaging with the people, listening to them, and advocate for their issues. This attitude and practical engagement with the community was rewarded in 2013 Local Government Election when I was re-elected as a Councillor.
As a Councillor for the last three years, I am proud that I have been achieved the issues as follows:
As a chair of the Christchurch City Council's Multicultural Working Party, I have led a draft Multicultural Strategy. This strategy is to give every single person in Christchurch a sense of belonging as well as the equal opportunity to access the Council's information & services. And also this is the result of 25 years of advocacy by the community, and I am proud that I was able to make it happen.
And also, as a chair of Council's International Relations Working Group, I have worked with our sister cities committees to maintain and strengthen the relationships between Christchurch and our 7 sister cities to build education, tourism and economic ties.
Moreover, as an incumbent Councillor-Riccarton/Wigram ward, I have worked successfully on projects across the ward: Te Hapua-Halswell Centre, Hei Hei Community Centre, Hornby Temporary Service Centre, Wharenui Sports Centre, and the Wigram-Magdala Link. I have secured funding for the new Hornby Library & Service Centre and the South/West Leisure Centre.
As a member of Council's Housing Task Force, in terms of the housing crisis, my focus is to build more social and affordable housing in Christchurch to meet the people's needs. Also I am delighted that the final version of the draft Housing Policy will be adopted by the Council late September of this year.
In my nine years of serving the community - first three years as a community board member, and the last six years as a Councillor- I would like to share this with the ethnic community members:
Firstly, every eligible migrant voter must embrace the democratic process of New Zealand and fulfil their democratic duty of voting.
Secondly, I encourage the ethnic background citizens to put their hands up as a candidate in elections.
That's my humble submission and my migrant story.