The two men have full plates already. Each has an active professional life, a wife and kids, community connections that demand his time and focus. And each now has added another job: Asian ambassador.
A pair of new local initiatives has been launched by Mayor A. George Pradel to enhance the links between Naperville and its residents whose roots are in China and India. Bill Liu is serving at chairman of Chinese community outreach, and chairing Indian community outreach is Krishna Bansal.
“I hope that this pilot program of outreach to these communities grows and flourishes and brings us all closer together,” Pradel said in a statement released just after the two volunteers’ new roles were announced earlier this month.
A resident for nearly a decade, Bansal runs an information technology business based in northeast Naperville and lives on the city’s southwest side. As a candidate for the Indian Prairie School District 204 board earlier this year, he spoke to numerous voters who share his link to India. Many are doctors, attorneys, engineers and other professionals whose incomes enable them to live comfortably, but Bansal was concerned to see that they have a lesser presence in local organizations than non-Indians.
“What really got me thinking was most of the Indian population here is first-generation immigrants,” he said. “But when they come here, they don’t have the same opportunity to understand the civic system. ... It’s not that they don’t want to do it. They’re unaware of it.”
During his campaign, his own awareness of government’s various branches, and the function served by each, grew considerably.
“One of the takeaways from my last election was there needs to be education about civic involvement,” said Bansal, 43, who last weekend launched a Republican bid to challenge first-term Illinois 84th District Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora, in November 2014.
Social customs, and the ways in which they vary in India from common practices here, are another area to which Bansal is giving some of his energy. In social settings, he said, he and other Indian Americans sometimes hesitate before initiating gestures and behaviors, and non-Indians occasionally tell him they have the same sense of uncertainty about Indian customs.
“It’s keeping these communities a little apart,” he said.
He and Liu both will be looking for ways to help Asian business people find stronger footing in the community.
“China’s wealth right now is fascinating to the world,” said Liu, 54.
Also a Naperville resident for about a decade, Liu is a management consultant who works to draw Chinese-owned commerce to the U.S., and supports American companies when they seek to tap into China’s booming markets.
“Naperville is a great place to live and invest,” he said. “But how do you get people to see it’s a good place to work?”
Among his initial projects, he said, is reinvigorating a “stalled” effort to lure a major Chinese restaurant in Chicago to add a Naperville location.
He also is attuned to a reciprocal need for better understanding of culture and customs by both American and Chinese-born residents, and the communication challenges faced by many residents whose primary language is Mandarin.
“You’re talking about some culture issues, and if your English isn’t fluent, you tend to be on the shy side,” Liu said.
That can be a barrier to full participation — even if there is little cause for complaint, as is the case for many who live in the city.
“Your kids study well, you pay your taxes, you don’t speed ... but if you want to be involved and you want to be part of the society, you need to contribute more to the whole community,” he said. “Instead of being a silent partner in this community, we want to be an active participant.”
Liu also wants Naperville’s Chinese residents to have access to weekend school programs for their children, good sources for Chinese grocery items and opportunities to spend time with one another. He sees communication as a large portion of his new position and has spent recent weekends visiting some of the city’s dozen Chinese weekend schools and other groups, to let them know such entities as the Naperville Park District have inquired about how they can do a better job of meeting the needs of the local Chinese community. He spends a portion of every week at the Xilin Asian Community Center on Ogden Avenue, working to get the word out.
“If they want their voice to be heard, they should come to me,” he said.
The two cultural emissaries concur that the elevated profile of the city’s Asian sector calls for a response. In the 2010 U.S. Census, Naperville residents who identified themselves as Asian represented nearly 15 percent of the city’s 141,853 residents. Indian Americans, Bansal said, comprise the city’s largest minority population.
“The mayor wanted this to happen, and when we sat down together, we said, ‘This is the right time,’” he said.
“We want to do something which is measurable, something which is beneficial to the city.”