Former APAICS Intern (2016-2017) Mary Lou Akai-Ferguson is the AAPI Community Engagement and Organizing Director for the Warren Campaign and has been in this role since 2017. Previously, she worked as the Regional Organizing Director for the Ben Jealous for Governor Campaign and was a member of the Teach for America Corps in New Orleans for two years.
APAICS asked Mary Lou 13 questions about her life and career.
APAICS: Tell us about your current role at the Warren Campaign
MLAF: I am currently the AAPI Community Engagement and Organizing Director; this means that I’m focusing on how we can build our political power as a community, train AAPIs all over the country to take leadership in organizing their communities, and collaborate with grasstops and grassroots leaders to ensure that AAPI voices, issues, and concerns are prioritized in every decision we make as a campaign.
APAICS: You served as a Leadership for Educational Equity Fellow with APAICS. How has that shaped your career in public service?
MLAF: Working at APAICS was the first time I was in a space run by and for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs). Growing up in the south, I wasn’t a part of a huge AAPI community, but being part of the APAICS family showed me how much power we have when we build coalitions across the greater community.
APAICS: When you have downtime, what do you like to do?
MLAF: I love reading fiction, cooking, and playing pickup soccer.
APAICS: What is your morning routine to get ready for the day?
MLAF: Being on the road a lot means that it’s tough to get a daily routine going, but, when I’m in Boston, I usually hit snooze an embarrassing number of times, chug water, then coffee, listen to the news on my walk to the train station, and read a book on my train ride in. I try not to check my email for the first 30 minutes that I’m awake in order to give my brain a chance to wake up and not be overwhelmed with things to do, although I don’t always keep that promise to myself.
APAICS: Favorite book or podcast?
MLAF: Depends on my mood; the answer is constantly changing. I love historical fiction. Two books that I’ve recently been loving are Half of a Yellow Sun and Pachinko.
APAICS: Message for someone seeking to work on a campaign?
MLAF: Get some sleep and see your family before you start! But in all seriousness, make sure you understand why you want to do this work and who you want to do it for. It’s tough work and isn’t worth it if you’re just doing it for a title or as a springboard—but if you believe in the vision, the candidate, and the team, drop everything and get in there!
APAICS: Favorite boba flavor (or favorite drink!)
APAICS: What is it like being an AAPI woman in politics?
MLAF: My identity informs the people and values that I fight for everyday. Imposter syndrome is very real, and my support system is what keeps me reminded that I deserve to be here and that my voice and opinions are just as important as those who have traditionally held power in this country.
APAICS: What has been one of your most memorable moments as an APAICS intern?
MLAF: Not necessarily a moment, but APAICS brought me some of my dearest friends and mentors in the political world, and I’ll always be grateful for that.
APAICS: Who is your favorite AAPI entertainer?
APAICS: What is the most challenging hurdle you face working on a campaign?
MLAF: It’s a marathon-length sprint. You don’t have the normal work-life balance of a 9-5 office job, and although I love it and it’s exhilarating and powerful, I have to be really conscientious about carving personal time out for myself.
APAICS: Campaign life can be hectic, how do you keep yourself grounded?
MLAF: I spend a lot of time on the road. When I’m home, I make sure to find ways to spend time with the people I love, even if that’s just ordering takeout and watching RuPaul’s Drag Race together.
APAICS: You’ve come from a diverse background. How has that shaped your work on the campaign trail?
MLAF: When you work on a campaign, you’re doing a little bit of everything: public speaking, running trainings, understanding data, briefing the principal, taking out the trash. Each of my previous experiences has translated to campaign work in countless ways!