Women’s Collective

Inspiring AAPI Women

Madison Nguyen

Executive Vice President, The Silicon Valley Organization (formerly the San Jose/Silicon Chamber of Commerce)

Madison Nguyen

Executive Vice President, The Silicon Valley Organization (formerly the San Jose/Silicon Chamber of Commerce)

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

Growing up in a large Vietnamese refugee family and working in the agricultural fields during my teenage years made me realized that positive change could only happen when everyone, regardless of socio-economic background, is given an opportunity to succeed. One of the best ways to advocate for change is through my work in public service. It is also by the far the most rewarding career to date. During my tenure on the San Jose City Council, I have successfully advocated for the development of more affordable housing for low-come families, assisted minority business owners with issues related to running a small business, partnered with local school districts to help bring more funding from major corporations and foundations to provide much-needed academic programs for students. I have also worked on getting legislations passed that brought positive impact to our city in the areas of transportation, economic development, homelessness, the environment and among others.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My mother inspired me everyday to be a better person by helping others in every way possible. I am constantly reminded that being a leader is not about the title or the position, it’s about how you treat others and how to assist them in their time of need.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

There is never a good time to think about pursuing a career in public service. That time comes when you have the fire that keeps igniting in your body and would not subside unless you get up and do something about it. When you experience that flaming fire, it’s time.

Nadya Okamoto

Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement. & Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting

Nadya Okamoto

Founder and Executive Director of PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement. & Chief Brand Officer at JUV Consulting

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I chose a path in public service because my mom always taught me to look at privilege as a spectrum. Wherever you are in life, there will always be people more privileged than you, and also less privileged than you. I comprehend it to be a part of my life’s mission to reconcile the privileges that I do have to give back to others. From the network I have, and the platform I have built, to the resources and opportunities granted to me by being a student at Harvard, I am committed to finding ways to better the world around me in any small way that I can.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My mom and my two younger sisters, for their resilience, patience, and commitment to being outspoken and creative. My mom is a strategist who helps companies grow, my 18-year-old sister is an artist, and my 15-year-old sister is an opera singer.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

Just go for it. Find mentors and take the leap – representation matters, and we still have work to do in diversifying the career field of public service.

Mee Moua

Consultant
Former MN State Senator

Mee Moua

Consultant
Former MN State Senator

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

My journey in public service began when I made the decision to change my undergraduate program from pre-med to public policy. As a refugee child, I was the first in my family to speak English and was the default interpreter and translator for my extended family. In that role, I experienced firsthand the language, cultural and compassion barriers that hinder and deny vulnerable people’s access to available public resources. I decided that I would seek a career in public policy and use my personal experiences to influence and shape how government and community services can more effectively deliver on the promise of opportunity and the American Dream.

 

Who inspires you and why?

I am inspired by my parents, whose courage, hope and faith gave them the will to survive and thrive in this country despite having to flee from political persecution, survive life in a refugee camp and start a new life in a new land with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

Be bold, be audacious, be ambitious and be not afraid to seize power so you can use and redirect that power to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable and marginalized, make visible the discounted and disenfranchised, and secure the rights of those who have be denied their share of our resources.

Hon. Helen Gym

Councilmember, City of Philadelphia

Hon. Helen Gym

Councilmember, City of Philadelphia

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I come out of 20 years of organizing in Philadelphia’s Asian American, immigrant, and public education communities, organizing for years to make our issues known. I became a teacher and an organizer, and ran major campaigns to save Chinatown, fight for affordable housing and public schools, make Philly a Sanctuary City, and win a federal civil rights case to protect immigrant youth from harassment at school. I decided to run when a former Pennsylvania governor cut a billion dollars from the state education budget and our city closed down two dozen public schools in some of our poorest neighborhoods. I had worked for years to invest in schools, young people, and to rebuild our sense of the public good. Now it was time to take that people power and turn it into an unstoppable political force. There was a huge opportunity  in the next election, and I was looking for a candidate to support who would carry forward a real vision for our issues. And after waiting and waiting, I realized that the person who could do it the best was me. I was the one who had to step up or this moment was going to pass right by.

 

Who inspires you and why?

I’m inspired by the organizing community of Philadelphia and especially young people in this city. This city is filled with people who show up every day to fight and organize and push our city forward because they believe in a bigger vision. I always say that we only get what we’re organized to take—that’s what Philly does. The dynamics of power change when organized communities take action, and I’m proud every day to live in and represent communities who live that truth.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

First, our world needs you. You don’t need to have political experience to run for office — I didn’t. But you do have to have experiences which motivate you to run with passion and conviction and make you authentic and compelling to people meeting you for the very first time. Your experiences as a woman are valuable. Your ability to communicate your story is essential. Second, public service doesn’t start with holding office. It starts with engaging in the issues and communities which inspire us to take collective action for change. Because AAPI and AAPI women are so marginalized and stereotyped, you need to take time to unpack and understand issues – from domestic violence survivors to immigrant women in the workforce, from public schools and education to language access and anti-Asian bias. These are not issues that are going to be in the mainstream in the political and governmental world. We need AAPI leaders who will champion these issues from a place of experience and a deep knowledge and understanding of what’s actually at stake. Finally, don’t be afraid of the noise that is democracy. Too often, those in public service shy away from spaces of conflict and uncertainty. They move away from communities in crisis because people are not perceived as being “civil” enough. But the conflicts many of our communities are facing require us to become skilled in race politics, to challenge gender stereotypes and biases, and to take on patriarchy and xenophobia because these are the forces that tear our communities apart and threaten our ability to organize and broaden movements for justice. Look at what’s moving through our streets and communities: the fight for $15, DREAM Act, Black Lives Matter, and stopping the privatization of our public schools. These campaigns are moving at the grassroots and local level. So if you care about public service, hit the streets and don’t be afraid to be in the moment when democracy is shaping itself.

Michelle Wu

Boston City Councilor At-Large

Michelle Wu

Boston City Councilor At-Large

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I grew up never expecting to be involved in government or politics, much less running for office. But after I graduated from college, my mother began struggling with mental health challenges, and over the next few months of stabilizing her and taking over care for my sisters, I realized just how much government impacts lives. I attended law school and interned in Boston’s City Hall, where I saw firsthand that local government can be innovative and effective when connected to the needs of residents. And then I worked on the US Senate campaign of my former law professor, Elizabeth Warren, where I understood the power of politics to draw new voices into policy and community. In 2013, I ran for and was elected to serve as the first AAPI woman on the Boston City Council.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My mother has been an example of strength and resilience for my whole life. As an immigrant from Taiwan, she sacrificed a great deal to build a life of opportunity for her kids. Even in the face of her own challenges, she has remained a moral beacon and compassionate anchor for our family. I see her strength reflected in so many of my constituents, who fight through barriers to support their families and give back to their communities. My work is grounded in their determination and creativity, and I know that we will continue making progress if policy is driven by those living the struggles.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

Focus on the difference you’d like to make, not the position you might achieve. Realize how much your community needs your leadership as soon as you’re ready to offer it. And don’t be afraid to embrace life’s challenges openly and honestly. Society makes it hard for women and especially women of color to balance everything, but as more of us step into leadership as examples of how messy and difficult it can be, we will drive the momentum to change policy and change lives. Run for office!

Tram Nguyen

State Representative - 18th Essex

Tram Nguyen

State Representative - 18th Essex

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I got involved in public service while in college through AmeriCorps and their Jumpstart program. I assisted teachers with educating large classes of preschoolers at-risk of not developing nurturing relationships with caring adults. It was a great experience and helped me channel my desire to do good and help the community in a way that made it very real and I could see the results in the eagerness of the children to learn and ask questions. This experience led me to do a legal internship with Greater Boston Legal Services, where I assisted attorneys in the areas of housing, employment, immigration, and domestic violence.

 

Who inspires you and why?

Dreams and passions. They not only worked multiple jobs at a time to provide for us, but were also active in the community. They would give to charity even though we were not well off, and they went out of their way to help people even when we needed help ourselves. Their commitment to service and helping those in need was immensely inspiring and from their example, I knew I wanted a career where I would be helping people, though at the time I did not know where that would lead me. I am incredibly fortunate to have my amazing parents in my life as a model for the kind of leader I can be at the State House, one who cares deeply about the community and will work hard to make it better.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

We need you. Our community needs you. We need more voices echoing the needs of our elders who cannot get proper health care, who need translators to get resources they are entitled to, to advocate for our second generation children who are dealing with identity crises, to advocate for mental health services, and everything that currently is being overlooked because we don’t yet have the numbers to shine the spotlight on our community’s problems and solutions. We don’t yet have enough people to serve these populations who are reluctant to go outside of the AAPI community to get help because there is comfort in that familiarity. You might be their only chance of getting that lifesaving service and it makes all the difference in their world.

Kriselda Valderrama

Deputy Speaker Pro Tem, State Delegate, Maryland General Assembly

Kriselda Valderrama

Deputy Speaker Pro Tem, State Delegate, Maryland General Assembly

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

It’s no secret that I was exposed to public service/politics at an early age due to my predecesor, my father, David M. Valderrama. I was always ‘behind the scenes’ but never imagined it would be me in the public eye. Both my parents have always instilled in me (and my sister) to give back to our community — especially our Filipino-American community — and to be part of the process because our voice(s) should be a part of the conversation.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My daughters are my inspiration. I have two high schoolers and to see them active (and succeed) not just in their academics but also with their various extracurricular activities — in addition to their personal likes/hobbies — it reminds me of my responsibility to mold & produce two strong independent young women into this (insane) world we live in. I say this to mean that when I have moments where I am completely drained and ask myself why the heck did I ever get into this [political] arena, just looking at my girls gives me back the energy and wantingness to do what I do, the best way I can so that my girls know how very important it is to be involved because they are the future.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

DO IT!! Can’t state it any simpler…REGARDLESS of party affililation, age, your employment (esp with regard to state legislatures as they are CITIZEN legislatures), etc. As most know, women are one of the largest voting blocks yet our numbers in office — in comparison to our male counterparts — are still relatively small.

Samantha Vang

MN State Representative

Samantha Vang

MN State Representative

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I chose my path of public service because I simply wanted to help my community. Once I opened my eyes to how our society is often defined by the privileges and failures given to certain people, I saw how others have benefitted from that privilege to how our system has failed for others. I wanted to be part of the process of building a system that works for everyone regardless of who they are. I felt the system failed for our community. Through that failure, I had every reason to not being supposed to run for office. I’m a young recent grad battling student loan debt with a low income job. I grew up as a daughter of refugees relying on charitable and second-hand donations for basic essentials. Yet, I ran for office because I felt policies were not made from the ground up. Many issues I continue to see in the last decade continue to place undue burdens on communities who are the least represented. Out of frustration with the status quo, I decided to run.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My parents. They arrived from Thai refugee camps to snowy Minnesota with nothing, but their clothes on their back. There were many struggles they continued to face, but they placed their hopes and dreams onto me and my siblings. They taught me that in the face of adversity, be resilient and be bold to look beyond the horizon.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

Don’t doubt yourself in wherever that you may go. No matter where you are, hold the door so others may walk through.

Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen

City Council Member, Garden Grove, CA

Diedre Thu-Ha Nguyen

City Council Member, Garden Grove, CA

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I have been a lifelong community leader active in promoting human rights, veteran services, youth leadership development, civic engagement and has volunteered for many community organizations some of which lead community-wide disaster relief efforts such as for victims of Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Haiyan. For more than a decade, I have worked closely with volunteers and their communities to help disabled veterans, their families ,championed and promoted youth civic engagement and leadership development. This has strengthened my believes, viewpoints and solidified my passion of continuation with a pathway in public service.

 

Who inspires you and why?

The youth inspires me. The more I interact with our youth, their ambitions, their opinions in nurturing acceptance and helping of others, whether it is in regards to education, healthcare or family, are simple yet POWERFUL ideas and those ideas are a great inspiration to myself in how I interact with civic leaders, elected officials, and leaders in policy making.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

I encourage all AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service to be fearless and courageous and not to ever let adversity discourage you from achieving your passion. A path forward is to volunteer and engage with people in your community, collaborate on achieving community goals with your local leaders and elected officials. You will discover that infinite possibilities and doors will open up as you progress along this path.

Sangeeta Doshi

Councilwoman, Cherry Hill Township

Sangeeta Doshi

Councilwoman, Cherry Hill Township

How did you choose a pathway in public service?

I have always volunteered and then saw there was a way I could do more to help my community.

 

Who inspires you and why?

My parents always taught us to give back more than we take and to help to make the world a better place.

 

What advice do you have for AAPI girls and women who want to pursue a career in public service?

Show up, show up and volunteer, make connections, network and help others when and where you can.