First Hmong-American woman to run for Sacramento City Council in 2020

Mai Vang is running to represent District 8 on the Sacramento City Council in 2020.
Mai Vang is running to represent District 8 on the Sacramento City Council in 2020.

Sacramento City Unified school board member Mai Vang announced her candidacy Monday for the Sacramento City Council in 2020.

The daughter of Hmong refugee parents from Laos, who fled communist Laos to the United States, Vang is the eldest of 16 children, born and raised in south Sacramento.

She is running to represent District 8, a diverse community comprised of Cabrillo, Meadowview, Florin, Parkway, Valley-Hi and North Laguna Creek neighborhoods.

The highest percentage of residents are aged between 25 to 34, according to a Census Bureau demographics forecast for 2018 provided by Vang. She is 34.

Sacramento NAACP President Betty Williams and Pastor Les Simmons have also announced their candidacies for the seat.

Calling herself a proud resident, Vang said she hopes to improve the quality of life for south Sacramento residents. She said she hopes to focus on youth policies and neighborhood equity, and to ensure the community gets its share of resources.

“Together, I know that we can build a collective future where everyone in Sacramento is included in our prosperity and no one, no matter where they live, is left behind,” she said.

Vang said District 8 has so much potential, despite being overlooked, for developing housing, parks and safe neighborhoods. She hopes to continue to work on renewing the 17 neighborhood parks to keep children safe and thriving.

“Investments are happening in downtown,” she said. “Our families should have access to those resources.”

Vang is the executive director for the Buck Scholars Association, an organization which provides scholarships to talented students who lack the resources or support to achieve their educational goals. She was a Bucks Scholar in 2003.

She holds a dual master’s degree in public health and Asian American studies from UCLA, and is an adjunct professor of ethnic studies at Sacramento State.

After graduating from UCLA, Vang came back to Sacramento and co-founded Hmong Innovating Politics, a civil engagement organization with a goal to inform and mobilize more people from the Hmong and other disenfranchised communities to vote.

“What is the purpose of education if you can’t come back to uplift your community?” Vang said.

Vang was elected to the Sacramento City Unified School District board in 2016. She also worked for four years as the community affairs director for Sacramento City Councilman Larry Carr, who currently holds the District 8 seat and is not seeking re-election.

If elected, Vang would become Sacramento’s first council member of Hmong heritage, but said she hasn’t really thought about it.

“I’m running to serve the community I love, not to be the first,” Vang said. “I don’t think about (me being) first, but I also own the fact that I am Hmong. I understand invisible communities that are silenced.”

“My role is to open doors for communities and to ensure communities that are most marginalized are at the table with me,” Vang said. “When residents see folks that look like them, they may be willing to come to the table to express concerns.”

The primary election will be held on March 3.

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Theodora Yu covers Asian American issues for The Sacramento Bee. She is a Hong Kong native and a Columbia Journalism School alumna with an interest in immigration and climate change issues.