Learning to be Brave: Women of Color in Power

I kicked off 2018 by facilitating a workshop on Asian American and Pacific Islander Women in Leadership at a AAPI conference at Stanford. As the women in the room, ranging from high school students to seasoned professionals, shared their experiences, I realized our struggles have not changed from past generations. Last year was celebrated as the “Year of the Woman” and yet as a woman of color, I could not fully take ownership or feel a part of that movement. The face of the movement was someone who did not look like me and did not share similar experiences growing up as a daughter of refugees.  

Today is International Women’s Day and in my reflection of that workshop, I simultaneously felt disheartened and hopeful but knew that ultimately things needed to change in order for us to truly see progress for women of color. What was I going to do differently in order to pave the way for other women of color to get there?

This past weekend, I listened to a podcast called “Teach Girls Bravery, not Perfection” by Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code. All my life, I’ve been taught that perfection is part of my identity. At home, my parents taught me how to be the ‘perfect’ Hmong daughter so that when I got married it would prepare me to be the ‘perfect’ Hmong daughter-in-law. In my professional life, I looked at draft emails way too many times before sending them; I only spoke up in meetings when I felt that I had crafted the ‘perfect’ response; and doubted my abilities in areas I knew I was strong in. In her speech, Reshma shares that in order for us (women, everyone) to progress, we need to teach young women to take risks and be comfortable with imperfection. For me, this meant I would have to unlearn what I have practiced my entire life.

“Becoming brave” isn't an overnight sensation. You don't just wake up and jump off buildings. In my own small ways, I’ve started on my own journey of bravery. In meetings, I make it a point to share my ideas first even if it’s not fully baked. When I organize, I am learning to trust my abilities and expertise in engaging my own community when others ask me how they can outreach to the Hmong and Southeast Asian communities.

It is important also to recognize that the stakes for failure as a women of color are much more dire. Many of us serve as the backbone for our families--the ones whom our parents rely on, the mentor for our siblings, the caretakers for the children, and many times the breadwinner. The risk of failure has dire consequences because when we fail--we also risk the infrastructure for those who depend on us. Thus, I also make it a point to shout out women of color who commit small acts of bravery and take risks despite the challenges they face.

So this International Women’s Day, I proudly and boldly shout from the top of my lungs that we will smash patriarchy by uplifting one another; by celebrating #BlackExcellence #LatinaPower and #NotYourAAPISidekick; by pushing safe spaces into braves spaces and committing to make small acts of bravery in our everyday lives.


Nancy Xiong Comment

Hmong Innovating Politics Forms Fresno & Sacramento Organizing Network

To start 2018, Hmong Innovating Politics is thrilled and proud to announce that we are teaming up with local organizers to expand our civic empowerment and integrated voter engagement work to Fresno, California.

left to right: HIP Executive Director Cha Vang & Civic Engagement Director Mai Thao

left to right: HIP Executive Director Cha Vang & Civic Engagement Director Mai Thao

Led by Fresno resident Mai Thao, HIP will grow its efforts to empower disenfranchised communities and elevate voices in support of social and economic justice. Mai previously served as Political Community Organizer for SEIU Local 521 and played a critical role in several local campaigns. Her organizing and voter engagement experience will help residents in Fresno grow its political power and elevate issues impacting low-income communities to the forefront.

As Mai Thao describes, “being born and raised in Fresno, I didn’t think too much about the disparities my family faced. Growing up in neighborhoods with gang violence, relying on food stamps, eating vegetables grown in our own backyard and going to the swap meet to buy basic essentials were experiences a lot of people from Fresno can resonate with. It wasn’t until I left Fresno to go to undergrad did I realize how disenfranchised and disadvantaged families in our neighborhoods were. After graduating from Cal, I came back to Fresno fueled by the belief that in order to change the circumstances of our community, we needed to do everything we could to tear down the institutional and political barriers that reinforce (and benefit from) the existing disparities. In order for individuals and entire communities to reach their full potential, I knew we had to start building power.”

The challenges that communities in Fresno and Sacramento face are unique and localized to their specific neighborhoods. However, the ingredients necessary to build power and advance a progressive vision for ALL OF CALIFORNIA will always include grassroots organizing and increasing civic engagement. We are electrified to have Mai on board because we now have a chance to grow progressive political power in the two largest Hmong communities in California.

HIP Hires New Organizer in Sacramento


In addition to expanding our organizing efforts to Fresno, we are proud to announce the hiring of Mai Vang (no relation to Mai Yang Vang), our newest community organizer in the Sacramento office. Mai graduated from UC Berkeley (Go Bears!) and returned to her hometown of Stockton, CA. As the community organizer, Mai will help drive our ongoing direct voter contact and canvassing efforts in South Sacramento and begin to expand our youth engagement work in the greater Sacramento region. Mai’s dedication and passion for community organizing and empowering young people will help take HIP’s work in Sacramento to the next level.