The Future of Leadership Symposium

Changing the World in 2020 and Beyond

A Hmong American Finds His Way into Public Service

VJ Chue

I serve as a Field Representative for Assemblymember Jim Frazier overseeing Contra Costa County, Sacramento County and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta of AD11. As a previous Intern and current Board Member of the APAPA – Solano Chapter, I am honored to be mentored and help advocate for more civic engagement and API participation in my local community.

Originally from the small, conservative town of Oroville in Butte County, I never expected to be who and where I am today. I grew up with very little exposure to the outside world. I lived a daily routine of going to school and spending my afternoons to help my family with farming and gardening. Despite my unsophisticated knowledge of the world, it was always rooted in me to know who I am and where I came from. I am a son of Hmong Refugee parents and grandparents who immigrated to the United States in 1989. After escaping the Secret War in Laos that ended in 1975 when the American troops and CIA retreated from Southeast Asia, my family spent years in the Thailand refugee camps until they emigrated to the United States. Seeing how much my parents and grandparents sacrificed for me, it compelled the will in me to do my best to succeed academically, to eventually pursue my greatest potential.

At this point of life, I attribute my accomplishments to all of my experiences, both good and bad. If you had met me 10 years ago, I would most likely be an overweight student in junior high school and struggling with my English classes. By being a bilingual student and only speaking my native language at home, it was difficult for me to assume this identity of an English-speaking student in class. While a majority of my peers were also Hmong, I did not feel the need to utilize English when speaking with my friends. But this was detrimental to my educational success. I was placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) class that would help me catch up to my peers.

Upon entering high school, I felt like I lacked the aspect in getting into classes that would enable me to get into the college of my dreams and did not have much hope that I would ever successfully thrive educationally. This heavy question significantly took a toll on both my physical and mental health as I was still so young but had such a low self-esteem from dwelling on everyone’s negative perspective of myself.

However, I was motivated to make myself better. I wanted to prove my insecurities wrong and be successful. I went through a major life transformation, shedding 80 pounds and advancing into AP and Honor English classes. In addition, I was also selected into a very competitive program called College Connection at the local community college. I was surprised to be ones of the very few accepted out of all my more qualified and “smarter” peers who also applied. At this point, I was even more driven and committed to pursue the unthinkable and aimed to apply for any University of California (UC) schools during my college application cycle. This program really jumps started my college experience and allowed me to take college courses in my senior year of high school.

I worked for the transit company at UC Davis.

Due to hard work and strong work ethics, I received an acceptance notice to my dream school, University of California, Davis. Although I got into my dream school, I felt that I faced hardships one after another. Coming from a low-income refugee family, with little to no financial support, I had to find a job to keep me financially stable and continue to attend UC Davis. I applied for and started working as a Transit Driver and eventually became a Route Supervisor for ASUCD Unitrans. This is an on campus and student-run public transportation system, servicing students and residents throughout the campus and city. Challenging me to balance work and education and do my best to succeed in both.

As a typical Asian son, I felt obligated to become a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer. I quickly learned that by studying and striving for what I am passionate about, I can excel in anything that I submit myself into even if it wasn’t the careers expected of me. I ultimately decided to continue on studying my favorite subjects from high school and I felt a great sense of purpose and inclined to succeed academically. After four tough years, in June of 2019, I graduated with my Bachelor of Art degrees in History and Political Science – Public Service. And with my undergraduate work experiences after working for ASUCD Unitrans over three years, this experience unexpectedly sparked and sustained my interest in transportation and public service.

I also received several internship opportunities in my field of study that geared me to the career field that I am in today. During my undergraduate years, I felt the need to get involved and to submit myself into the state government’s legislative process. I first started to intern for Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer and Senator Bill Dodd at the California State Capitol that transpired my real passion for various legislative issues such as higher education, transportation, public safety, LGBTQ+, etc. Shortly after graduating, I became an Intern for the APAPA -Solano Chapter placing in Assemblymember Jim Frazier’s Fairfield District Office. Afterall, I was committed to work for Mr. Frazier because of the amazing experience that I had interning in his office and as he was the Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee. This was an opportunity to distinguish my passion on transportation issues while doing what I also enjoyed most, public service.

To be frank, with careful planning and a motivated drive, I learned that the virtue of working harder is the only way to get through. With doing something I am passionate and inspired about, I’ve learned that by working hard, being motivated and overcoming hardships, it only gets me closer to accomplishing my dreams in public service and politics.

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