By Joshua Holland
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Often framed perfectly in history books, defining moments in action look unassuming as they unfold. This was the scene when Hoang V. Tran decided, after 27 years of working at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services helping people obtain basic food, medical, and childcare, he wanted to do a little more. Or in Tran’s case, a lot more. He decided he wanted to run for Federal Way Councilmember Position No. 4.
“I live and work in Federal Way. I care about the city,” said Tran. “I wanted to make sure minority people had a voice on the council. I also come from a different background and wanted to use it to provide the council with a different perspective.”
This desire to serve was ingrained into Tran many years ago when he fled Vietnam and found himself in a Malaysian refugee camp awaiting resettlement orders. It was here that Tran made a promise to himself. If he was fortunate enough to be able to immigrate to the United States, he would do something to pay it forward.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, his wishes would be granted nine months later. In the summer of 1980, Tran and his sister traveled to the United States, where they were resettled in Kentucky.
A year later, they moved to Seattle to be with more of their family in the area.
When Tran told some of his friends and family he was going to run, they were surprised and tried to dissuade him. “It’s a thankless job. You’re not going to be able to make everyone happy,” they jeered. “Most of the time, half of the people in the city will support you, while the other half will oppose you. You’ll never be able to make everyone happy.”
Tran wasn’t deterred, however. He wanted to serve and inspire future generations, especially people of color like himself. He was determined to lay the foundation and give hope to people who don’t traditionally see themselves at the decision-making table.
“If we don’t have Asian American public officials, who is going to shape the policy that focuses on the needs of Asian Americans? Who is the voice for this population,” said Tran. “I want future generations to look at me and say, ‘This guy who came to this country with literally nothing, look at where he is now. He didn’t speak English. He had limited skills. He only had the shirt on his back. If he can do this, I can improve my life for the better as well.’”
Like many races in the 2017 political season, the race for the Federal Way Councilmember Position No. 4 was a full ticket. Tran went up against four other candidates — two favored by traditional political parties and one favored by the sitting mayor. Many members of the political establishment told him his chances of winning were slim.
Despite these tough odds, Tran persevered, running his campaign as an independent and doing the right thing, even in the face of tough choices. This led voters to toss aside party wisdom, propel Tran past the primary, and ultimately helped him defeat his general election opponent.
His win was historic for the city. Tran became its first ever Vietnamese American councilmember!
“I’m grateful. Even with the political environment at the national level and even though Federal Way is considered to be conservative, voters were able to look at me and say, out of the four candidates, he’s the best choice,” said Tran. “It says a lot about the city and its willingness to come out of its comfort level, and pick a brand-new minority candidate and send him to the council. The credit goes to the voters.”
Now on the job since January, Tran has turned his attention towards helping Federal Way plan for its future. He’s particularly focused on helping the city benefit more directly from the growing economy in the Puget Sound region, which has graciously benefited job centers such as Seattle, Bellevue, Redmond, and Tacoma.
“Like it or not, Federal Way is growing,” said Tran. “We’re trying to attract more businesses, specifically Fortune 500 companies. Currently, most of our residents have to drive about an hour, to an hour and half to work. We want to change that. We want to be able to provide more jobs in the city, so residents don’t have to travel so far.”
For Tran, the future of the city is centered around jobs. He’s seen many of the city’s youth not return after graduating from higher education because they have to move or drive far for work.
He wants to change that.
“I want young people to think of Federal Way as an option after they graduate from college,” said Tran. “I want them to think, I can come home and work in my city, instead of what is there for me in Federal Way?”
Joshua can be reached at email@example.com.