By Sam Le
Northwest Asian Weekly
On the eastside of Lake Washington, My-Linh Thai is running for state representative in the 41st legislative district. As Rep. Judy Clibborn announced her retirement from the state Legislature, Thai not only saw an opportunity to run, but a responsibility to her personal experiences, her family, and her community to elevate the voices of immigrants and refugees at the state level.
Arriving in the United States as a refugee at the age of 15 with her family in 1993, Thai moved to South King County and attended Federal Way High school. After graduation, Thai followed her passion for public health and attended the University of Washington, where she graduated from the undergraduate program and the School of Pharmacy. After serving as a professional health care provider, Thai became invested in her community. She joined her local school’s PTA, which led to her currently serving as president for the Bellevue School District and vice president for the Washington State School Directors’ Association. Thai shares that her passions and experiences growing up in the United States are the key centerpieces that focus her goals and vision as a state representative.
When asked how she balanced raising two children — now in high school — and managing a campaign, Thai shares that she depends “on their help and grace. In fact, deciding to run for this position, they were the ones who talked me into it.”
With the perspective that opportunities are situational, while responsibilities are personal, familial, and communal, the top priority is to be a representative for communities often overlooked by current political leaders. Thai shares that her upbringing and being a first-generation Vietnamese refugee heavily influences her decision, where she sees “this as responsibility to share the narratives and the stories of a refugee from Vietnam growing up in Washington state,” not only a political move.
Expressing the lack of immigrant and refugee voices in the policy setting space is a key concern for Thai, which she connects to the rise of strong negative narratives against the vulnerable communities at the national, state, and local levels. This is seen as a critical point as it influences decisions on education, health and human services, economic development, and other subject areas.
“A big frustration for advocacy is that it can feel like talking to a wall, despite the amount of rallying, protesting. Opportunities to serve on different boards and commissions, run for different seats, need to be taken to increase our representation.”
Thai hopes that other members of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities follow in her footsteps and run for office.
“Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans (AAPI) are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups and we make up a large portion of small business owners contributing to our overall economic prosperity. AAPI continue to experience microaggression and the model minority myths which perpetuate the invisibility of our struggling population and create trauma/stress to others. Representation matters.”
Thai shares that the decision to run “was from both my heart and my mind but the process isn’t an easy path. Running for office as a person of color is harder. Running for office as a woman and person of color is harder than hard. And running for office as a first-generation refugee…. you get the picture.”
Acknowledging the challenges she faces in her campaign, Thai said, “I’d appreciate any help and support from our AAPI community. As a community, we have done an amazing job in participating and advocating. Mobilizing our people.”
Sam Le can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.