By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
As a baby, Han Tran barely survived the journey to the United States.
Born in Ho Chi Minh City, Tran and her parents escaped the aftermath of the war in Vietnam on a rickety boat.
Tran doesn’t remember the boat ride, but she and her mother had to squeeze into the bottom of a fishing boat. The experience was claustrophobic and unsanitary. Tran still has a scar from a cut that she received in order to drain excess fluid from her body when she became septic.
After that, they spent time in a refugee camp in the Philippines before they were sponsored by a relative to come to the United States.
Resilience and grit
With just their clothes on their back, the Tran family relied on relatives to adjust to their new home.
Tran’s parents had to learn a new culture and language in their 30s.
“It was a foreign environment to them, they somehow made it work, not just through resilience and grit but also community,” Tran said of her parents.
Tran grew up in Burien and White Center in public housing. She attended public schools and even got herself to and from school from the early age of 6. Because her parents worked multiple jobs, her neighbors helped take care of her.
“Without the community here that gave us simple things like pots, pans, clothing, and food, we wouldn’t have been able to get on our feet. Even then I know how fortunate we are because not everyone crossed the ocean and survived. As adults, we know how fortunate we are to receive opportunities. That’s why I have a big service heart, we had our trials and tribulations, but other people are still experiencing their trials, tribulations, inequities, and injustices in the U.S.”
Innovating the future of education through lived experiences
Fast forward a few decades, Tran has made quite the name for herself in the community. Not only is she a senior innovation product manager for Fluke, based in Everett, Washington, but she was appointed as a Washington State Human Rights Commissioner under Senator Manka Dhingra last year.
And now, she’s running for the No. 3 director position for the Northshore School District (NSSD).
There will be a total of five board members and two positions are up for election this year.
If elected, Tran will be the only Asian on the NSSD board.
“As a Human Rights Commissioner, the relationships at the state level are going to be important when talking about policies about education and for our school district. There are crucial relationships and conversations already being had, by the people who are endorsing me on an individual level, at the state, county, and municipality. Those relationships I’ve already established are key to make sure we can function as a school district,” she said.
Tran feels that her unique lived experience, having gone through both Seattle and Northshore public schools, gives her an edge in terms of understanding the types of challenges that exist in the system.
“I am a product of the NSSD. I graduated from Inglemoor High School. I have children in the district and because they’re smaller, I’m going to be in it for quite some time. They’re going to be a big driver for why I’m doing things the way I am. In addition, there’s a lot to be said about an innovation and engineering background and a person who comes from my lived experience to give a little bit of a voice to the situations that we may not think about,” she said.
She added that being in this role requires building relationships with the right people to make sure the NSSD thrives and to help students succeed academically; to become people who other people want to hang out with and be around and to do good in the communities.
“I do a lot within the community as well. It’s important to pull in marginalized voices so they have a seat at the table. I’m not their voice but I can provide a path so they can speak on what they want to speak about. I really like being in community, and being able to share that experience with my two kids is important. That’s how I get my cup filled,” she added.
Tran also has two sons aged 7 and 10 in the NSSD, who often accompany her to community events.
She shared that her older son is at the age where he’s able to provide feedback on what can be improved.
Creating inclusive and beautiful spaces
“We’re needing to make space and create that space to give students and staff members time to celebrate themselves as who they are,” she said of creating inclusive spaces.
Tran looks up to Dr. Chris Emdin, educator and author of Ratchedemics. Dr. Emdin, who is also known for using rap to teach, has been a guest speaker for the North Shore Student Justice Conference several times now to talk about the importance of creating beautiful spaces for students.
Tran shares the same beliefs as Dr. Emdin in that art, especially visual arts, cannot be left behind.
“He really understands the fact that students need an outlet to just be. It’s essential for students to be able to express themselves. There are different mediums to build that confidence. A lot of what he says is inspiring to me and I wish to model him,” she added.
Tran is ready to take on challenging topics such as book banning, as well as the inclusion of different communities and religions.
“It’ll be incredibly important to have strong leaders within the school board to be the voices of reason to make sure we’re actually making decisions that aren’t placating parents. And for us to be ready for those voices that aren’t inclusive; those who don’t want to include LGBTQ+, refugee, or immigrant communities. Those might see a different view of what NSSD should look like. There are enough people in the community that are accepting and I’m asking people to not just be tolerant but to celebrate and be intentional about this inclusion,” she said.
At the end of the day, Tran believes that the students need to come first. For every decision they make, if the relationships aren’t established yet, that doesn’t help the students out.
For more information, visit meethantran.com.
Nina can be reached at email@example.com.