Jessica Nguyen sits down with Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright of Ballot Breakers, Representative Padma Kuppa of Michigan, and Representative Patty Kim of Pennsylvania to discuss civic advocacy and American politics. We start off the episode learning about the women’s relationship with politics, a field they all originally viewed as dirty business and were reluctant to partake in. They all share how their backgrounds and life experiences have influenced the work that they do in the political space, whether that is as a state representative amplifying and advocating for their communities or the founder of a platform that highlights the younger generation of politicians and celebrates their victories.
For State Representatives Patty and Padma, we hear more about their journey running for office, touching upon the causes they are passionate about and the importance of active listening. They talked about the challenges they faced as well as their proudest achievements as elected officials. Lacy shares the origin story of Ballot Breakers and the takeaways she has learned as being a voice for young, aspiring Democratic candidates. Realizing how often she would get cut off or dismissed in certain political spaces because of her identity, she realized the power of allies and communities who support and will help amplify your voice. Directly addressing what is going on in the world, they shared how they have been affected by and are responding to the COVID-19 epidemic and to the issue of police brutality in connection with systemic racism that exists in the US.
We end the interview with insights about the world of politics: things they wish people knew about this space as well as advice for those considering running for office. Thinking toward the future, they share their vision of hope and change as active participants in civic advocacy.
LACY LEW NGUYEN WRIGHT: Lacy Lew Nguyen Wright is the creator of Ballot Breakers, a website series interviewing young progressive candidates running for office and has featured over 50 candidates representing young people’s perspectives in government. She was previously an Editor-at-Large at Huffington Post. Her writings can also be found on Elite Daily, The Moviegoer, The Bottom Line, and HelloFlo. Lacy is based in whichever coffee shop has the best mocha.
BALLOT BREAKERS: We’re seeing young people running for office in droves, seizing the opportunity to take control of their futures and give voice to the people who aren’t being represented in today’s government. These candidates are breaking tradition, transforming what it means to be a candidate.
Ballot Breakers seeks to authentically showcase these energized young people, all of whom come from diverse backgrounds, beliefs, and platforms. Ballot Breakers don’t just represent their generation -- they represent their constituents, communities and progressive values throughout the country.
State Representative PATTY KIM, a former news anchor and reporter and Harrisburg City Councilwoman, was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012 and has been a leader in government reform and transparency. She returned her cost of living increase (COLA) and introduced a bill to eliminate the yearly pay increases. She is also one of the only members of the House to post all of her expenses on her legislative website for public review. Kim's priorities in the General Assembly include taking a solution-based approach to statewide issues, working in cooperation and collaboration with colleagues, and utilizing her record of service to support initiatives that stand to better the lives of the citizens she represents. Leading her caucus’s charge to provide a livable wage for all Pennsylvanians, Kim twice introduced bills to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. She continues her fight for a minimum wage increase to restore the middle class by lifting thousands of Pennsylvanians out of poverty. Kim serves on the Appropriations, Education, Local Government and Transportation committees. She is Vice Co-Chair of the Southeast Delegation. During her second term, she served as Treasurer for the Legislative Black Caucus. Prior to her work in the legislature, Kim was elected to Harrisburg's City Council where she served two terms. She was elected as council Vice President by her colleagues during her second term. A 1995 graduate of Boston College, Kim is married to John Sider and together they have two children, Brielle and Ryan.
PADMA KUPPA is serving in her first term as State Representative for Troy and Clawson, Michigan's 41st District. She is assistant Democratic Whip, and serves on the Energy, and Local Government and Municipal Finance Committees. She is an engineer, with automotive and technical background and is an advocate on environmental issues and reducing climate change. Her passion for all things local includes extensive community involvement, with several years on the Planning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals and in K-12 PTAs. It shows in the way she digs into the bills that come before the Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee. Kuppa came to the U.S. from India at the age of four and grew up in America before moving to India as a teenager. After receiving her bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology Warangal, Kuppa moved home to the U.S. for graduate school, and went through the immigration and naturalization process, She got married and started a family before moving to the 41st district more than 20 years ago Kuppa has a career that spans the automotive, financial, and IT industries, with rich and varied community leadership at the local, state and national level. She is co-founder of the Troy-area Interfaith Group and currently President of the Troy Historical Society and a board member of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion. As the first Indian immigrant and Hindu in the State Legislature, she brings a fresh perspective to the State House.
Jessica Nguyen sits down with a few members of the Southeast Asian American (SEAA) SEAAster Scholars Collective–Jacqueline Mac, Linda Pheng, Vanessa S. Na, Varaxy Yi–to hear more about their experiences as POC/SEAA in academia, the meaning of homemaking, and the origin story and mission of their collective. After running into each other at various conferences and acknowledging that there were not many SEAA that occupy the academic space, they made it a goal to create a support system that provided the exchange of knowledge and authentic voices/experiences of the SEA diaspora. Oftentimes feeling alienated and isolated in academia, which is a predominantly White space, some members have taken more creative approaches (like dyeing their hair blue) in order to stand out and fight against invisibilization. When speaking about the challenges they had to overcome, they realized they wanted to do more than just survive. They wanted to thrive.
Focusing on fostering a collaborative atmosphere, the SEAAster Scholars Collective was founded to help people feel whole and supported. Engaging with other scholars who are able to empathize with their cultural experiences and honor each other’s beliefs and values, they found empowerment. After sharing their favorite moments and takeaways from being a part of this group, they end the podcast by providing advice and resources to those interested in pursuing a career in academia.
The SOUTHEAST ASIAN AMERICAN (SEAA) SEEASTER SCHOLARS COLLECTIVE is committed to advancing knowledge and understanding of the postsecondary experiences of SEAA students, staff, and faculty. We met as graduate students through various social connections and higher education networks and were thrilled to learn that there were other Southeast Asian womxn in higher education. We hold individual and collective identities as Khmer American, Lao American, ethnic Chinese Vietnamese American, daughters of refugees, partners, friends, and sisters.
Varaxy Yi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, California State University, Fresno
Malaphone Phommasa, Ph.D., Director, Transfer Student Center, University of California, Santa Barbara
Latana J. Thaviseth, Ph. D. Student, University of California, Los Angeles
Linda Pheng, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Vanessa S. Na, Ph.D. Student, University of California, San Diego
Jacqueline Mac, Ph. D. Candidate, Indiana University, Bloomington