Mee Moua named as new president & executive director of Asian American Justice Center

Minnesota state senator Mee Moua, the highest serving Hmong American politician, speaks at a rally on Oct. 30, 2008 in support of Barack Obama, Al Franken and other Minnesota Democratic candidates. Photo by Calebrw, from Wikipedia Cool news this morning from the Asian American Justice Center, the DC-based AAPI civil rights and social justice organization, that it’s named Mee Moua as its new president and executive director.

Moua, a former Minnesota state senator who was the first Hmong American to ever be elected to public office in the U.S., is a terrific choice. She takes over for Karen Narasaki, who helmed the organization for 20 years before stepping down last summer. Moua is an inspirational and thoughtful leader and speaker, who understands her status as a pioneering role model for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in general, and the Hmong community in particular.

I had the honor of meeting Moua and hearing her speak several times.

The first time was during an Asian American Journalists Association convention held in Minneapolis; I was a mentor to student journalists who visited Moua in her statehouse office for an interview. She was gracious and enightening and the young journalists left in awe of her.

The second was when she spoke to a JACL Youth Conference via video. She apologized for not making it to the conference in person as planned (a last-minute legislative battle kept her in Minnesota), but told her inspiring personal story and urged the youth of JACL to strive for the best in themselves and in their country.

The third time was during the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver — the one where Barack Obama was named the presidential candidate for the fall elections. She fired up the crowd at a Democratic National Committee’s AAPI Caucus meeting (you can see a two-part video of Moua speaking to supporters after her speech, below).

And most recently, Erin and I had the pleasure of having a great, free-wheeling conversation with her for one of our early visualizAsian.com shows (you can hear an audio file of the one-hour show here).

Moua is clearly committed to empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; the AAJC is the perfect place for her leadership.

She was born in Laos, and her family fled to Thailand at the end of the Vietnam War, where they lived in a refugee camp for four years before being resettled to Minnesota, one of the largest Hmong communities in the U.S.

She attend Brown for her bachelor’s, UT-Austin for her master’s and the University of Minnesota Law School before running for office. She opened the door to public service for other Hmong — I recall even when I first met her, she was mentoring a young man in her office to run for office someday.

Here’s the full text of the Asian American Justice Center’s announcement:

Former Minnesota State Senator Mee Moua to Lead AAJC

WASHINGTON – The Board of Directors of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), a member of the Asian American Center for Advancing Justice (Advancing Justice), has named Mee Moua as president and executive director of one of the nation’s premier civil rights organizations. On March 19, Moua will succeed Karen K. Narasaki, who announced in June she is stepping down after 20 years of service.

“The board of directors selected Mee Moua following a national search,” said Paul W. Lee, chair of AAJC’s board of directors. “We are very excited to have Mee join with the board and staff to build on the excellent work of AAJC and continue to lead our efforts to advance equality and justice for the Asian American community.”

AAJC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit national organization whose mission is to advance the human and civil rights of Asian Americans, and build and promote a fair and equitable society for all. It is respected for its effectiveness in national advocacy and public education through the use of policy development, community education and litigation. AAJC is recognized for its expertise on affirmative action, broadband and media diversity, census, voting rights, immigration, immigrant integration and immigrant rights. AAJC has a network of 125 community-based organizations in 29 states and the District of Columbia.

As president and executive director, Moua will lead AAJC’s efforts to promote civic engagement, forge strong and safe communities and create an inclusive society. She will work with the AAJC board and staff, as well as the other Advancing Justice affiliate members-Asian American Institute in Chicago, Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco and Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles-to empower Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Hawaiians and other underserved communities. The Asian American population is the fastest growing minority community and now comprises 6 percent of the total population.

“I am inspired by AAJC’s accomplishments of the last 20 years,” said Moua. “I am excited, yet truly humbled and honored to have this opportunity to work with the board, staff and all our partners to advance human and civil rights for our growing and diverse communities.”

Moua comes to AAJC after serving as the vice president for strategic impact initiatives at the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF), where she was the executive administrator of the Washington, D.C. office and managed the communications, government relations, policy analysis and research functions of the organization.

Before joining APIAHF, Moua served three terms in the Minnesota Senate, where she chaired the Judiciary Committee, and had oversight responsibility for all state agencies in matters related to criminal, civil and administrative law and procedures. As a policymaker, Moua enacted laws to expand greater protection for Minnesota’s children and youth, vulnerable adults and crime victims. She tackled challenging issues such as collateral sanctions, second chance and the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system, privacy protection, and championed stricter enforcement of the state’s sex and labor trafficking laws. She was the first Hmong American woman to be elected to a state legislature.

“Mee already has an impressive record as a strong civil rights advocate,” said Narasaki. “Her tremendous experience, insight, passion and outstanding reputation make her a wonderful choice to lead an organization that has become so important to ensuring the voices of the nation’s growing Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are heard.”

“We have had the pleasure to work closely with AAJC over the years and have always respected its great work and leadership,” said Kathy Lim Ko, president and CEO of APIAHF. “While we are sad to see Mee go, we congratulate her on this wonderful opportunity and look forward to our continued partnership with her and AAJC on civil and human rights issues.”

Born in war-torn Laos, Moua and her family fled to a refugee camp in Thailand when she was five years old and moved to the United States when she was nine. Moua graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University, a master’s degree in public affairs from the University of Texas-Austin and a juris doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School.

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2 Responses to Mee Moua named as new president & executive director of Asian American Justice Center

  1. Culcet says:

    Interesting.

    I remember seeing Karen Narasaki speak when I was a freshman in college; I didn’t really know who she was at the time, but after doing some more reading on the net (thanks wikipedia!) the AAJC is no joke.

    As an aside, I’ve always felt that there’s been some thread of “American-ness” that bonds Hmong-Americans and Japanese-Americans together (I’m part Japanese, but grew up around a lot of Hmong), as opposed to overseas Chinese and Korean communities, where there’s a decent degree of trans-nationalism. It’ll be interesting to see where this collaboration goes.

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks Culcet — Mee Moua definitely brings a pan-Asian sensibility to her work, plus her pride and understanding of her own culture. She’s really cool….

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