On March 19, 2012, Mee Moua (’97) begins her new role as president and executive director of the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC). She was named to the position in January, following a nationwide search by the AAJC board of directors. She will work with the AAJC board and staff and with affiliated organizations to promote and protect the rights of Asian Americans through policy development, community education, and other processes.
Moua joins the AAJC from her position as vice president of strategic impact initiatives for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF) in Washington, D.C. The national health justice organization works on policies and programs to improve the health of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. Moua managed the policy analysis, political advocacy, strategic communications, and research divisions and served as project manager for the Racial Equity Initiative, a program of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation's American Healing Initiative.
Before her APIAHF work, Moua was a Minnesota state senator from February 2002 until January 2011, the nation's first elected Hmong state senator. She represented District 67, which includes a portion of St. Paul housing nearly one-fourth of Minnesota's Hmong population, but her priorities were issues of importance to all populations. She worked on protection of children and youth from cyber crime, vulnerable adults from financial exploitation, and consumers from predatory practices, and also chaired the Judiciary Committee, overseeing criminal, civil, and administrative law and procedural matters in all state agencies.
Earlier, she had watched law-making from the other side of the table, as a lobbyist at the capitol with Leonard, Street and Deinard. Her original plan was to practice in the public sector after law school, but she learned that she disliked litigation. Her position with Leonard, Street and Deinard was more to her liking and also included work on corporate and small-business issues, while providing pro bono legal and translation services to the Hmong community.
In addition to her work experience, Moua's life experience makes her a good fit for her role at the AAJC. When she was 5, her family fled Laos for a Thai refugee camp, and after four years, in 1978, they emigrated to the United States. But as a minority in their new Wisconsin home, the family endured racial discrimination, and Moua saw Hmong youth, caught between their parents' expectations and American culture, joining gangs out of feelings of alienation.
When she was accepted at Brown University, Moua intended to eventually follow her father, a medic, into a medical career. But after joining Brown's Asian American Students organization and getting involved in issues on campus and beyond, she found herself spending much of her time in protests and on picket lines. "I sponged up multiculturalism and acquired a whole new vocabulary," she told a reporter for the William Mitchell College of Law student newspaper in 2002. "I was being challenged to identify myself as an Asian American." She soon changed her major. "I realized that I would be useless as a doctor," she said. "I was looking to be an advocate."
With a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown in hand, she went on to the University of Texas in Austin. At first she considered a dual public policy-law degree. But she missed her family, so she focused on her studies of Hmong gangs and completed a master’s degree in public affairs at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. She then joined her parents, who had moved to the Twin Cities.
In Minneapolis, Moua got involved in Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, and women she met at the organization encouraged her to go to law school. While working toward her J.D. at the Law School, she helped found the Hmong Bar Association and volunteered with the Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners project. "It was my community involvement that helped me make it through law school," she says in the Spring 2002 Law School alumni magazine. "I knew what I wanted out of it." What she wanted was to be in a position to make a difference for the Asian community, a goal she will be able to realize at the AAJC.
The Washington, D.C.-based AAJC was founded in 1991 to build a fair and equitable society and promote issues of importance to the Asian American community. It has shaped policies and programs, supported civic engagement and voting rights, strengthened communities and immigrant integration, combatted hate crimes and anti-Asian violence, and challenged barriers for Asian Americans at local, regional, and national levels.
The AAJC and its affiliates—the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, and the Asian American Institute in Chicago—make up the nonpartisan, nonprofit Asian American Center for Advancing Justice. Through the Center, the independent partners speak with a single voice to ensure civil and human rights and strengthen a multi-racial democracy.