Hmong organizer sworn in as California APIA Affairs Commission’s first executive director

Article Source: The Sacramento Bee
Original Post Date: November 16, 2020

Nkuaj Iab Yang, right, is sworn in through a virtual ceremony as the first executive director of the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs by commission chair Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, left.COURTESY OF CALIFORNIA COMMISSION ON ASIAN PACIFIC ISLANDER AMERICAN AFFAIRS

Longtime Sacramento community organizer Nkauj Iab Yang was sworn in Monday as the first executive director of the California Commission on Asian Pacific Islander American Affairs.

Born in Del Paso Heights to Hmong refugee parents, Yang has more than 10 years of experience in community organizing and policy advocacy for Sacramento’s AAPI community. Yang most recently served as co-director for Sacramento-based Hmong Innovating Politics, and was the California director of policy and programs for Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC).

“I am humbled for the opportunity to serve as the first executive director of the California Commission on (APIA) Affairs Commission,” Yang said in a press release. “The love, guidance, and dedication of my entire village has gotten me here today … and it is my village, you, who I will continue to lean on to lead and guide the work of the APIA Commission to move California towards healing, equity, and access.”

In a 2019 essay for SEARAC, Yang described how growing up in Del Paso Heightssparked her frustration with institutional inequity and her drive for social change after witnessing how under-resourced her own community was.

“I did not have the language then to describe intergenerational trauma, socioeconomic inequities, race / class issues, or broken systems. I felt it, and I saw it,” Yang wrote. “I witnessed domestic violence, street violence, white teachers tell me my Hmong culture was backwards, race riots on school grounds, and young people working hard to help with family bills. I lived it.”

Yang’s position as the organization’s first executive director was made possible through a 2019 $500,000 budget request for hiring more staff and more programs by the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. Established in 2002, the CAPIAA advises the state government on how to do outreach to the AAPI community and meet their needs.

Yang was sworn in through a virtual ceremony by the chair of the commission, Dr. Karthick Ramakrishnan, and featured remarks from AAPI leaders and organizers including Assemblymember David Chiu, D-San Francisco and Tavae Samuelu, executive director of Empowered Pacific Islander Communities.

“(Yang) is constantly going to spaces to prepare them for us,” Samuelu said. “She goes before they are ready to make them safer to make them more welcome so that they know our names, they know our people … The pathway to this role for Nkauj Iab is full of service.” 

“Never did my Hmong refugee parents think … one of their children, who they raised in low-income Del Paso Heights, right here in Sacramento, would serve … for a commission whose role is to uplift the diverse narratives of Asian and Pacific Islander communities in California,” Yang said during the ceremony