PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Five Vietnamese American candidates are running for positions in the Oregon State Legislature in the November election.
These candidates, who are hoping to represent parts of Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas counties, said this is history in the making for Oregon.
“I feel like it’s a step in the right direction,” said Hoa Nguyen, who’s running as state representative for House District 48, which includes part of Clackamas and Multnomah counties. “It’s about every Oregonian and when we have any diversity, whether it’s gender or racial ability, we do a better job of solving problems for our community.”
Hoa Nguyen is one of the five Vietnamese American candidates running for election. The others include Daniel Nguyen, who’s running for House District 38 of Lake Oswego and Southwest Portland; Dr. Thuy Tran who’s running for House District 45 in Multnomah County; Dr. Hai Pham who’s running for House District 36 in Washington County; and incumbent Rep. Khanh Pham who’s running for re-election in District 46 of Portland.
Khanh Pham was first elected to the House in 2020 and is the first Vietnamese American to be a state legislator in Oregon. She said she’s thrilled to see so many qualified candidates on the ballot representing a broader diversity of Oregonians.
The four new candidates hoping to clinch seats are all representing the Democratic Party and are all running in districts that have historically backed blue candidates.
If they all win, the Vietnamese American representation in the Oregon House would be 8%. That’s a greater share than the overall Asian American population in Oregon, which is 6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
For the five of them, making it on the ballot symbolizes overcoming the cultural and societal factors that have historically hindered the success of Asian Americans.
“It was also just this sense of pride to see Vietnamese names in the voter’s pamphlet. There’s just something about seeing Vietnamese names in print,” Daniel Nguyen said. “It just makes us visible.”
Some candidates said the fact that it’s taken this long, from the time many of their parents fled Vietnam in the 1970s and ‘80s to now, for Vietnamese Americans to hold political leadership positions is proof of the challenges and bias they’ve faced.
“I think for the older generation, like my parents, I think they’re really shocked, frankly. They never imagined that their daughter or anyone in our family would ever be able to represent our community in the U.S. government,” Khanh Pham said.
When Tran told her mother she was running, she said her mother had some immediate concerns.
“She said, ‘Oh no, Thuy! They’re gonna eat you up and spit you out alive!’” Tran recounted.
So far, the political game hasn’t chewed her up. She defeated Catherine Thomasson in the primary with 72.5% of the vote and is now set to face Republican George Donnerberg in the November election.
Tran knows her mother’s concern came from a place of love and credits a lot of her success to her mother’s support.
Family is very important in Vietnamese culture and all of the candidates thank their parents for contributing to where they are now. Several candidates said they watched their parents struggle as immigrants in a new country and learned to appreciate the value of hard work, determination and striving toward the American dream.
While all five candidates are Vietnamese Americans, close in age and the children of immigrants, they also want their constituents to know that they aren’t monolithic.
Like all politicians, they each have their own issues that concern them and things they’d like to improve if elected.
For Khanh Pham, who’s running for her second term in office, there are things she started in her first term that she’d like to continue working on, such as improving transportation and making streets in her district safer, creating more affordable housing, increasing housing supply, supporting an inclusive democracy, and supporting campaign finance reform.
Climate change is another major topic of concern for Khanh Pham, who was a founding leader of the Portland Clean Energy Fund Initiative.
Daniel Nguyen, who currently serves on the Lake Oswego City Council, founded Bambuza Vietnam Kitchen on Portland’s south waterfront with his wife in 2008. As a small business owner, Daniel Nguyen is focused on creating good-paying jobs and ensuring people have access to health care. He also wants to improve education in the state.
Hai Pham is a cancer survivor and pediatric dentist. He’d like to see more jobs created that come with health care. He’s also invested in early childhood education, creating a workforce pipeline for high school students and creating more apprenticeship programs that result in good-paying jobs.
Tran is an optometrist in Portland and the chief of optometry for the 142nd Medical Group of the Oregon Air National Guard. She was inspired to get involved with politics because she was angry with the Oregon school system. If elected, she hopes to make changes to education, create better childcare support, create more affordable housing and jobs with better wages, and plans to support healthcare for everyone.
Hoa Nguyen is a school attendance coach in Portland Public Schools and is a member of the David Douglas School Board. If elected to the state legislature, Hoa Nguyen has a goal to serve on the House Education Committee. She’d like to expand career and technical education programs in schools, improve transportation to schools, work on workforce development, and expand voting access for young people.
Each candidate has been very focused on their own campaign but said it has been nice having each other’s encouragement throughout the process.
“I think one of the comforts is that we don’t have to explain ourselves to each other. We kind of understand each other from a cultural and experience standpoint, even though we’re in five different areas and five different backgrounds,” Tran said.
While they are excited to hopefully provide greater representation for people of color among Oregon lawmakers, the five candidates said they want Oregonians to know that they’re ready to listen to all constituents.
“I think at the end of the day, finding common ground, listening to others, and working together is really what’s going to help us move forward to kind of represent everybody, not just Asian Americans or API communities and other BIPOC communities,” Hai Pham said.
Regardless of whether they’re elected, the candidates said they hope their names on the ballot inspire more Oregonians with diverse backgrounds to run for office. To anyone afraid to enter politics, Hai Pham said to dream big and follow your heart.
Hoa Nguyen’s advice is to not let people’s discrimination or opinions be the reasons to not seek office.
“I always felt like what got me through the bias and the bigotry and the hate was my story,” she said. “I just want folks to know to just own your narrative and own your story and your lived experiences because that’s really what we need at the capitol is diverse experiences.”
Hoa Nguyen, Dr. Thuy Tran, Khanh Pham, Dr. Hai Pham and Daniel Nguyen will all be attending a dinner event Thursday evening where people can meet them in person. Tickets and more information about the event are available via the link above.