A child of Hmong refugees has become California’s first executive director at the State Commission on APIA Affairs.
Nkauj Iab Yang took the oath of office Monday afternoon. This marks the first time the previously all-volunteer commission has had a paid staff person and even a budget since it began in 2004.
Yang has previously served as the director of the California office of the Southeast Asian Refugee Action Center. She has over a decade of experience in community organizing and policy advocacy.
“Never did my Hmong refugee parents think about one of their children who they raised right here in Sacramento would serve as first executive director for a commission whose role is to uplift the diverse narrative of Asian and Pacific Islander communities in California and to really move our state administration and legislature to respond appropriately to meet our needs and concerns,” said Yang. “To the Hmong community to which I belong and call my village, you have all nourished me with love, allowed me to grow with the challenges and lead me to be the leader I am today.”
One out of every seven California residents in California is currently AAPI, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, the chair of the Commission. He says the commission has always been short staffed with no staff and no budget.
In 2019, the API Legislative Caucus requested $500,000 for staff positions and programming which was later approved by the Governor.
Yang thanked the AAPI Legislative Caucus for “championing for necessary resources” for the Commission to serve California.
“This is an exciting and historic moment,” said State Sen. David Chiu (D-CA). “We are so excited about what you are bringing to the leadership and what you represent,” Chiu said speaking of Yang.
Among those at the virtual swearing in ceremony was Tavae Sameuelu, the Executive Director of Empowered Pacific Islander Communities who recalls being a first year student at UC Berkeley and meeting Yang.
“We had a place because of her. I benefitted from the legacy work of Nkauj Iab. Nkauj stands when others may be afraid to. She speaks with conviction and with purpose and I know she walks alongside me.”
Yang vowed to serve all.
“My village will expand and will include all of you,” she said. “I will build California toward healing, equity and access for all of us. With that, I say thank you and let’s go.”
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