HomeAsian AmericansMeet the first Asian woman elected to Oklahoma's legislature

Meet the first Asian woman elected to Oklahoma’s legislature

by Matthew Yoshimoto

Raised by a South Korean mother and an Ohio-born father in Oklahoma since she was four, Oklahoma House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson often felt like an “outsider” next to her friends. Her insecurities grew in eighth grade when her parents divorced, leaving her and her sister to struggle financially under the care of their single father – which Munson described as crucial in solidifying her understanding of the importance of public service.

From living with one of her father’s friends to taking up a job as soon as she turned 15, Munson recognized the “financial burden” that can come with raising a family. As the first member of her family to go to college, through a tuition scholarship for low-income families, she became enthralled in “making sure that our schools have the funding they need to provide programs for students all across the spectrum.” 

As the first Asian American woman elected to the Oklahoma legislature in 2015, Munson continues her work fighting for Asian Americans, women, everyday workers, survivors of domestic violence and other groups across the state, all who share struggles she can identify with herself. 

“A lot of my political or a lot of the issues that I work on are not necessarily political – they really stem from my own lived experience,” Munson told AsAmNews. “I had great teachers who invested in us and made sure that we asked good questions and got information. So all of that is a huge value of mine, looking for truth and finding facts and being empathetic to my neighbors and knowing what their needs are. And if I have the ability to leverage resources, how do I do that to make sure I can improve their lives.”

Munson had an interest in politics from an early age, joining student government in junior high and earning a degree in political science from the University of Central Oklahoma. She told AsAmNews she’s grateful to be serving in the state legislature.

Despite being in office for almost a decade and acting as the House Democratic Caucus Chair since 2018, she shared she “struggles still internally” about whether she is “good enough.”

“It’s still pretty overwhelming. Looking for somebody who looks like me or has similar experiences to me was always very difficult as a young girl, as a college student who is interested in politics, and so I don’t take it lightly that you know me being at the Capitol and standing up and using my voice and doing everything I can to show young all young women, but especially Asian American young women that we can do this work,” Munson said to AsAmNews.

As a board member on the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), Munson explained she has been dedicated to enhancing opportunities for women and girls, noting that she previously worked in the nonprofit sector, specifically the Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma. 

Through her time in office, Munson said she became “vocal about what [she] was seeing on the ground” as she traveled across almost 40 counties to various schools, juvenile detention facilities and housing services. 

She explained she focuses on issues including healthcare, particularly due to the “continued attacks” on reproductive health care in Oklahoma, as well as housing and wages, which said is key in ensuring constituents do not have to work multiple jobs for a decent living. 

Additionally, Munson said that Oklahoma’s superintendent for public education “continues to attack our teachers and attack our students” and explained the importance of fighting against these cuts since almost all students in the state attend public schools.  

“I’m proud every day to represent and serve the Democratic caucus. I’m appreciative of my Caucus’s support and their belief in me. We come up to the Capitol every single day, the 20 of us pushing back on extremist policies that the Republicans introduce year after year. We stand up and fight for working Oklahomans every day, and I’m very proud of that,” Munson told AsAmNews. 

She also focuses on issues within the Asian American community, noting other elected leaders who are pushing for anti-immigration legislation and remain uninformed about the cultures of marginalized communities. 

To combat this, Munson said she has worked closely with the Asian American Chamber of Commerce in Oklahoma City to help local politicians recognize the value of diversity in political decisions. She explained the importance of celebrating the Asian American community to increase awareness.

“[I’m] trying to better educate [all elected leaders] on the issues and make sure they’re involved so that leaders in their state know that they [Asian American constituents] are contributors to our community, these are residents of Oklahoma, they are running businesses and putting their kids in schools and live in our neighborhoods,” Munson told AsAmNews. “By better educating and providing a space for the Asian American community to celebrate at the state capitol has really helped in terms of building those relationships and fighting back and pushing back against bigotry and extremist legislation.”

Rep. Andy Fugate, State Representative for House District 94 and House Democratic Floor Leader, shared he has been “proud” to work alongside Asian American leaders in Oklahoma like Munson. Describing her as a “talented, focused leader,” Fugate noted she has a specialty for “getting the right people focused on the right problems.”

“I have developed a great respect for Leader Munson,” Fugate said to AsAmNews. “She is tireless and fearless. People matter to her, regardless of where they are on the political spectrum. She is wise enough to balance work and personal time, but always seems to be available and on top of what’s most important.”

DLCC President Heather Williams told AsAmNews that the organization is “proud to stand with AAPI lawmakers like Leader Munson who are changing the face of power and the future of this country.” Williams stressed the importance of diversity in elected offices across the country to properly reflect the communities they represent. 

“Leader Cyndi Munson is a force to be reckoned with. Her unwavering commitment to combating bigotry against AAPI communities is part of her important work in creating a brighter future – particularly in a state with entrenched Republican power and extremism,” said Williams to AsAmNews. 

As Oklahoma House Democratic Leader, Munson said she will prioritize ensuring that the policies drafted by the Democratic Party become elevated and ingrained into law, including legislation on grocery taxes, childcare costs and public education. She applauds the approximate 30 bills that the Democratic caucus passed since joining the assembly. 

Munson hopes that other emerging Asian American leaders, notably other women, will find the strength and confidence to run for office even in places where they may be the “super minority.”

“I’m not in the majority when it comes to political party, I’m not in the majority when it comes to gender, I’m not in the majority when it comes to race, and I’m not in the majority when it comes to things that we prioritize and value. And so it can make it challenging, but I think it’s absolutely worth it when you can get good things accomplished for people who are often marginalized or silenced or don’t feel like they belong in the process,” Munson told AsAmNews.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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