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Hmong culture inspires the values of the next mayor of Oakland, California

Sheng Thao will be sworn in as the mayor of Oakland, California. (Deepa Fernandes/Here & Now)
Sheng Thao will be sworn in as the mayor of Oakland, California. (Deepa Fernandes/Here & Now)

A slate of diverse candidates are coming into power after historic midterm victories. Among them is Sheng Thao, who will become the first Hmong-American to lead a major U.S. city when she’s sworn in as mayor of Oakland, California.

Here & Now‘s Deepa Fernades meets with her to hear more about her story and her progressive vision.

Interview highlights

On her plans for public safety

“Public safety is housing and affordable housing. When I say affordable housing, it’s the housing where it is even for people who have no income as well. That’s where it all starts, is the stability part. And then, of course, directly giving resources to those communities that have the least.

“We know that when we keep, for example, our kids busy during the summer, paid internships can actually decrease the amount of face time that our young people have with officers. We should have paid internships year round. And so that’s what I want to do here in the city of Oakland is truly implement this more comprehensive approach of putting community first and then making sure that we have community policing.”

On increased instances of Asian hate crimes

“With my my parents, my mom, she doesn’t know how to drive. And I can tell you that the fear is real. I wouldn’t want my mom walking the street thinking that she could be punched in the face. So for me, I truly believe that when we have activation of spaces and bring in ambassadors, ambassadors to have direct connection to our officers walking around the business corridor and this is what I fought for for many years, is that we can actually prevent those crimes from happening.”

On Child Protection Services taking away children from victims of domestic abuse

“I think that domestic violence, it is a formula of mental and physical abuse that one goes through. Being a survivor myself, it is hard to leave a relationship like that. But to be punitive, to take away their children into a system that doesn’t even give enough resources or doesn’t actually keep them safe is the wrong way to go about it.

“I’ll be working with different organizations, with the district attorney’s office, ensuring that women have the resources. When I was in my domestic violence relationship, I literally thought I was the only one going through it in the whole world because I didn’t know that there were resources out there for me to escape.”

On addressing homelessness in the city

“People who are unhoused, me being a unhoused person before, will have mental health issues. Even if you were put on the streets and you were just fine and you didn’t have mental health issues.

“We have to make sure that we have a centralized location for our unhoused so that we can bring the wraparound services, the mental health, social services, substance abuse services, put our families at the forefront, make sure they get into permanent housing first, and make sure that when we do centralize our unhoused into one into one location, that they’re in dignified living spaces.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine WelchGrace Griffin adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.