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Person of the Month: Bao Nguyen

"I'm not afraid of going into the unknown to listen to struggle and represent that, and voice an opposition to injustice."

Bao Nguyen's story starts on the other side of the world in Vietnam, where Nguyen's father worked for an American nonprofit in the midst the Vietnam War. His involvement with a US organization made him a target of house arrest and repeated interrogations by the Vietnamese government until he escaped with his wife—pregnant with Nguyen at the time—and his two children. After his family made the perilous journey from Vietnam to Thailand, Nguyen was born in a refugee camp and spent the first three months of his life there before his family bought a ticket to Nashville, Tennessee. Adjusting to life in America was far from easy; his parents had to take ESL classes to learn English and they both suffered from PTSD as a result of the war and their treatment by the Vietnamese government. Not only that, but Nguyen often felt like an outsider: as a gay, Vietnamese immigrant, he never seemed to fit into mainstream America. But he doesn't see it as a disadvantage, saying that he sees it more as an "asset" and that "[he] may not be able to fit in anywhere, but [he is] able to see how we relate to one another and [he is] able to draw the connections."

When Nguyen was five, his family moved from Nashville to Anaheim, where he grew up and attended school in the Garden Grove Unified School District. He would eventually graduate from Pacifica High School and attend UC Irvine, where he studied Political Science. While an undergraduate, he interned as a part of the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islands. He also received a masters in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. At the age of 12, he became a naturalized citizen of the US and when an immigration officer asked if he wanted to change his name into an "American name," he stated that his name "is American."

After graduation, he worked as a substitute teacher in Orange County as well as a community organizer for local churches of Garden Grove, where he put together a transportation program for senior citizens. In 2011, he ran for a place on the Garden Grove Unified School District Board of Education before becoming a trustee in 2012 and serving a term as its vice president. While on the board, he fought against the exclusion of LGBT Vietnamese representation in the Little Saigon Tết Parade. He then resigned in 2014 when he was elected Mayor of Garden Grove. His win marked the first time that a Vietnamese American citizen became a mayor of a major US city. The election was a close one, as he beat out 22-year incumbent Bruce Broadwater by an incredible 15 votes—many of which came from college students sending their absentee ballots from all over the country. His win was also a significant victory for Garden Grove, as the city has the highest concentration of Vietnamese Americans next to the neighboring city of Westminster and constitutes one of the core cities that make up Little Saigon.

As mayor, Nguyen fought to maintain control of water resources while pushing back against big corporations interested in charging residents more money for less water. He also supports small business owners and local entrepreneurs by partnering up with Google. One of his greatest interests is voter engagement and government transparency: as mayor, he made city finance records available online so that people knew exactly how their tax money was being spent. By releasing finance records, Nguyen also hoped that it would boost people's faith in the government, therefore encouraging more voters to become active. In late 2015, he announced his bid for Congress as California's 46th District Representative. As a Californian representative, he would continue his efforts to empower all citizens by making sure that the government is representative of the people it serves. He also wants to further increase transparency and make sure that politicians are held responsible for their promises and actions—including himself.

The campaign will be far from easy, though: he's running against fellow Democrat former Senator Lou Correa, who is backed by a majority of the Democratic Party. Even so, Nguyen has never been one to shy away from a challenge and is ready to fight till the end on November 8th.

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