Theresa Mah

State Representative, Illinois General Assembly

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WHY DID YOU CHOOSE PUBLIC SERVICE?

I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives by serving as a voice for them in the shaping of public policy.

WHAT ARE THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACING AAPI WOMEN IN PUBLIC SERVICE?

There are fewer examples of successful AAPI women in public service, especially in elected office. In my state, I was the first to win a seat in the General Assembly. That sometimes makes it difficult for people to imagine or accept that we can actually be successful (win) in this arena. It’s harder to get one’s foot in the door because of that.

WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR AAPI GIRLS AND WOMEN WHO WANT TO PURSUE A CAREER IN PUBLIC SERVICE?

Get involved in your community and in various campaigns as much as possible. Build up your skills to be a leader by understanding the issues, learning how to organize, and getting the right experience by digging in and doing what is needed to solve a problem. Also, turn perceived disadvantages into an advantage. For example, take advantage of the perception that AAPI women are non-threatening to help you literally open doors when you are doorknocking and use it as an opportunity to meet and talk to as many people as possible!

WHO/WHAT INSPIRES YOU AND WHY?

Women like my mother who grew up in poverty with a grade school education, immigrated halfway around the world at age 24, raised three children in this country and passed on her grit and persistence to us so that we could survive and thrive.