Longtime Sun Prairie Hmong community leader and educator Brenda Yang is putting an emphasis on education, inclusivity, and building bridges in her campaign for Dane County’s District 19 county board seat.
Although Yang is running unopposed, her campaign announced on Tuesday the endorsement of Al Guyant, the former Sun Prairie Common Council president. Yang has lived in Sun Prairie for more than two decades.
Yang is the daughter of two Hmong immigrants and part of a family that has endured a lot of trauma in their quest for freedom. Her father, to this day, holds the memory of being shot as a child soldier during the Laotian Civil War. Once of the age to start a family, the Vietnam War beckoned them to run away from their agricultural lifestyle into the thick Vietnamese jungles. Crossing the Mekong River for a brief stint in Thailand refugee camps, they would then be sent to the Northern California, where Yang’s family would survive off of government assistance for most of her childhood.
“The amount of resilience they had within themselves and the amount of trauma they had to overcome was just substantial, I can’t even imagine it. I can’t put myself in their shoes,” Yang says.
Since being in the states, Yang’s family has relied on faith to serve as a protective fence. The same people she’d interact with everyday needed to meet her family’s ideals: Christian, conservative, evangelical. That mentality continued through college at Simpson College – where she had a keen interest in theology – and then later into graduate school at the UW School of Education. She looks back at this point in her life as informative, especially for her theories on Imago Dei – the symbolic relation between God and humanity.
“I feel like my views are no longer connected to a lot of current evangelical beliefs,” Yang says. Understanding the real Jesus – the son of refugees who fought against indoctrination and nationalism – was a narrative that shot her passions for community service forward, she says.
If elected to District 19’s Dane county board of supervisors, Yang would be its first Hmong representative, a voice that Yang believes is needed.
One issue that is important to Yang is to hear the voices of marginalized groups. Yang, who also serves as a Language Access Consultant for the City of Madison, developed a video series in the Hmong language explaining CDC regulations, COVID-19 protocols, and local mandates to Madison’s elderly Hmong population, who would have otherwise been alienated from such vital information.
“Our first video received just about 30,000 views within the first month, so we knew that there was a need for this, that people are watching this. The power dynamics for a very long time here in Dane County have been dominated by a single group of people, and what comes with that power is the responsibility for finding solutions for very nuanced problems,” she says. “It’s impossible to ask one group of people to have all the answers.”
Yang is also the director for Madison East and La Follette High Schools’ Upward Bound program, which provides “opportunities for participants to succeed in their precollege performance and ultimately in their higher education pursuits,” Yang, who is an alum of the program, seeks to do all she can in and outside of education.
“I’m able to relate with these kids,” she says. “I know that before we can talk about education, or homework, or classes, the fundamental things I need to address is the social/emotional aspect of their experiences.”
Yang aims to focus on finding ways to change the narrative around the juvenile-to-prison pipeline that happens all too often.
“I want to bring upon policies that will allow for asset-based learning, and the holistic redefining of data, in order to gain a bigger picture,” Yang says. “It’s hard to come together across party lines and to find a common ground. That’s why I like data, because it’s the most unbiased way to come upon finding solutions.
“I want to build a platform where we can all come together because we can’t continue with the clashing that’s happening in our country right now,” Yang continues. “I really want to think about our future, not only for one group of people, but for everyone.”