Just months after we published our first news stories in August 2015, we tried something new: we listed and published brief biographies of the state’s 28 Most Influential Black Leaders. People really liked it, shared it on social media, told us who else should have been on that list. Many asked me if we’d do another list the next year; I said yes, we probably would.
We did more than that. That next year, we published another list of the state’s most influential Black leaders, as well as a list of the state’s most influential Latino leaders. Almost immediately, we started hearing an important and very reasonable question: what about the state’s Asian American and Indigenous leaders?
We wanted to do those lists, but we wanted to do them right. It took us some time to build the authentic relationships within those communities, and to gain their trust. I’m glad and proud that we took that time and did that work; it resulted in us publishing those lists for the first time in 2020.
You can find all of those past lists at Madison365.org/MostInfluential.
This week we are proud to present the fourth annual edition of Wisconsin’s Most Influential Asian American leaders.
Every year, with every list, I’ve intended to highlight the beauty of the diversity across our state. I want kids here in Wisconsin to see role models of people who are succeeding, to know that it’s possible for people of color to achieve great things here.
This week we shine a statewide spotlight on the dedicated leaders of Wisconsin’s Asian American communties. The people we highlight this week are elected leaders, business leaders and community leaders, doing difficult, important work, often in the face of discrimination and literally generations of oppression.
We are also aware that this list, like every other, is not comprehensive. It’s obvious just from the number of nominations that there are far more than 40 influential Asian American leaders doing good work in Wisconsin. We hope you will let us know about people in your community who we can include on future lists. For now, though, we just want to introduce you to a few of the people doing the work, often behind the scenes and without the accolades, across Wisconsin.
You might know a few of these names, but there’s a good chance that most of them will be new to you. I urge you to get to know them. Reach out to those living and working in your communities. Learn from them, network, create partnerships. And spread the word — let others in your network know that we have people of all ethnicities living and working across Wisconsin to make sure everyone here can thrive.
CEO and Publisher, Madison365
Zong Her the director for Institutional Research & Data Management at Madison College. She took on this role in the fall of 2022 after progressing through a number of other roles in research, analysis and information technology over nearly 20 years with the College. Her current work informs the College administration’s decisions and enhances the solutions they prioritize. Her recent work has been fundamental to the College’s interest in identifying and supporting student-parents and male Latino and Black students in their Achieving the Dream equity work. Additionally, she has supported and coordinated Madison College’s Asian Youth Career and College Fair, and helped students and staff deploy their own Hmong New Year at the college. She has long been the liaison between the college and the Madison-area Hmong New Year committee. She graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in business administration in 1992.
Dr. Josey Chu is owner of Madame Chu, a local producer in Madison, Wisconsin specialized in Southeast Asian Delicacies. Her condiments and sauces are handmade in small batches and produced locally using all natural ingredients. The company offers handcrafted products representing the authentic flavors and techniques passed from generation to generation with a mission to fill the void of Southeast Asian flavors in the market. Her products can be found at many local grocery stores in the Madison area. A native of Singapore, Chu earned a doctoral degree in industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin in 2003. She currently lives in Sun Prairie.
Victoria Solomon is Associate Professor in Community Development with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension. Her research and educational programming has focused on inclusion, diversity, equity, and access in community development. In her role, she focuses on building community capacity through leadership development and public participation. Her work has included leading research on women in government, co-constructing culturally relevant educational programs, and facilitating deliberative dialogue training. She is also co-owner of Parrfection Produce, near Monticello, Wisconsin, which aggregates and distributes produce to increase healthy food accessibility in Wisconsin and the Midwest. Solomon served on the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program (SWCAP) Board of Directors and put forward organizational change so that SWCAP plays a key role in welcoming refugees to southwestern Wisconsin. Solomon has a master’s degree in Environmental and Sustainable Development from University College London and a BA in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Grace Lim is a longtime journalist and public speaker, currently working as a lecturer and multimedia producer at UW-Oshkosh. She has been a staff reporter at The Austin American-Statesman, The Miami Herald and People magazine’s Miami bureau. She is founder of the Humans of Oshkosh project, where students venture into the wilds of Oshkosh and beyond to talk to and tell the stories of strangers of all shapes, colors and sizes. Lim earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from UT-Austin and a master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism in 1991.
Dr. Imran Andrabi is CEO of Appleton-based healthcare provider ThedaCare, which serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 7,000 healthcare professionals throughout Northeast Wisconsin. He took the helm there in 2017 after 25 years at Mercy Health in Ohio, where he began as an intern and medical resident, and rose to become CEO of the Toledo Region. He earned his medical degree from King Edward Medical University in Lahore, Pakistan.
Matt Rinka is an architect and founder of RINKA, a design collective that provides architecture, interior design and brand media design. Since 2006 the company has worked on nearly 200 projects in the Milwaukee area as well as projects in 200 other cities around the midwest and beyond. Rinka is an Emeritus Member of the Board of Trustees at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design and currently a member of the boards of directors at the UWM Foundation and Froedtert Hospital. He’s a 1992 alum of UW Milwaukee, where he earned a degree in architecture before going on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Washington.
Dr. Smriti S Khare is a pediatrician and president of primary care at Children’s Wisconsin, and executive vice president of Children’s Hospital and Health System. She joined Children’s in 2001 as a pediatrician and in 2018 was selected to lead the Children’s Wisconsin mental and behavioral health efforts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Khare led the creation of a new telehealth service for mental health, which has completed more than 60,000 visits since. She was named a Woman of Influence by the Milwaukee Business Journal in 2021.
Ntxhais “Chai” Moua is Co-Executive Director at Freedom, Inc, a Black and Southeast Asian non-profit organization that works with low- to no-income communities of color, where she previously served as Community Power Coalition Director. She has more than 20 years of experience working with low to no-income communities, especially within the Hmong community. She recently relocated to Madison from Stevens Point, where she served as District 9 County Board Supervisor in Portage County from 2018 to 2022, becoming the first Asian elected into any local office in Portage County. During her time on the county board, she co-created the Diversity and Affairs Commission, co-created Census Complete County Committee, and continues to bring a racial and gender lens into local government conversations. Born in a refugee camp, she came to the United States at the age of two. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services Management and a Family Development Specialist Certification from the National Resource Center for Family-Centered Practice at the University of Iowa School Social of Work.
Part 2 coming tomorrow!