In the Hmong culture, young people often follow the path chosen for them by their parents. For Mai Lee, a second-year student from Minneapolis, this meant a career in medicine. Though she had always wanted to study political science, she pushed the idea away and filled her fall semester schedule with science courses. “I was all set to take biology and chemistry and 99% sure about majoring in pre-med,” Lee said. Then she attended the 2008 Republican National Convention, and that experience changed her course.
Days before the fall semester began, Lee changed her major from pre-med to political science. “At the convention, I met many people who gave me good advice about a career in politics,” she said. Mai thought her family would disapprove of her decision, but she knew she needed to trust her instincts. “My dad wasn’t too happy,” she added, “but I said I just knew pre-med wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Lee said she had always considered herself politically conservative, but the convention gave her an “up-close look at the Republican Party” and persuaded her to consider a career in public or government administration. She wants to change the immigrant mindset that government is “bad” or against them. “I want to help people,” she said, “and show people that government can be good.”
As a Hmong American woman, Lee acknowledges that she would be a minority in the public administration world. “There are not many Hmong women in politics,” she said. “I could change that and make a little difference if I get involved.”
During the convention, Lee was placed with Fox News as a “runner.” She ran errands, picked up politicians or celebrities, brought coffee to producers, and did whatever else was needed. “At one point, I had to pass out these ridiculous Fox News hats to convention delegates,” she said. “If they didn’t want it, I was told just to put it in their faces.”
Her convention experience not only influenced Lee’s future, it also encouraged her to become a more active citizen. She’s joined the Augsburg College Republicans and says she is watching the news and reading the paper more. “I’m doing what voters should do,” she said.
While she plans to support John McCain, Lee says she will still not be discouraged from pursuing a career in public service if the presidency goes to the Democrats. “If McCain doesn’t win the election, it won’t be over for me.”
Getting Active in Politics (Ben Krouse-Gagne ’11)
Changing Courses (Mai Lee ’11)
Because I Can (Eric Franzen MAE ’10)