The first piece of advice that I received from a woman of color regarding politics was really not just about politics but also about life. What was that piece of advice? “You can do whatever you want.” The source was none other than my mother. As the eldest of nine in her family, she grew up in charge and being a surrogate mother to her siblings. As her daughter, it was expected that I would live a life of my choosing. If I had a goal or a dream, it was up to me to find the steps to get there because my mother was confident in my abilities to succeed. Mama Mielke always wanted me to know that I possessed talent and that it was up to me to use my voice.
I grew up in a multicultural neighborhood and went to school in a predominantly African American community. I was fortunate to be surrounded by people from different religions and different cultures. Her reminder that I could do whatever I wanted was a constant when I attended a magnet high school in math and science while running cross-country/track and later becoming student body president. It meant that I could take my mother’s reminder with me when I moved to New Orleans to start college and join a sorority while also becoming Vice President of my college student government and serve along with an all female elected executive board.
How did her advice translate into politics? My mother’s mantra, in addition to recognizing the value of having women of color and different perspectives early in life, helped me to see others with the same lens that my mother saw me. Because if a Vietnamese/German American girl can believe in herself so can those from other backgrounds. If you don’t have the power from within, I’m happy to share some of mine because I believe that all of us can make an impact as leaders. You have a voice and I will join in your chorus to uplift your song against inequality and racism. You can do whatever you want and I’m here to help.
Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke is the CEO & President of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), which promotes AAPI participation and representation in the political process.
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