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home : community : community Saturday, November 25, 2017

7/19/2016 10:52:00 AM Email this articlePrint this article 
Susan Pha Runs For Brooklyn Park City Council

By Sara Marie Moore

Susan Pha and her husband Nicolas Vachoua Pha attend the inauguration of the Special Forces in Laos Veterans Memorial at the State Capital.
Susan Pha decided to run for a spot on the Brooklyn Park City Council this fall after reading an article about local students visiting the council as a job shadowing experience.

She was disappointed when she saw the photo - seven students of diverse backgrounds and genders stood next to seven City Council members who were all white males. She was even more surprised given the fact that Brooklyn Park is actually a diverse community.

"I said, 'I can't believe it,'" said Pha. "I said to my husband, 'That is not right.' I know when I was growing up I often met people in leadership positons and I would come into a room and they all didn't look like me - it crushed my dreams. As a kid I felt my dreams were unrealistic when none of them looked like me."

And then Pha's husband, Nicolas Vachoua Pha, told her something she didn't expect to hear. "He said to me 'Well, you do so much for the community, why don't you run for City Council and stop complaining?" Pha thought that was going too far. She enjoyed the mentoring and volunteering she did with youth in the community.

"I said to him, 'That is ridiculous,'" said Pha. But then she changed her mind. She decided she would be the change she wanted to see.

"He planted that seed in my head," said Pha. "I kept thinking about it and thought why not me? I have always believed I needed to be the change I wanted to see in the world. Why not me? I love my community. I have a lot of experience. I have a good heart. Why not me? I can't wait for others to be that change. I have to be that change."

Pha grew up during a time when young Hmong women were not encouraged to go to college or pursue such things as being a City Council member.

"I grew up in a time when our Hmong parents were just here in the U.S.," said Pha. "They still had the old cultural belief that girls don't go to school. You just have to think about household chores. Their goal was to teach girls to take care of the family. My parents never instilled in me that education was a priority. 25 years ago only bad girls went to college. Girls who went to college came back pregnant and no man would want to marry you."

But Pha has overcome that thinking. "My parents set limits on me because I was a Hmong girl," she said. "We should not let other people's limits be our own." So she's running for City Council. When she told Nicolas she had decided to take his advice, he was thrilled. "He wholeheartedly was ecstatic and said absolutely," she said. Nicolas is the Minnesota Hmong 18 Council Pha Clan representative and public relations representative.

It isn't the first time Pha has decided to overcome the odds. Without a college education, she found herself unable to work outside the home in the way she wanted to.

"There was only so far I could go before doors were shut," she said. But she decided to take matters into her own hands.

"If they are not going to let me in, I am going to create my own opportunities," she said. At the age of 19, Pha became a real estate agent. Five years into her career, she started her own brokerage. 16 years after starting in real estate, she started a publishing company. "I'm now an author," she said. Her company, Pha Publishing, focuses on underserved minority communities and women. One the books she wrote, "Hmong Names," is a reference book of 8,000 Hmong first and last names. Another book, "Success That Looks Like Me," is a compilation of 25 short biographies on successful Hmong people.

She wants her book to encourage Hmong youth with role models. "I grew up without role models that looked like me," said Pha. "Even today I find that kids who are Hmong do not have the ability to find role models they can read about."

Pha has also spent significant time in the Brooklyn Park community as a volunteer. She mentors girls through nonprofits and Hmong students at the U of M. She visits local schools as a public speaker on not letting other's limits be your own limits. She was on the Executive Board of Directors for the Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota. She was a co-founder and on the Board of Directors of Galore: Professional Hmong Women Network. She is the director of Project Success, an organization centered around her book "Success That Looks Like Me." "I fight for equity, diversity and inclusion," said Pha.

Pha's goal is to be the role model she so desperately wanted to see when she was young. Pha has four children, two boys and two girls. She and Nicolas have been married 22 years and have lived in Brooklyn Park for 9 years.

Her campaign slogan is, "Building our future together because everyone matters." Her priority issues are safe neighborhoods, economic development and community engagement.

Pha will be running for the west district of Brooklyn Park. The current City Council member in that district is not seeking re-election, said Devin Montero, Brooklyn Park city clerk. Seven candidates have filed for the spot and a primary will be held August 9, he said. To find polling locations visit www.brooklynpark.org.

Pha answers further questions about what her priorities would be as a City Council member:

What do you appreciate about the current Brooklyn Park City Council?

I appreciate that our current Brooklyn Park City Council members give their time to serving our community. I believe that most people go into elected office with good intentions and a passion for making a positive difference.

What changes would you like to see in how the city of Brooklyn Park is run?

I'd like to see our city be more inclusive and representative of our diverse and multicultural residents. We have a very vibrant community of residents from all walks of life with very unique life experiences and a wealth of knowledge. I believe our diversity can be our strength if we embrace it.

What economic development you would like to see in the city of Brooklyn Park?

I'd like to see our city support our local small businesses to grow and thrive. There is great potential in new job creation through the growth of small businesses.

How do you believe a city should spend its money?

I believe a city should spend its money to provide a good quality of life for all its residents by investing in schools, providing access to affordable higher education, growing good jobs with livable wages, supporting our local businesses to thrive, helping its aging residents attain access to healthcare and a chance to enjoy their retirement, creating beautiful community spaces and parks residents can enjoy, and more.

What are your values regarding property taxes and levies?

Property taxes and levies are a necessary cost to residents for the sustainability of a city, but I believe in being conservative in our spending. We have to be watchful in all areas of cost to prevent wasteful spending. Affordable housing is very important to me, so keeping our property taxes and levies down play a big role in that.

What is your previous experience serving on other councils or boards?

Director of Project Success, co-founder and Board of Directors for Galore: Professional Hmong Women Network, Executive Board of Directors for Advancement of Hmong Women in Minnesota (AAHWM), mentor for Girl Scouts River Valleys HWC, task force for affordable housing project.

Pha's campaign communications director, Josh Vang, can be reached at susanphaforbrooklynpark@gmail.com.

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