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Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, meets with representatives of the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association, Tim Malooly and Rachael Hoeschen, in his office in the State Office Building.  They were discussing possible state assistance for municipalities dealing with the emerald ash borer on public land. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)
Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, meets with representatives of the Minnesota Nursery & Landscape Association, Tim Malooly and Rachael Hoeschen, in his office in the State Office Building. They were discussing possible state assistance for municipalities dealing with the emerald ash borer on public land. (Staff photo: Bill Klotz)

Breaking the Ice: Born a refugee, lawmaker seeks to give back

Name: Fue Lee

Title: Representative, District 59A

Education: B.A., political science/international relations, Carleton College

Rep. Fue Lee, DFL-Minneapolis, was less than a year old when his family moved to north Minneapolis from a Thai refugee camp in 1992.

“I wouldn’t be where I’m at today without the support of public programs, of neighbors or neighborhood organizations,” Lee said. “That really shaped how much I value giving back to my community.”

Lee has worked in U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison’s district office, campaigned for candidates including Blong Yang, the first Hmong-American elected to the Minneapolis City Council, and worked at the House of Representatives, the city of Minneapolis and for Secretary of State Steve Simon.

“It was tough,” Lee, elected to his first term in November, said of leading his own campaign. “You have to think strategically about the issues and how you can build a consensus or have an open mind to take in opposing views.”

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. Anything around sports or my background or how I became involved. I’m a big Minnesota guy, so any sports — but in particular the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why? 

A. President Barack Obama. Unfortunately I couldn’t vote for him in 2008, so it was 2012. I was 17 at the time (in 2008). Similar to a lot of people, [because of] that hope for change and that the status quo was not enough.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. During the campaign I was reading a lot of biographies of elected officials. I started with “The Conscience of a Liberal,” from Sen. Paul Wellstone, then “Forgetting to Be Afraid,” by Wendy Davis, the [state] senator from Texas. Just finished Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance.”

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I really started getting into ultimate Frisbee. I attended Carleton College, and that’s what we’re known for. When I was still a student I didn’t play or watch it at all, but after graduation and coming back to the Twin Cities, I got involved in that because of the cardio that you get from it. It’s one of the only times that I get to catch up with some of my college buddies.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. I would definitely take them to FireBox Deli [in Minneapolis]. They’re a Hmong family and they were one of the first Hmong families to come to the United States. They started out as a tax business on the north side and then in 2014 they decided to open up a little barbecue restaurant [with] ribs and amazing beef brisket that just melts in your mouth.

Q. How has an event or person inspired you?

A. My 10th grade English teacher at Patrick Henry High School, Miss [Sue] Wright approached me in class. She told me, “It’s really exciting that Keith Ellison was the first Muslim elected to Congress, but I could see you doing something like this for our city one day.” That really stuck with me and shows the importance of adults that you really respect reaching out and giving you a word of encouragement.

Q. What would be one way to end partisan polarization?

A. The work that we’re doing here is not for one party or the other. It’s for all the people of Minnesota. We need to work together to create change for all Minnesotans and not just some.

Q. Where do you like to eat lunch?

A. I try to get to some of the local restaurants on University [Avenue], like King Thai, Cheng Heng, Trey Chao and Pho Ca Dao. Over here we also have the Hmongtown, Hmong Village on the east side. Back home, FireBox, Banana Blossom and Victory 44.

Q. What are your first impressions of the renovated Capitol?

A. It’s beautiful, and we as lawmakers should do more to bring our constituents over here to check it out.

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