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Breaking the Ice: Family’s vision inspired Asian Pacific advocate

Editor’s note: Breaking the Ice helps reserved Minnesotans learn more about their colleagues and their lives beyond their jobs.

Name: Sia Her

Title: Executive director, Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans

Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science, Macalester College; master’s degree, public policy, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota

Sia Her, as executive director of the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, carries out the vision that her late maternal grandfather, a high-ranking Hmong military leader, had for his grandchildren.

“My grandfather said to make sure that when you are in America that you put my grandchildren in the classrooms where the future leaders are,” said Her, recalling his words from cassette tapes he sent from Laos. “He wanted us to have a say in how we are governed; he wanted us to have a say in how our children will be treated.”

The council serves people from more than 40 countries, many of them refugees, said Her, appointed executive director in 2013. The council’s role includes advising the Legislature and governor on issues of importance to the community.

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

A. I’m a pretty open person, so there is not one way. I am someone who operates at a very intuitive level. So when I come across someone, I will generally pick up on whether they are someone I can talk with.

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

A. I grew up loving Nancy Drew. I believe I read every single book that was available when I was a child. I have two versions of Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War.” I don’t walk around as if I’m going to war, but I read those concepts. I review them quite regularly.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. At the Capitol I find it really frustrating when people are not saying what they mean and not meaning what they say. I would rather just have people tell me that they don’t agree with the position I’ve taken or that they don’t like me.

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

A. Spending time with my family, my siblings (four sisters and three brothers) and my parents. The one gift that my parents gave us that doesn’t have a price, that’s just priceless, is the gift of my siblings.

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

A. Most of our family and friends, when they come to Minnesota, want to visit my office and then they want to visit Hmong Village [shopping center on St. Paul’s East Side]. [While] it could be perceived as a small business, it is also perceived as a very concrete example of the successes of this community.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. The average community member does not care about the DFL’s politics or the GOP’s politics; they just want their government to work for them.

They just want to know that in the social agreement that they have entered into by coming to America — that if they work hard, if they live lives of dignity, if they don’t get into trouble with the law, if they do right by their children and others around them —that they’re going to have their basic needs met and they’re going to be free from the fear of being annihilated. That’s especially true for the most vulnerable communities within the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities.

My hope is that they’re going to be able to say to themselves that these people, their hearts and souls, are so much more important than the partisan politics we’re engaging in.

Q. What’s something very few people would know about you?

A. I’m a traditionalist at heart. My dream as a little girl was to be this change agent for my community and for America. I also had this dream of doing that at the same time that I live in a house with a white picket fence, a husband, two kids and perhaps two dogs. Or perhaps more than two kids. My parents always said that two kids is two too few.

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