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AAPI HERITAGE MONTH: Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen blazing trails

Rochelle Ngu
Posted at 6:49 AM, May 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 11:14:12-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Paving the way for other Asian American and Pacific Islander women, Las Vegas Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen is a trailblazer, the first AAPI woman and the first AAPI Democrat to serve in the Nevada legislature.

Being a part of two worlds has been the life of Assemblywoman Rochelle Nguyen. She was born to an American mother and a Vietnamese father in Washington state. Her father, a Vietnamese refugee who came over to the United States after the Vietnam war ended in 1975. He and his mother met while she was teaching recent immigrants English, starting a budding relationship.

“A couple of years later I came along and four years after that, my sister came along," Nguyen said.

Growing up with her parents working blue-collar jobs, she worked hard in school, but still kept in touch with her Asian roots, despite being seen a white in school.

“I’m obviously white like appearing, but having that multi-cultural background, I have the empathy and the privilege that I have because of the way I look,” she said.

Nguyen took an interest in law, eventually becoming a criminal defense attorney. Her life was set and then 2018 happened. She was encouraged to fill and was appointed to a vacant assembly seat in district 10 in central Las Vegas. She initially had doubts, never thinking about a future in politics.

“Is anyone going to vote for me with a name they can’t spell or pronounce simple stuff like that, you know what I mean?” she said.

Voters indeed pulled the lever for her in 2020, winning the seat outright. Her father had some doubts about branching out.

“He’s like why are you doing that. You’re not getting paid anything, and so I know that it’s been like for me, I’m like I’m doing this as a service,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen serves as the chair of the health and human services committee as well as the vice-chair of the judiciary committee where her defense attorney background really comes into play. She has a keen interest in criminal justice reform.

“We need to look at the systems that are in place and how we fix those systems for long-term change and not just immediate results,” she said.

In March, she took to the floor where she spoke out against racism and prejudice, specifically towards the AAPI community. Nguyen says she couldn’t be silent as pandemic-related violence against Asian Americans from San Francisco to New York increased.

“I don’t want to wait until Nevada has like an Atlanta situation before we have the conversations and before we are heard,” she said.

Nguyen’s ability to bring both parties together on the issues is something judiciary committee chair Steve Yeager admires about her.

“When there was a bill that needed work. She would look at me and say, I could take that if you want and it was such a relief to me. The legislation we passed in 2019 I would say a lot of it would not have been possible without her,” he said.

As the Asian American Pacific Islander population continues to grow in Nevada, Nguyen believes representation on all levels is absolutely important. Ultimately, she hopes her position as a lawmaker will inspire others in the AAPI community to run for office.

“Having those conversations and people being able to see people like them and have names like them in these positions will only encourage people in the future to do so,” she said.