This week, we spoke with SEIU-UHW home care member Steve Ly, newly elected Elk Grove School Board member, and the first Hmong elected official in Northern California.
How did you become a home care worker?
I have two jobs. For a long time, I have been an educator for foster students. But I also care for a relative. It’s meaningful work, because the alternative to that is a nursing home, which would cost more, and I’m able to provide Hmong food and the kind of care that improves my client’s quality of life. Now I can’t imagine my life without this work.
What prompted you to become active, both in the union and in politics?
A lot of people complain about things they don’t like in government, but I always say that you can’t really complain if you don’t vote, if you don’t get involved. I try to bring that involvement to the Hmong community. Our community is unique – we are here because of our involvement in politics, because we fought for the U.S. in the Vietnam War. So getting involved here is a natural fit.
How are you working with SEIU-UHW?
SEIU-UHW has many Hmong members, but they haven’t always participated. A UHW organizer reached out to network with the Hmong community, and I’ve worked with her to get out the union message. For example, many don’t understand the significance of COPE, our political action fund. I tell them that every campaign sign, every ad you see is paid for by somebody. Unless we pool our money together, and help politicians who fight for us, the billionaires will have all the power. When the elders of the community start to understand that this is our chance to have a say, they get excited about participating.
What do you like about this union?
One thing I really like about SEIU-UHW is how they reach out to different communities. They make an effort to have Hmong interpreters and ensure that everyone understands how to participate. It really makes a difference for the Hmong members. The union is their training ground, where they are learning how business is conducted here in the states. It’s part of their journey of becoming American. Next time they go to City Hall to fight for what they believe, they won’t be intimidated by the process.
As a new School Board member, what do you plan to do next?
We’re doing a big push for Let’s Get Healthy California. I truly believe that getting healthy is a lifelong battle, and the only way our kids can win it is to start young. We have to get them thinking about eating healthy as a way of life. That’s how you get the whole community to eat healthy, to live healthy. You can’t do it overnight. I know I’ll be working with the union to get this message out in our schools. I’m looking forward to it.
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