Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
‘Our Time Now’: 1st Cambodian American Mayor in US Sworn In
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 2 years ago on
January 4, 2022

Share

 

He came to the U.S. as a young refugee, having survived Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule. Now, Sokhary Chau is the nation’s first Cambodian American mayor.

The 49-year-old city councilor in Lowell, Massachusetts, was unanimously picked by his colleagues to assume the body’s top post Monday, in the process also becoming the city’s first Asian American mayor.

“God bless America, right? I was a refugee, now I’m mayor of a major city in Massachusetts,” Chau said hours after he was officially sworn in. “I don’t know if that could happen anywhere else in the world. I’m still trying to absorb it.”

Family Escaped from Brutal Cambodian Regime

Chau, in his inaugural remarks, reflected on his family’s perilous escape from Cambodia and the deep immigrant roots in Lowell, about about 30 miles north of Boston near the New Hampshire line. It was an early center of America’s textile industry, drawing waves of European and Latin American immigrants over generations.

Today, the city of more than 115,000 residents is nearly 25% Asian and home to the nation’s second-largest Cambodian community.

“As a proud Cambodian American, I am standing on the shoulders of many immigrants who came before me to build this city,” Chau said Monday before a crowd that included his wife and two teenage sons.

Chau recounted how his father, a captain in the Cambodian army, was executed by the communist Khmer Rouge in 1975 during civil war.

His mother, who died late last year, managed to keep her seven children alive for four years, surviving “landmines, jungles, hunger, sickness and uncertainty” to deliver them safely to the U.S., he said.

Arrived in U.S. at Age 9

In an interview later, Chau said he was around 9 years old when his family arrived in Pittsburgh with the help of the Catholic Church. They lived for a time in a convent and embraced Christianity.

They made their way to Lowell’s growing Cambodian community in the mid-1980s, where some of his older siblings immediately set to work in local manufacturing operations.

Chau, however, continued his studies and earned a scholarship to Phillips Academy, an elite boarding school in nearby Andover. He went on to Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he studied economics and political science, also on a scholarship.

Before running for office, Chau said, he worked mostly in financial services, including running a mortgage lending company in Lowell with his wife. He now works for the Social Security Administration.

Chau’s election follows the ascendance of new Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan. She was sworn in last November as Boston’s first woman and first person of color elected to the post.

Growing List of Cambodian Officeholders

Chau is also among a growing list of Cambodian American officeholders in Massachusetts that includes two other city councilors, a school committee member and two state lawmakers, all from Lowell, said Vannak Theng, president of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association of Greater Lowell.

But while Cambodian Americans served on local boards and state legislatures nationwide, none were elected mayor, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, a nonprofit that helps Asian Pacific Americans pursue public office.

In fact, Long Beach, California, home to the nation’s largest Cambodian community, elected its first Cambodian American city councilor only in 2020, the organization noted.

Chau’s election also comes on the heels of a federal lawsuit that argued Lowell’s election process violated the voting rights of minority residents, who comprise nearly 50% of its population.

recent settlement in the case led the city to change its electoral system, starting with the 2021 elections. The result was the city’s most diverse class of officeholders, said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director at Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston group that brought the 2017 suit.

“Just four years ago, the city’s elected officials were all white and largely unresponsive to the needs of the city’s communities of color,” he said.

Chau’s role as mayor is largely ceremonial. Lowell’s day-to-day operations are handled by a city manager picked by the council, and Chau effectively serves as council president, leading its meetings and also serving as chair of the school committee.

But he believes he can make a difference by ensuring the city workforce, including its police department and school system, better represents its diverse populace.

He also acknowledges his election is significant to the Cambodian diaspora. The community’s political dynamics played a role during the lead-up to Monday’s vote — his primary rival was a fellow Cambodian American councilor.

Chau says he tries to stay out of “old world politics” and intends to focus on the nuts and bolts of governance. But hopes he can inspire the next generation of Cambodian Americans to step up.

“We can no longer be just victims,” Chau said as he closed his inaugural remarks. “It is our time now to be leaders and to succeed.”

RELATED TOPICS:

DON'T MISS

$11M State Grant Will Help Fresno’s Emergency Shelter Beds, Mental Health Services

DON'T MISS

City Council Finally Gives New NW Fresno Costco a Green Light

DON'T MISS

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

DON'T MISS

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

DON'T MISS

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

DON'T MISS

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

DON'T MISS

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

DON'T MISS

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

DON'T MISS

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

DON'T MISS

Biden is Off on Details of His Uncle’s WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military

UP NEXT

Biden is Off on Details of His Uncle’s WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military

UP NEXT

Biden Backs House’s Aid Package for Ukraine, Israel While Speaker Johnson Battles to Retain Position

UP NEXT

Senate Dismissed Two Articles of Impeachment, Ending Trial on Mayorkas

UP NEXT

Biden Pledges to Block Japanese Takeover of US Steel and Promises Tariffs on Chinese Steel

UP NEXT

Senate Will Convene the Mayorkas Impeachment Trial as Democrats Plot a Quick Dismissal

UP NEXT

Bob Graham, Former US Senator and Governor of Florida, Passes Away at 87

UP NEXT

Coalition: CA Lawmakers Need to Roll Back Proposed ‘Utility Tax’

UP NEXT

Charges Against Trump and Jan. 6 Rioters at Stake as Supreme Court Hears Debate Over Obstruction Law

UP NEXT

Paris Hilton Backs California Bill to Bring More Transparency to Youth Treatment Facilities

UP NEXT

House to Send Mayorkas Impeachment Articles to the Senate, Forcing a Trial

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

11 hours ago

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

11 hours ago

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

12 hours ago

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

13 hours ago

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

13 hours ago

Savannah Bananas Dominate Social Media, Sell Out Stadiums Nationwide Including Fresno

15 hours ago

Biden is Off on Details of His Uncle’s WWII Death as He Calls Trump Unfit to Lead the Military

16 hours ago

Big Names in Rap, Christian Music, and Comedy Headline Must-See Weekend Entertainment

16 hours ago

US and UK Issue New Sanctions on Iran in Response to Tehran’s Weekend Attack on Israel

16 hours ago

Will State AG Rob Bonta Jump Into 2026 Race for CA Governor?

16 hours ago

$11M State Grant Will Help Fresno’s Emergency Shelter Beds, Mental Health Services

Fresno got a $10.9 million piece of California grant money to shelter people living in encampments. The money from California’s $192 m...

9 hours ago

9 hours ago

$11M State Grant Will Help Fresno’s Emergency Shelter Beds, Mental Health Services

9 hours ago

City Council Finally Gives New NW Fresno Costco a Green Light

10 hours ago

Prop 47 Reformers Send Nearly a Million Signatures to Sacramento

Crypto the WonderDog Show
11 hours ago

BTC Scammy Scams, Impact of Blockchain on Global Markets: Crypto The WonderDog Show

11 hours ago

US Vetoes Full United Nations Membership for Palestine

12 hours ago

Barbara Corcoran: 1% Interest Rate Drop Will Send Housing Prices ‘Through the Roof’

13 hours ago

Cavinder Twins Are Returning to Miami for Their Last Season

13 hours ago

California Sets Long-Awaited Drinking Water Limit for ‘Erin Brockovich’ Contaminant

MENU

CONNECT WITH US

Search

Send this to a friend