On a Friday afternoon, I sat down with Madison Nguyen in her campaign office located in East San Jose. Her long-sleeved white top and trousers made her look regal. Her team of volunteers bustled into the office that day looking tired, but happy. But she is not one to sit high on a mountain, even though she has every right to. She would rather help others get to the top of their own mountains.
Unlike many other politicians, during childhood, Madison literally hand-picked the fruit that you and your family ate. Along with her eight other siblings, Madison’s parents escaped Vietnam and moved to the United States when she was just four years old. Her family lived in Modesto and worked the fields to generate income. She knew from a young age that whatever she did, she wanted to make an impact on members of her own community.
After high school, she went to U.C. Santa Cruz and received her B.A. in History. She then took her education to Chicago and got her Master’s degree. It was then, after returning to U.C. to get her Ph.D. that she was introduced to politics.
“My true calling was in education. I was in the doctoral program studying sociology at U.C. Santa Cruz I was researching the Vietnamese community in San Jose. This city has the largest Vietnamese population of any city in the United States. They have done really well, sent their kids to the best schools, and worked really hard. But there was a complete lack of civic engagement,” stated Nguyen.
The intersection of Madison’s education and her Vietnamese heritage helped her decide to pursue a career in politics.
One of her first accomplishments was registering voters in her local community. She helped organize a voter drive and registered thousands of new voters. Impressed by Madison’s success at this, her fellow volunteers suggested that she run for the local school board. She was a little nervous, because she was new to the San Jose area, and didn’t really know anyone. She didn’t come from a big political family but in 2002 she ran for office and won. For three years she sat on the Franklin-McKinley School District Board of Education. Madison had already helped break some barriers because at the time she and one other official in Orange County, were the only public school board officials of Vietnamese descent in the United States.
“When you are the first, you don’t have time to sit around and think about it. You just do it. But because I was the first, a lot of what I do is trial and error,” stated Nguyen.
Madison’s local political career took off after that. She was elected to the city council in 2005, and then vice mayor from 2011 to 2014.
After her initial run of success, Madison took some time to think about her next step. She wanted to be in an office that she could possibly retain for a longer period of time so that she could begin to achieve some accomplishments that mean the most to her. It came naturally to her that the state assembly would be the best place to go next. If she wins and continues to holds on to her seat she could potentially be a part of the state assembly for 12 years which is ample time to make some changes in her community. I was interested to see how serious she was about her issues. Were they just talking points or did she believe in them? So we dove right in.
“We need to build another U.C., and it needs to be in San Jose. We are in the middle of the tech community. Tech companies need to see that we are educating their future workforce,” explained Nguyen.
But her U.C. goal is not just one for the tech companies. Staying true to her roots, she cares about local families. She believes that we need a campus in San Jose to help students save money because college housing, especially in the Bay Area is EXPENSIVE. Many students would have the option to live at home with their families and commute to school as opposed to taking out further student loans to cover housing costs.
But where do we put a U.C. in a town that is already bursting at the seams? Madison shared with me that Ron Gonzales, while mayor of San Jose, created a master plan for land use in San Jose that was designed to help grow the local economy. This master plan was originally going to allow for building affordable housing units and communities in Coyote Valley, just south of San Jose. But Madison thinks this would be a great place for a U.C. campus. Students could drive against traffic and it will help students from neighboring towns like Morgan Hill, Gilroy, and Hollister be able to go to a nearby school in the prestigious UC system.
Madison is well aware of the fact that to get students into a U.C., they have to start preparing at an early age. She is an advocate of universal pre-k. If she is elected to State Assembly, she will work hard on getting a universal pre-k program in the state of California.
“I am a young mother, I have a four-year-old. I can speak from experience that it will cost about $800-$1500 a month per child for pre-k,” Madison explained with a look of astonishment on her face.
Despite the costs, I couldn’t be more happy about this. I sat on the board of an early childhood education site in San Jose. To see families and parents suffer daily because there is no affordable pre-k program was heartbreaking. No family should have to work more hours, away from their child, just to give their child a basic leg-up in the world.
Now as any Bay Area resident knows, getting around is hard. Every year, our freeways and streets get more jammed up. Because just living in the Bay Area is an expensive lifestyle, our friends and family tend to live in all corners of the Bay Area. Wherever you can afford rent is where you live. But to get from Oakland to Palo Alto or from San Francisco to Fremont or to get from the North Bay to South Bay, you might as well just do a Google Hangout date. There are not clear transit lines to get everywhere. Commuters have to transfer between one disjointed system to another which can add several minutes or even hours to your trip. One thing that frustrates everyone is that BART doesn’t run to San Jose. So when South Bay people want to to party in San Francisco they have to drive 30 minutes to Fremont and take a super long route or take Cal-Train that only runs once per hour and only takes you to the SOMA district. So you still have to take a Lyft or Uber to get just about anywhere. Pointless, I know.
Madison, true to her building community roots, has advocated for BART to run to downtown San Jose and Berryessa during her tenure on the City Council. It will happen in 2017! Now, my South Bay friends will have fewer excuses to not come and visit me.
Now onto the serious stuff. With the presidential election coming up and all the Republican rhetoric taking shape, a young person can feel discouraged from voting. I mean why vote when the field is full of candidates that might hate your culture, ethnicity or race?
“If you don’t use your voice by voting, think about how it will be in 5, 10, 15 years from now. If you don’t stop a virus — it will spread,” stated Nguyen.
Madison is a woman who has been a lot of ‘firsts’ but she knows she can’t do it alone. Her husband is a strong supporter of hers. Her husband comes in with their daughter and helps set up her office and close down at the end of the night. When talking about her family, Madison showed me a video of her little girl. Her little girl was stapling signs for Mommy. It was the cutest thing ever, especially when her little girl, exclaimed after the last one, “okay, this is the last one.”
Madison is just not a local politician. She is a woman that uses her life’s lessons for the greater good. All she wants is to build stronger communities and to empower our youth. And what is wrong with that? Nothing, if you ask me.
YOU CAN MEET MADISON AT ANY ONE OF HER LOCAL EVENTS. CLICK HERE TO VIEW HER EVENT CALENDAR, (THERE WILL BE TACOS!).