Annie Lam, the daughter of Vietnamese refugees, remembers living the tough life of an immigrant when she came to the US. Her family, having fled to Hong Kong following the Fall of Saigon in Vietnam, came to America in hopes of a better life.
Despite the hardworking immigrant mentality her parents had, all in efforts to put food on the table, she remembers how her family was low-income and had government support at one time. Lam recalls picking fruits from the early age of 7 until the end of high school, living a life of adversity. However, when it was time for college, she took a class called Asian American Studies out of curiosity. Little did she know, that one class would pave the way for a career in government, cultivating a passion for facilitating change in the community.
“Part of the reason why I was interested in Asian American Studies was because I identified with it,” said Lam. “I feel like I learned so much about myself, the history of our ancestors, the history of our community, and I identified a lot with the struggles.”
It was being able to relate with that subject, that Lam decided to take more Asian American Studies classes and ultimately chose to major in Asian American Studies. Although she didn’t know what it would hold for her in the future, she did so because, “I had so much passion for it.”
That passion is what led her to her “dream job,” going on to serve as Congresswoman Judy Chu’s legislative aide, when she was in the California Assembly, and later on, the legislative director for former Assemblyman Mike Eng.
Both Chu and Eng are among the first Asian Americans elected to hold political office and are known for spearheading legislation that had the Asian Pacific Islander community in mind. Being among the first trailblazers who fought for the API community, the two are also known for taking down Monterey Park’s “No-English” movement.
Following her success with Chu and Eng, Lam is now the head of The Lam Consulting Group, but more recently, her impact on the community did not end with legislation. Lam is now the Founder and CEO of APIs Mobilize, a youth leadership program that looks to empower the minds of high school juniors and seniors by educating them about government involvement.
“I think it’s important to engage more young students and young folks,” said Lam. “There’s not enough of them getting involved on the civic engagement level. The [past] election has shown that for Asian Pacific Islander youth, they’re the lowest number of voters compared to others.”
As Lam identified the problem, she has also manifested a solution. Every Saturday, for five weeks, APIs Mobilize organizes a four-hour class featuring professionals in the government world. People from former Assemblyman Warren Furutani to Political Director of the LA County Federation of Labor, Devin Osiri, to even the current Speaker of the California Assembly, Anthony Rendon, come down to talk to a select group of 25 students looking to learn and understand what having a job in government is like. With a large number of topics, APIs Mobilize hopes to engage its students with diverse speakers to relay the reality of government work. Students not only get first-hand advice, but also get to know more about their own history and why API involvement in government and politics is ever more important.
Bailey Wong, a West Torrance High School senior, said, “The thing that stuck with me the most was the lesson about injustice. We went over court cases with [former Assemblyman] Mike Eng and it made me angry to hear about my community being treated less than other communities.”
It was after examining cases like the brutal beating of Vincent Chin, which students took into perspective the outrageous history behind the all too common mistreatment of the API community.
Wong also said, “This program has definitely empowered me and brought me closer to my community.”
Furthermore, APIs Mobilize, being held at the East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, was not a walk around the block for many Mobilizers. Students often had to wake up early for a 30-minute commute to the college every Saturday, on top of dressing professionally for the invited speakers.
“It was just like going to school again, sort of,” said Hannah Kim, a West Torrance High School senior. “We had to wake up early, try to fit in breakfast, and had to look spiffy and nice for the wonderful speakers coming in to talk to us that day.”
However, in the end for Kim, all the preparation that went into every Saturday was worth it.
“Though I’m not passionate or super interested in politics or government, through this program it really opened new doors for me,” said Lin. “I learned things about my API community that I never knew before and all the hardships it took to help me get to where I am today with my rights. For that I am very grateful and appreciative of this program.”
On top of the Saturday classes, APIs Mobilize also has opportunities for students to get an internship with an elected official and also gives scholarships to college students.
When Lam hears feedback from students, it shows her how successful the program is, so successful that Lam is planning for expansion beyond just Los Angeles.
“We are going to expand to the Bay Area. We are looking at maybe Oakland or Fremont, to replicate what we are doing down here,” said Lam. “So, for the next few months before the end of the year, I will map out what that Bay-Area program will look like. We are also having discussions right now about doing an Orange County program as well.”
Down the line, Lam foresees a lot more work to be done, but when asked exactly what motivates her to do what she does, she brings it full circle to the Asian American Studies classes she took in college.
“I learned a whole lot about my own identity, about my rights, about where our rights come from, and our common struggles,” said Lam. “Because I knew that if you don’t participate, others will make the decision for you, and we just can’t have that happen anymore.”