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Cultural Awakenings

  • Political science major Mai Do ’19
    Political science major Mai Do ’19
    Mackenzie Brady ’21
October 04, 2018

Political scientist, Asian-American specialist, poet, numbers-cruncher, and digital strategist, Mai Do ’19 is putting all the pieces together at Washington College.

Mai Do ’19, a political science major from California, doesn’t let a few thousand miles come between her and her commitment to political advocacy back home. Her work in California politics, her studies at Washington College, and a campus job as a social media and marketing assistant have laid the groundwork for the culmination of her undergraduate career—a content analysis of Asian American state-level candidates—and a future career in politics or academia.

Her first paid job was as a canvasser for voter registration in her hometown of Santa Clarita, where she grew up the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants who settled in the United States in the 1980s. Do then worked on a California State Assembly campaign coordinating voter outreach in 2016 and interned for the California Clean Money Campaign in 2017. More recently, she has taken on the duties as the first Political Fellow for the Courage Campaign, gathering data and conducting research for the organization in her home state, the goal of which is to ensure that political donations are free from special interests and quid pro quo relationships.

Do’s interest in American-Asian populations stems from her family heritage and her upbringing, but her questions about how those diverse populations are mischaracterized or misunderstood led to her senior thesis topic.

“I’m looking at whether Asian Americans campaign as Asian Americans – whether they campaign on their immigrant and refugee experiences,” Do says. “Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, and they deserve attention as a growing political force.”

In many cases, she says, the diversity of Asian Americans is understated, even though the cultural differences among Southeast Asian countries—Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, the Philippines, and the rest of the continent—are great. She also finds that the resources available to American immigrants with those cultural backgrounds do not necessarily reflect those differences. She is working to dis-aggregate data on “Asian” research, to more closely reflect the populations of the Southeast Asians in California and Minnesota, so that resources can be more accurately allocated on their behalf. 

What she is most passionate about, she says, is ensuring that the diversity of first- and second- generation Asian-Americans does not remain unreported. 

Beyond the political research and analysis, Do also endeavors to capture the spirit of her parents’ homeland in poetry. Her first collection of poetry published by Platypus Press, Ghosts Still Walking, was long-listed for the 2017 Elgin Awards. Her second book, Battlefield Blooming, is due out this spring from Sahtu Press. She credits James Hall, associate professor of English and director of the Rose O’Neill Literary House, for helping her develop her poetic voice, inspired more by lyricism and musicality than form. In her work she explores the rugged history of Vietnam, the casualties of the Vietnam War, the relationships between indigenous generational touchstones and religions spread throughout the world, and the very personal alliances between the ubiquitous family alters and the Catholicism introduced to Vietnam.

“Mai Do’s poems are haunting and beautiful,” says Hall. “They are poems that call for the ear. Hers is an unmistakable voice not just because her images are searing and fresh, but because her poems do what every good poet does: she reminds us of the lived experience that is at the center of, and which often gets erased in, the sweep of history.”

Do is the founding editor of Rambutan Literary, a journal showcasing the work of artists from both mainland/maritime Southeast Asia and diasporic Southeast Asian communities.


Last modified on Oct. 4th at 4:42pm by Marcia Landskroener.