#iumienwomenmoversandshakers: Zoua Thao

What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership?

- The most significant barrier to female leadership is that you have to constantly prove your competency. You have to not only prove your skills and leadership to men, but to other women as well. Oftentimes, women get so caught up in trying to prove ourselves as leaders that we are no longer exemplifying the best leadership we are capable of.

What is one event that helped shape your life?

- One event that helped shape my life was when I went to Southeast Asian Student Coalition Summer Institute (SASC SI) in the summer of 2012. It was there where I first learned about Southeast Asian "hxstory", inter-generational trauma and the impacts of refugee resettlement. And, I got to experience it with so many other people who were just like me. That experience is what sparked my passions for advocacy, "hxstory" and social justice. 

What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

- One of the toughest decisions that I've had to make was staying close to home for college. I had hoped to go to college out of state or in Southern California, but with the Iu-Mien refugee experience, I knew that my mom needed me. However, it was a blessing in disguise because the more I learned about systemic injustices and broken institutions, the more I was able to invest and pour out into the community that fostered me to get through college. And, that's something I get to continue doing now as I work in Sacramento post-grad.

What is an accomplishment you are proud of?

- I am proud of being the first in my family to graduate from a top 10 public university. I've had family members drop out of college because of finances and the very real, valid struggles of being a first-generation college student. I, myself, contemplated dropping out due to finances and to feelings of inadequacy. However, I pushed forward and can say that I have a B.A. and two minors, and I'm not done yet!

If there was a young girl out there who wanted to do what you did, what would you tell her?

- I would tell a young girl (or any young person) that it is extremely important to know your roots. It is important to know your "hxstory" beyond the 2 pages we are given in history textbooks. It is important to remember where you come from, and to know the stories of your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. because they are not written. When you know your hxstory, you gain a better understanding of yourself, and that deeper knowledge of yourself shapes what you want your life's purpose to be. 

How can people get a hold of you? i.e., social media, phone number

- People can get a hold of me on Instagram (I have 2). One is my personal account @zouanikkithao & one is more of my photography account @_apizzame. My work email, zouatmsh@gmail.com, is always available too for anyone who's interested in the work that I do or just want to chat!

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