Photo courtesy of Vong Mouanoutoua (center)

Vong Mouanouatoua remembers being four years old when his family crossed the Mekong River from war-torn Laos to a refugee camp in northern Thailand. He recalls the journey as hectic but well organized by his father and uncles.

“[they] voted and it was interesting that they voted and it was a close vote to go. So, they rented a military flatbed truck and made sure there were enough boats to take us over to Thailand,” Mouanoutoua said.

Mouanoutoua was born Vongsavanh Mouanoutoua in Laos during the late period of the Laotian Civil War and the Vietnam War, a time of rapid political ideological changes in Southeast Asia. His family were a few Hmong families living in Laos capital of Vientiane, where his father worked as a magistrate in the court and his mother had a business. In Vientiane, a young Mouanoutoua went to school and learned the national language of Laos and joined his mother on days she went out to sell products from her business.

In mid 1970s, after the fall of Saigon and as the Pathet Lao troops’ entry into Vientiane, Mouanoutoua and his family left their home in Laos to Ben Vinai refugee camp in Thailand, where they stayed for a year. In 1976, his family migrated from Thailand to the United States. They landed on American soil in November 15, 1976.

Like many early Hmong refugees to the United States, his family lived in Southern California for many years. His family was resettled in Torrance, California for two weeks before joining his cousin, Dr. Moua Chou, in Santa Ana and later lived most of their Southern California lives in Huntington Beach.

Mouanoutoua attended received an American education at the age of five and was accepted to the University of California, Los Angeles upon graduating from high school. He studied biology. “I was supposed to be a doctor,” Mouanoutoua said. “Traditionally, doctors, lawyers, engineers. I was gonna be a doctor.” He studied biology but he was never in love with the subject.

It was in a Calculus class, that the idea of Law School was implanted in him. Mouanoutoua remembers arguing with his professor during class, who then said to him, “I think you’re in the wrong field. Your questions are not extreme, but you should look into Law School.”

Mouanoutoua eventually graduated with a bachelor degree in biology and took entry classes for Pharmacy school but he never applied. In 1996, he moved to Fresno to work with his brother in their family traveling business. It was in Fresno that he attended paralegal classes at Fresno City College and was encouraged again from a professor to attend Law School. Mouanoutoua attended San Joaquin College of Law in the city of Clovis and worked for attorney Paul Lo at his law firm. Mouanoutoua moved to non-profit and education and Paul Lo later became a judge.

Working in non-profit was a new area for Mouanoutoua. He was always interested in serving so upon graduating from law school, he applied for a county human resource advisory board and was appointed. He later moved on to Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission board, worked at Reading and Beyond. In 2005, he was in Planning Commission for the city of Clovis and in 2010 began teaching Hmong language courses at Fresno State.

Mouanoutoua has a knack for leadership roles. “I’m the type that in sport when I was young I did it because I wanted to. Same thing with service. I looked and saw what I wanted to serve on. I always sought leadership roles,” Mouanoutoua said.

In 2012, he ran as a Republican candidate for District 23 of the California State Assembly. Although Mouanoutoua ran against strong candidates, such as Jim Patterson and Bob Whalen, his team knew it was important to get his name out there. They knew he was not going to win but they needed to be able to stand along-side the professional politicians and see how well they can do. Mouanoutoua and his team raised $75,000, did well at the debates, and received good compliments but the votes did not swing in his favor.

In the fall of 2016 Council Member Harry Armstrong retired and Mayor Nathan Magsis was elected as Fresno County Supervisor, leaving spring 2017 with two vacant seats in the Clovis City Council along with Lynne Ashbeck running for re-election. Mouanoutoua took the opportunity dip his feet back in politics. He ran unopposed and won the seat in spring 2017 but he ran his campaign like there were going to be others.

Mouanoutoua said, “I spoke with my life, my parents, and my consult. We said let’s go full bloom and see what people decides. Clovis haven’t had an opening in a while and Clovis leadership is well respected because they do a good job.”

He knows the road ahead will be challenging because he will have to get used to be a public figure.

“I don’t think we understand the ramification of being a public figure. That’ll take some getting used to. I’m up for the challenge. I’m not gonna sit on the board unless I participate. I’m gonna go into this unless I’m gonna give it my all. I’ll let the people decide,” Mouanoutoua adds.

Mouanoutoua doesn’t want to take all the credit for his road to Councilmember seat. He appreciates the support and encouragement he has received from his parents. “I credited everything to our parents. Our parents, at least mine in general, always say to participate in leadership and to be good people. For us, leadership was to be political officials. Hmong people see officials as an honorable place to serve the people.”