Northern Star




Northern Star

Northern Illinois University’s student news organization since 1899


Ensure student journalism survives. Donate today.

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

State Representative Theresa Mah visits NIU

Emily Beebe
State Representative Theresa Mah stands and gives a speech during the Asian American in Politics event. Mah spoke about her experience becoming the first Asian American elected to serve in the Illinois General Assembly. (Emily Beebe | Northern Star)

DeKALB – In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Regency Room of the Holmes Student Center, the Asian American Resource Center hosted an Asian Americans in Politics event.

Laurie Elish-Piper, executive vice president and provost, stands and talks during the Asian Americans in Politics event hosted by the Asian American Resource Center. Elish-Piper introduced State Representative Theresa Mah, who spoke at the event. (Emily Beebe | Northern Star) (Emily Beebe)

State Representative Theresa Mah visited NIU to talk about Asian Americans in politics and her experience becoming the first Asian American elected to serve in the Illinois General Assembly.

Dr. Laurie Elish-Piper, executive vice president and provost, introduced Mah to the podium and attended the event on behalf of President Lisa Freeman.

“Teresa Mah also served as a senior adviser in former Governor Pat Quinn’s administration, and she worked with legislators, cabinet members and coworkers at state agencies on efforts to improve diversity and minority representation in state government,” Elish-Piper said. “She was instrumental in drafting the first Asian American employment plan. She worked with advocacy groups on a variety of issues including immigrants rights, workers rights, voting rights, language access and health care, all things that are incredibly important not only to our state but for our nation.”

Throughout her speech, Mah shared her experience running for the Illinois General Assembly, despite there being no Asian American representation prior to her running.

“I first ran for my seat in 2016. At the time, there were no Asian Americans in the Illinois General Assembly, not a one among the 177 members. Prior to that, I had worked in Governor Quinn’s administration, and I was tasked with Policy and Outreach related to our Asian American population,” Mah said. “Asian Americans have been the fastest growing demographic yet, we didn’t have any aggressive representation in the General Assembly. And so that was something that in my mind was a problem and needed to change.”

During Mah’s speech, she explained how she started out as a pre-med major in college but eventually switched to history and found her passion for politics.

“I was pre-med initially when I got into college. I had a roommate who was a transfer student from a community college and she was a history major. She knew what her major was whereas a lot of folks for the first few years are undecided or exploring different paths,” Mah said. “She convinced me to sign up for one of her favorite classes, so I signed up for a history class, and immediately I was hooked.”

Mah also talked about how she has helped other Asian Americans get elected to the General Assembly.

“It’s been important to make sure that even though I was the first, that I wasn’t the last. So in the last election cycles since I was elected in 2016, I’ve helped other Asian Americans get elected to the General Assembly, and now we have a caucus of nine,” Mah said. “So it was not easy because, you know, I told you from the very beginning elections are not easy. So what I’ve learned from being involved in all these races is that I have an ability to understand how to identify a winning campaign or how to build a winning campaign.”

Mah ended her speech by encouraging students to pursue their dreams.

“I want to inspire you to pursue your dreams, your passions, get involved in something that really inspires you and makes you partake. Don’t be afraid to become an expert at something, whatever that is,” Mah said. “If you really delve into it and put your all into it, the rewards will be immense.”

After she was done speaking, Mah was presented with gifts from the AARC and the library.

For more information on upcoming events hosted by the Asian American Resource Center, students can visit their website.

More to Discover