June 12, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Trailblazer Mae Yih, 96, visits Oregon Senate

3 min read
First elected to the Oregon House in 1976, Mae Yih has the distinction of being the first Chinese-born woman to be elected to a state legislative chamber anywhere in the United States.

Members of the Oregon Senate welcomed one of their own to launch the May 31 session. With the introductions, Senate President Rob Wagner:

Sen. Rob Wagner: Colleagues, we have a special guest for our invocation this morning. It is my distinct honor to welcome back to the Senate, our former Senate (president) pro tem, Mae Yih. Sen. Yih was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives in 1976. She has the distinction of being the first Chinese-born woman to be elected to a state legislative chamber anywhere in the United States.

[00:00:35] She served three terms in the House before being elected to the Senate where she served an additional 20 years. In 1993, Sen. Yih became the first woman to serve as the president pro tempore of the Oregon State Senate. Since her retirement in 2023, Sen. Yih has remained actively engaged with her community on issues that she cares deeply about, including education policy.

[00:01:01] Today is the final day of Asian American and Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which is celebrated annually in May. I want to commemorate the many accomplishments the AANHPI peoples in Oregon and trailblazers like Sen. Yih who helped pave the way for us to build a more equitable state. Sen. Yih, welcome.

[00:01:25] Sen. Mae Yih: Good morning, I’m honored to be invited to join you in celebrating the Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month. I’m also delighted to see so many of my old friends that I haven’t seen for a long time.

[00:01:50] Senate President Wagner asked me to say a few words about my experience as the first Chinese American ever to be elected to the state legislature in the United States. I am very proud to have served in this building for 26 years, six years in the House and 20 years in the Senate.

[00:02:19] I probably would not have run for office if not for some words I heard when I first came to America. I went to a small women’s college in New York City. The college president, Millicent McIntosh, said to the students every week: ‘Use your education and be involved in the decision-making process for the benefit of your community.’

[00:02:59] Because of her inspirational message, when my two sons went to an elementary school in Albany, I volunteered as a room mother, den mother, hot lunch program coordinator, zoo visit chaperone, PTA Vice President, and PTA President. When I was encouraged to run for the school board, I remember her words and followed Millicent McIntosh’s advice.

[00:03:41] And I was the Democrat Party, because of my school board service, the Democrat Party recruited me to run for the state legislature. I was able to defeat a 14-year incumbent to gain the House seat.

[00:04:05] During the legislature, I was known for asking tough questions of state government administrators. I was known for working hard for maximum results in programs, minimum spending of tax dollars, and for my full dedication in representing citizens in my district. I was able to connect my mother country and my adopted country by passing, sponsoring a sister-state relationship with Fujian Province and leading four legislative friendship and trade delegations to China. My legislative colleagues loved drinking maotai and toasting everybody during our trips.

[00:05:10] After retirement, I wrote a book about how Millicent McIntosh words affected my life and career, mainly for the interests of my four grandsons. Even turning 96 years old since last week, I still remember Millicent McIntosh words. I read local newspapers every day. I still contact my legislator, city administrators, county commissioners, and my local school board member if I see something that concerns me.

[00:05:59] Thank you for inviting me back to this very special building. I thank you all for your hard work and dedication in making Oregon a better place to live, work, raise a family, and world leader in peace and prosperity. Thank you.

[00:06:44] John Q: Sen. Mae Yih visits the Senate during legislative days May 31, 2024. Her book is titled ‘East Meets West: A Bridge to Understanding Friendship, Trust, Peace and Prosperity between my Mother and Adopted Countries.’

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