Doua Thor, 38
Executive Director, White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, Department of Education
Hometown: Detroit, MI
How did you get here?
My family came to the U.S. as refugees and resettled in Detroit, Michigan when I was 2 years old. I spent most of my youth volunteering and working with refugee children. That community service led me to work at a community-based organization supporting refugee families who worked hard to build opportunities for their own children. As a direct service provider, I became aware of how institutions such as hospitals and schools were not providing adequate language services to clients. I then longed for opportunities to impact change at a larger systemic level. With support from a mentor, I went on to do an internship in Washington, DC, which changed my view of what was possible. The internship taught me that public policy could be a path to impacting systemic change. Since then I have stayed in Washington, DC for almost 15 years.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
The greatest influence in my career has been Hmong women. In particular my mother and long-time mentors KaYing Yang and Bo Thao. These women inspire and keep me grounded through their life long commitment to community service. In their own way, each has taught me to be thankful for the opportunity I have to serve and to be responsible for opening the doors for others to step up.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
At the signing of the Executive Order reestablishing the White House Initiative on AAPIs in 2009, the President said, “No community should be invisible to its government.” This sentiment expresses what I’ve been able to be a part of accomplishing here in the Administration. There are so many examples of where we have been able to shed light on and tell the story of AAPI communities across the country to federal agencies and the general public. As a member of this team, I have been able to utilize our platform to build more understanding than ever in the federal government at the regional and national level about AAPI communities. For a community that has for so long been invisible, I consider this an accomplishment that will last.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
You must do the things you think you cannot do. – Eleanor Roosevelt
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
When I’m not working, I spend my time with my niece Gaohli and nephew Grayson. At only 5 years old, my niece has the strength and character of the women in our family. My nephew who is 2 years old loves to laugh and give hugs. They remind me of why I do this work and of what is possible in the world.