First Asian American women elected to the NC Legislature

This story was originally published online at NC Policy Watch.

Voters elected Asian American women to the North Carolina legislature for the first time.

Maria Cervania won House District 41 with nearly 64 percent of the vote. The district includes portions of Cary and Apex. She is in her first term as a commissioner in Wake County and is the first Asian American/Pacific Islander to be elected to that board.

Ya Liu won the adjacent House District 21 with more than 67 percent of the vote. The district includes Morrisville and parts of Cary. Liu is in her first term as a member of the Cary City Council.

Both are Democrats who won vacant seats.

“I’m a little calmer when it comes to being first,” Cervania said. “It was always about more than me. It was also about what we want to see North Carolina in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years. Voting me, voting Ya Liu, is North Carolina’s commitment to know that they see us, that they see our community, and that they put their trust in us to work for everyone. “I do not take this lightly and am honored for this trust.”

Your choice reflects a changing triangle. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the state at 64 percent from 2010-2020. Overall, the Asian American/Pacific Islander population in the state is only about 3.4 percent. But in western Wake County, the picture is very different. About 20 percent of Cary residents and nearly 40 percent of Morrisville residents are of Asian descent.

Jimmy Patel-Nguyen, communications director for NC Asian Americans Together, said Cervania and Liu’s campaigns and victories reflect Asian Americans in North Carolina taking steps beyond voting and becoming more involved in the electoral process and government. “It’s starting to rub off on people from our communities who are running for office,” he said.

Liu immigrated to the United States from China. She has a PhD from NC State University, a law degree from NC Central University and runs her own law practice.

Liu was actively organizing social and cultural events when approached about running for Cary City Council. She defeated an incumbent and won her seat in 2019. She was the first woman of color to be elected to the city council.

“It just happened,” she said. “I think representation is important. If girls see that someone like them can get involved in politics, it would motivate them to get involved.”

Liu said that when she agreed to run for Cary Council, she didn’t realize how difficult the campaign would be for someone of no notoriety. She and campaign volunteers knocked on doors throughout Cary District. While at a site for early voting this year, Liu said a voter remembered her from her 2019 door-to-door campaign.

Liu has a doctorate in medical sociology, and she said she will bring her interests in elder issues, health care and the environment to the legislature.

Cervania recalled shadowing the mayor of Cupertino, California, as a high school student. She became an immigrant status and public safety activist, and her interests expanded to include affordable housing and access to health care while on the wake board.

Both Cervania and Liu want the state to approve Medicaid expansion.

They will enter a legislature where it appears Republicans are just one House vote away from a supermajority. In order for the Democrats to do anything, they need broad support from Republicans.

“Hopefully, through conversations, we’ll help people understand that healthcare is a people matter,” Cervania said. “Having shelter, having food security, these are human issues. These are not party matters.”

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