Kristy Yang: Milwaukee County elects first female Hmong-American judge

Posted at 7:03 PM, Apr 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 20:03:31-04

Milwaukee County voters went to the polls Tuesday and made some history. An Oak Creek woman named Kristy Yang will be the first female Hmong-American judge in the nation.

Yang won an open seat on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in Tuesday night's election by more than 12,000 votes. Her backstory is certainly inspiring, especially for those in the local Hmong community.

If you peek inside Yang's office, you'll often find her with a pen in hand preparing for the next trial. In just a few short months, she will be on the other side of the bench, with a gavel in hand.

“Yesterday, Milwaukee County proved that the American dream is alive and well," she said.

Yang's American dream started when she was just 6 years old. Like a lot of Hmong refugees from southeast Asia, her family fled to America after the Vietnam War.

"At that time, all I could say was ‘Pepsi please,’” she said. 

They moved to Sheboygan for work and grew into a family of thirteen.

"We all came here with nothing besides the clothes on our backs with simply the hope and dream of a better tomorrow," Yang said.

After college and a few years at work, Yang decided she wanted to go back to school to help people. She ended up at UW-Madison Law. Eight years of private practice later, Yang is now just the second Hmong-American in the country to become a judge.

"It's very exciting for us," said Director of Hmong American Friendship Association Lo Neng.

Neng says Yang is paving the way for up and coming Hmong leaders in the community.

"It really set a bar that is very high," he said.

Milwaukee has the third-largest Hmong population in the country - about 13,000 people.

"So people can say, 'Hey she could do it, we can do it,'" said Neng.

"If you work hard and believe in yourself, yes there will be obstacles, but you can overcome those obstacles," said Yang.

Yang begins her six-year term in August.

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