A leader in Albuquerque’s nonprofit and advocacy community was appointed to the New Mexico House of Representatives earlier this week. The Bernalillo County Commission selected Kay Bounkeua to fill the seat left empty by the former majority leader of the State House, Sheryl Williams Stapleton, who resigned the seat amid allegations of fraud and embezzlement.
Representative Bounkeua comes to the seat at a pivotal moment for the state, Albuquerque and her district. The lingering effects of the pandemic, a city grappling with rising community and state-sanctioned violence, a municipal election just over two months away, a legislative session just four months away and the looming changes due to redistricting all lead up to the general election in November of 2022. It is there that Rep. Bounkeua will have to defend her seat as a member of the Democratic caucus. As an organizer with well-worn shoes, Bounkeua says she’s up for it.
The Paper. asked Bounkeua a few questions to help readers get acquainted with their newest legislator. Here are Bounkeua’s responses:
The Paper.: Why did you seek an appointment to HD19?
Bounkeua: New Mexico has always been a multicultural, multilingual state, but the Asian-American voice has been glaringly absent within the N.M. State Legislature. I wanted my daughter and all of New Mexico’s children to grow up with a different narrative of who can and should be leading. As someone who was born into a mixed-status family and who learned English as a third language, who has experienced firsthand what it means to be labeled statistically insignificant and described as a perpetual foreigner, I want to continue creating spaces for immigrants, refugees and all the communities in this state to be seen, heard and be a part of creating meaningful policy changes that will directly and positively impact their lives. As the first Asian-American woman serving in the N.M. State Legislature, I believe that perspective will add an evolving dynamic to what policies are being championed.
What are the opportunities for people and businesses in your district?
First and foremost we have to keep this district whole. With redistricting happening, the communities in this district deserve representation from someone that has similar lived experiences and shared values. Organizing has always been strong in this area, and I know leaders will fight to keep this district together, and I want to support that. House District 19 is also incredibly entrepreneurial. As the most diverse place in all of New Mexico per capita, the businesses reflect the cultures and histories of this community. Small business owners and workers alike have been hit hard during the ongoing pandemic, and it’s important we continue to push for financial support, relief and resources for them regardless of their immigration status. With the prevalence of predatory lending, there needs to be an investment in community-led solutions supporting accessible financial capital. District 19 is incredibly rich in history, culture and people, but includes communities like the International District that have been historically underserved and underinvested in—that needs to change.
Do you plan to seek election to a full term in the 2022 general election?
As someone who was born in District 19 and who moved back here to raise my family, I am committed to this area and the state. I have worked in the International District and southeast ABQ for my entire career—as the previous executive director of the New Mexico Asian Family Center and through supporting initiatives including the creation of United Community Academy, a community-led and designed charter school being proposed under the NACA-Inspired Schools Network that may serve as a model for how New Mexico can better meet the directives that resulted from the Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico lawsuit. My family was displaced from their homeland of Laos during the Vietnam War, so feeling a connection to land and place is incredibly important to me. My grandparents’ names lie in the temple on Central and Louisiana. My youth was spent running down the aisles of Talin Market. This district and the people in it will always be home to me, and that’s something worth fighting for.
What work do you have ahead of you to build constituents’ confidence in the State Legislature and their representative? How will you do it?
Communities need someone they can trust. For me, it will be about continuing to do the work, showing up for communities, listening to their stories and creating spaces for their voices to be heard. I believe in building a beloved community through breaking bread, being in authentic relationships and pushing forward community-led solutions and policies.
What role does the state have in preventing generational poverty and trauma as a root cause of crime/violence?
As someone with a public health background, I believe deeply in solutions that get to the root causes of issues. We need to think about the structural causes of violence and ways to disrupt the generational cycle of poverty and trauma. We must find ways to support holistic, inclusive and equitable solutions for the most impacted within the community and look towards innovative and dignified solutions, such as the provision of a universal basic income, which is being explored in places such as Las Cruces.
What role does the state play in public safety and policing?
Investing in systems that only lead to the over-policing of Indigenous, communities of color and LGBTQ+ communities while compromising the safety of these same communities must be reevaluated. Resources should be direct towards prevention programs, mental health resources, rehabilitation services and support for domestic violence and sexual assault victims and survivors that are culturally tailored and place-based.