To honor Women’s History Month, Councilmember Mai Vang, Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, Representative Tamika L’Ecluse, and School Board Member Zima Creason came together remotely to discuss their own struggles and triumphs as elected community leaders of Sacramento.
Women’s History Month is an American tradition that dates back to 1980 when Congress requested President Jimmy Carter to make the week of March 7, 1981 “Women’s History Week.”
Later, the National Women’s History Project — now the National Women’s History Alliance — petitioned Congress to designate March 1987 as “Women’s History Month” and since then annual proclamations have been issued reinstating the celebration.
This year, Councilmember Mai Vang celebrated by inviting three other prominent female leaders of Sacramento to join her in a recorded livestream.
March is officially intended to honor the contributions women have made to American history; however, over the years, the month has evolved different meanings for different people.
o Representative Tamika L’Ecluse, “[Women’s history month] is a time to uplift the names of women you don’t hear every single day. It’s a time to uplift your ancestors.”
“Women’s history month is remembering and looking forward to the day when I can see my grandma and celebrate her and the women in my family who’ve paved the way.”
L’Ecluse is a representative of the American River Flood Control District. She is dedicated to listening to her community as well as the environment as she works to reverse the effects of environmental neglect.
“For me [Women’s History Month is] uplift, empower, uplift, empower. Uplifting women from the past and the now. We’re making history right now,” School Board Member Zima said.
“Who can I help? What women in my life can I bring up and what help do they need?”
Like L’Ecluse, Creason is also immensely grateful for the opportunities afforded to her by her grandmother.
“When I got sworn [into office] and had that certificate, I handed it straight to my grandma. ‘I am your legacy. Here you go. That belongs to you,’” she remembered.
Creason serves as a school board member on the San Juan Unified Board of Education as well as the executive director of the California EDGE Coalition, an organization striving to build pathways to the middle class for Californians. Uplifting those around her has always been at the heart of her work.
While these women had to have immense strength to get to where they are, they have had to face and overcome countless barriers.
When Councilmember Katie Valenzuela reflected on her experience she explained how doubt was one of the most difficult challenges.
“Not just the self doubt. Am I good enough? Can I do this? But all of the doubt around you, which is very real and very palpable.
“You feel like you’re constantly working against that assumption that maybe you just got in because of some fluke or something happened, but no, we worked hard. We belong here and we’re actually very qualified to do what we do,” she said.
Valenzuela is the representative of District 4 on the Sacramento City Council and the Policy & Political Director for the California Environmental Justice Alliance. She is also one of the three female councilmembers. Valenzuela is dedicated to solving environmental issues and alleviating homelessness in our city.
Councilmember Mai Vang acknowledged the importance of female leaders, like Valenzuela, in uplifting each other’s voices.
“I’m really excited to also be serving alongside you. I think it’s been so obvious just being in the space with you and Councilwoman Angela Gasby as well. I think all three of us definitely can sense, even in council meetings, a lot of mansplaining happening.”
“It’s really great just to have the support system […] knowing that I got somebody that has my back,” Vang explained.
Last year, Vang made history when she became the first Asian woman and first Hmong person on city council. Her most recent push for a city-wide resolution condemning anti-Asian hate has shown Sacramento this is a time for change. Her previous position as executive director of the Buck Scholars Association allowed her to provide high school students with the funding and mentorship they needed to reach their full potential.
As councilmember, she organizes events, such as this one, in an effort to highlight the experiences and struggles of all types of people in Sacramento.
These events allow the community to discuss important social issues, such as the domestic roles women are still forced into.
L’Ecluse reflected on one such experience.
“I was a park ambassador for McClatchy park [working an event] to get more city resources for cleanups and whatnot. And a chief of staff, one of our councilmembers, came to the event […] and said ‘Tamiko, why are you here? Who’s taking care of your kids?’”
Even though women like L’Ecluse have proven their intelligence, strength, and value and earned their spot as leaders, people — even those in high ranks — doubt their abilities.
“Don’t let people put you in the box that they think that you should be in,” L’Ecluse advised.
“I told him ‘their dad, my husband, is taking care of the kids because they’re his kids, too. And I have a job to do here at the park.’”
Another unjust situation Valenzuela brought up is when women are not given credit for their work.
At council meetings, she had been asking for reports on police protest responses. “Police accountability was something I really wanted us to factor in and […] I was very excited when the mayor joined in to say okay, we need to talk about this.”
“And the news report was ‘Mayor Calls for Police Accountability.’ And my chief of staff was like ‘What? You’ve been calling for this for three weeks.’”
“You have to constantly fight for your space in the narrative, which is exhausting and it feels self-serving, but it’s also important that the community knows that there are other voices,” Valenzuela said.
“It’s not me trying to seek recognition for my own name. It’s me trying to seek recognition so that the girls and women in this community who look like me see that we’re doing something and that they have that role and voice as well.”
Young women and girls in Sacramento are lucky to have these four women and more to look up to. As the meeting concluded, the panel shared their last thoughts for the next generation of female leaders.
“I would want young women looking at us, looking at themselves, looking at the women around them just to know that they’re good enough,” L’Ecluse said.
“You’re good enough. You’re good enough to do whatever it is that you want to do.”
Vang added: “you don’t have to strive to become more worthy, more valid, more loved. You are already all of those things and so much more. The universe wants you to be exactly who you are because nothing will happen if you aren’t.”