Representing her community

UCSC alumna Kim Bernice Nguyen announces run for Congress

UCSC alumna Kim Bernice Nguyen announces run for Congress

Raised by her mother—a Mexican immigrant—and her father—a Vietnamese refugee— Kim Bernice Nguyen has often advocated for herself and her family. 

The youngest person to ever be elected to the Garden Grove City Council at 25 years old and the first person of Latin descent, Nguyen has had to stand her ground and be a champion for young women of color. Nguyen is running for the California 45th district congressional seat in 2024. 

“Until we start to see people like us in seats of power, we can’t imagine ourselves there,” Nguyen said. “We have to continue to be the change we want to see, whatever that looks like. We must make sure that we encourage people and lift them with us as we go forward in this journey to create a bench that doesn’t currently exist.”

When the opportunity arose to run for Congress, Nguyen knew she could be the voice for young people, women, and people of color in her district, which has a demographic of 37 percent Asian and 23 percent Latinx. 

Nguyen aspired to pursue a political career, even as a little girl. Helping her parents navigate the U.S.—standing in as a translator, explaining systems like food stamps, and making decisions—forced her to reckon with political and social structures at a young age. 

In first grade she decided she wanted to run for President of the United States and walked around with a paper that said “Vote Kim Nguyen, When? Now.” At the bottom of the paper she wrote “2028 or 2032.”

“I had done the math that I would be 36 and eligible to run for POTUS in 2028, and if I didn’t win the first time I’d run again in 2032,” Nguyen said. “This idea/dream came from seeing men in suits in front of podiums giving speeches on TV about new laws and issues facing my family, my community, and myself, but I realized they didn’t look like me, my family or my community. So the idea that I needed to be that person started to grow in my mind.” 

Nguyen announced her run for Congress in Jan. 2023 and is working with peers, friends, and community members to jumpstart her grassroots campaign—similar to how she won her city council seat in 2016.

Attending UC Santa Cruz 

A first-generation high school and college graduate, Nguyen overcame many obstacles while pursuing a degree from UC Santa Cruz. Navigating financial aid and working multiple jobs to afford tuition, Nguyen did everything she could to support herself. 

She graduated with a B.A. in politics and legal studies in 2013 and said she is grateful for the opportunities to get exposed to local politics in Santa Cruz. 

“I was fortunate enough to have Professor Coonerty for one of my law classes,” Nguyen said. “I knew he was a city council member, so I took every class he offered. At one point, he offered extra credit for us to attend a council meeting, which was my first taste of local government.”

For current students at UCSC hoping to pursue a career in law and policy, Nguyen offered some advice: 

  1. Find what you’re passionate about.

“You’re either going to volunteer for an organization that does work around what you care about, or you’re going to find a campaign to jump on, and you want to believe in that candidate and what they’re standing for,” she said. “You have to know yourself and where you stand on issues. What do you believe in? What do you care about?”  

  1. Know what direction you want to go in, and if you’re unsure, try everything.

“Being a leader trying to effectuate change doesn’t always mean you have to be an elected official,” Nguyen said. “There’s a desperate need for chiefs of staff, district directors, political directors, campaign staff, and fundraising people. There are so many political opportunities besides being elected officials.” 

  1. Always keep other people in mind.

“When an opportunity, a job, an internship or fellowship comes your way, and you know you don’t qualify or it’s not what you’re looking for, think about someone in your life that you think would be great at it, and send it to them.”