First Asian American women elected to the NC legislature

By: - November 17, 2022 3:45 pm

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

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

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

Both are Democrats who won open seats.

Maria Cervania
Maria Cervania

“I’m a little more quiet about being the first of things,” Cervania said. “This has always been about more than me. It’s also been about what we want to see North Carolina be in 10 years, in 20 years, in 50 years. Electing me, electing Ya Liu, this is North Carolina’s commitment to knowing that they see us, that they see our community and that they put their faith and trust in us” to work for everyone.  “I don’t take that lightly, and I’m honored for that trust.”

Their election reflects a changing Triangle. Asian Americans are the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in the state, at 64% from 2010 to 2020. Overall, the Asian American/ Pacific Islander population in the state is only about 3.4%. But the picture is much different in western Wake County. About 20% of Cary residents and nearly 40% 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 toward increased involvement in the electoral process and in government.  “It’s starting to translate to folks from our communities running for office,” he said.

Liu emigrated to the United States from China. She has a doctorate from NC State University, a law degree from NC Central University and runs her own law firm.

Liu was active in organizing social and cultural events when she was

Ya Liu
Ya Liu

approached about running for Cary Town Council. She defeated an incumbent to win her seat in 2019.  She was the first woman of color elected to the town council.

“It just happened this way,” she said. “I feel representation is important. When girls see someone like them can be involved in politics, that would motivate them to be involved.”

Liu said that when she agreed to run for the Cary council, she didn’t know how hard the campaign would be for someone with no name recognition. She and campaign volunteers knocked on doors throughout the Cary district. When she was at an early voting site this year, Liu said a voter remembered her from her 2019 door-to-door campaign.

Liu’s doctoral degree is in medical sociology, and she said she will bring her interests in senior issues, health care, and the environment to the legislature.

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

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

They will be joining a legislature where it appears that Republicans are just one House vote away from a supermajority. For Democrats to do anything, they’ll have to find broad agreement from Republicans.

“Hopefully through conversations we help people understand that health care is a people issue,” Cervania said. “Having shelter, having food security, these are people issues. They aren’t partisan issues.”

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Lynn Bonner
Lynn Bonner

Investigative Reporter Lynn Bonner covers the state legislature and politics, as well as elections, the state budget, public and mental health, safety net programs and issues of racial equality.