Tam Nguyen, A Ponytail "Politivist" and A Catbird Seat

Next year, San Jose City Hall will definitely have a colorful cast of newly elected councilmembers both from ethnic background and profession.  We have a smiling corporate man from Apple, a young Hispanic policeman and then there is the Asian lawyer Tam Nguyen. 

Tam Nguyen  is a familiar face in the Vietnamese-American community with his guitar and musical performances.   He is a member of a well known musical group based in Orange County that performs throughout the US.  He is passionate about music and poetry.   He even composed his own theme song for his recent city council campaign.   And  he dons a ponytail and rides a Harley-Davidson.  How many candidates can have this much fun running?

But he is an analytical person by training.   He started out as a computer engineer for Tandem Computer, received his MBA and then decided to get a law degree because there were only 4 Vietnamese-American lawyers for the whole community of 60,000 or so people.   For almost 20 years, his law practice is built around community activism and helping the voiceless.  Along the way, he co-founded a newspaper and is a co-owner of a restaurant.  But it is his love for music and for the arts that the community sees him as a person.    And as he grows older, his pony tail is noticeable getting longer.   Whether this is a statement of being a confident self-made man who is quite content with his life and work, only he can tell. 

He is not the first ponytail lawyer to appear in  court to defend his clients but he is definitely the only lawyer right now with a ponytail appearing in court as a city councilmember-elect.   A year and a half ago, the idea of running for city council in D7 never crossed his mind.  He showed no interest at all.  But when he was convinced by community leaders that it was for the best of the community (both Vietnamese-American and at large) and he can make an impact, he was ready to go.  



He raised money anywhere he could find a friend.  And he has a lot of them.  People in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Orange County hosted many fund raisers for him. He organized a 40-people team to canvas the precincts for him.  His theme as a "politivist" resonated with the voters from middle class to low income.   He introduced himself as " my name is Tam which means heart"  to voters that he met. 

In 2015, how he will use his swing vote to move San Jose forward and help his constituents, only time can tell.  But he is smart a "politivist", a word that he coined to show his commitment through city government to the common man's cause.  One can sense that he will do the right thing with his big heart.  

Both current mayor and mayor-elect know this and they were already courting him over a private lunch less than a week after the election.   He is a maverick leader  as they come and he wears his heart on his sleeve. 

As a self-made man, he has many stories that he loves to share  but his favorite is from the story told by Bishop Desmond Tutu:

"...An anthropologist studying the habits and customs of an African tribe found himself surrounded by children most days. So he decided to play a little game with them.  He put candies in a decorated basket at the foot of a tree. Then he called the children and suggested they play the game. When the anthropologist said “now”, the children had to run to the tree and the first one to get there could have all the candy to him/herself.  So the children all lined up waiting for the signal. When the anthropologist said “now”, all of the children took each other by the hand ran together towards the tree. 

They all arrived at the same time divided up the candy, sat down and began to happily munch away.   The anthropologist went over to them and asked why they had all run together when any one of them could have had the candy all to themselves. The children responded: “Ubuntu. How could any one of us be happy if all the others were sad?”  

Ubuntu is a philosophy of African tribes that can be summed up as “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

 

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