About 150 people on Aug. 28 gathered outside the Trigg Education Center in Elk Grove to protest Elk Grove mayoral candidate Bobbie Singh-Allen. They accused her of making derogatory remarks about Hmong culture.
The education center is the headquarters of the Elk Grove Unified School District, where she serves as a trustee.
Singh-Allen is one of two candidates hoping to unseat the incumbent, Steve Ly, who is seeking his third term. He has served as the city’s mayor since 2016, when he became the nation’s first ethnically Hmong mayor.
Two months ago, Singh-Allen used her personal Facebook page to refer to the Hmong familial clan system as a “controlling and intimidating system used to attack and silence these women.”
She made that comment on June 30 in response to allegations by local women who alleged they were harassed by Ly’s associates or supporters.
In a separate statement posted by Singh-Allen on July 3 on her personal Facebook page, she claimed that she was harassed by Ly’s associates after she was appointed to the Elk Grove school board in 2012. She mentioned that she believes that alleged action occurred because she endorsed Ly’s school board opponent, Jake Rambo. Ly defeated the incumbent Rambo in that year’s election. Singh-Allen and Ly served together on the Elk Grove school board until 2014, when Ly was elected to the Elk Grove City Council.
“Days following the appointment, Steve Ly and his (Hmong) clansmen came after me,” Singh-Allen wrote in her July 3 Facebook comment. “They contacted the district to find out how to contest the appointment and petition to have it overturned.”
Since she issued her statement, other elected officials such as Elk Grove School Trustee Nancy Chaires Espinoza and Cosumnes Community Services District Director Jaclyn Moreno alleged they were harassed by Ly’s associates in the past few years.
Ly denied that he had associates harass the accusers.
Three weeks after issuing the latter Facebook comment, Singh-Allen announced her plan to challenge Ly for mayor this November.
Since that announcement, the Elk Grove City Council voted to request that the Sacramento County Grand Jury investigate the allegations against Ly, and they also endorsed Singh-Allen for mayor.
The Aug. 28 protest rally was organized by Elk Grove residents Mia Foster, Marie Vue and Sai Vang, who claim that Singh-Allen made racially discriminatory comments targeting the Hmong community.
“The purpose of tonight is to pretty much give the Hmong community a voice, because we’ve been feeling like our voice has been suppressed time and time again, at the school board meeting and at a City Council meeting,” Vang said. “Because of that, we feel that it’s only proper for us to get an outlet out there. And the best way is actually to hold a protest and allow for the community to actually speak for itself.”
The result of that effort was an event with many speakers, both of Hmong descent and others, who spoke against Singh-Allen’s comments about the Hmong community.
Foster expressed disappointment with those comments.
“Any time any culture is painted or portrayed under a singular perspective, that should be alarming, especially when that person holds a position of privilege, power and influence in our community, especially when it has to do with our educational system,” she said.
“We’ve been seeing an increase in racially motivated comments towards the Hmong community, also through social media. Even (at the last) City Council meeting, I heard somebody call in and make a statement about Hmong men. See, people are becoming emboldened to reveal their true feelings and thoughts about the Hmong community.”
Foster added that the organizers and their supporters are seeking “accountability” from Singh-Allen.
“We want accountability, we want protection for ethnic minorities,” she said. “When they’re targeted by elected officials, there needs to be accountability.”
Although Ly was not present at the protest event, one of the speakers read a statement issued by him.
A portion of that statement directly addresses the comments made by Singh-Allen.
“Clearly members of the community were offended by Ms. Singh Allen’s comments,” he wrote. “I would just reiterate that racism has no place in politics or our society, period.
“Political campaigns can be grueling, hard-fought contests – but they should be focused on the issues and who can best deliver and lead the community, instead of name-calling, baseless character attacks and insensitivity to the culture of others. I have reached out previously to Ms. Singh Allen to discuss these issues, and I remain willing to do so.”
The mayor also wrote that he experienced racism firsthand.
“As an immigrant and refugee, I have been on the receiving end of racist comments and actions and I stand with my African American, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander brothers and sisters, and say enough is enough,” he wrote. “I will continue to fight for equality, fairness and justice for all.”
Foster told the Citizen that the event’s organizers were also inspired by a demand letter written by Ali Moua, an attorney who is running for the City Council’s District 1 seat this November.
In that letter, which was sent to the EGUSD and its board, Moua provides three options for Singh-Allen.
The first option is for Singh-Allen to produce a formal written apology to the Hmong community that would be sent to all parents in the school district, take a cultural sensitivity class, and meet with Hmong community leaders to learn about their culture.
Another option would be for the Sacramento County Grand Jury or a third party committee to investigate Singh-Allen for potential violations of the district and board members’ policies, and ethic and education codes “due to her statements and the harm she has caused the Hmong community.”
The third option notes that should Singh-Allen refuse either option, the letter’s supporters would ask for her immediate resignation from the school board.
Moua gave the school district administration an Aug. 31 deadline to respond. The outcome was not announced, as of press time.
Vue said that despite her group’s requests for answers regarding the allegations against Singh-Allen, they have not received a response.
“There are a few of us that have been emailing the school board and the City Council, asking for assistance to either respond to our statement, apologize or resign and we haven’t heard anything,” she said. “Justice to me would be a formal apology to the Hmong community and if she won’t do that, I would like to see her step down from office.”
Vue also commented on Singh-Allen’s campaign to become Elk Grove’s mayor.
“If she can’t even lead on the (school) board of trustees, there’s no way for her to lead a city,” she said.
Sean Yang, EGUSD candidate for District 3, said that the Hmong community has been targeted.
“Instead of bringing the community together, the result of (Singh-Allen’s) statements have led to more pain, concerns, fear and greater unrest in our people (in the) city of Elk Grove,” he said.
“The remarks implicate that Hmong men used the (Hmong clan) system and their culture to oppress women, and it is simply just not true. I say that again, it just simply (is) not true. The Hmong are some of the nicest and kindest people in the world.”
Addressing the crowd at the protest, Moua spoke against hatred and discrimination.
“We will no longer tolerate language or conduct that incite hate,” he said. “We will no longer tolerate being silenced or ignored. We must stand together united as parents, as brothers and sisters, arm to arm to end injustice, inequality and discrimination. We must protect our community.”
Fong Cha, another speaker at the event, referred to Singh-Allen as a bully.
“The Hmong community is being bullied by you, Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen,” he said. “Do you recognize that you are the bully? You are the bully and we, the Hmong community, are the victims of your political actions to create a platform to launch, again, your mayor campaign against a mayor who happens to be of Hmong decent.”
Foster told the Citizen that she felt that the protest was a success.
“I think tonight was a success in that we were able to rally a good number of people together from all different communities, not just the Hmong community,” she said. “Elk Grove has had a history of racial issues where they have failed time and time again to address (those) issues. So, tonight, I would say, it’s definitely elevated the Hmong voice in a way that we haven’t been before.”
Singh-Allen responds to protests
Elk Grove School Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen on Aug. 31 issued a statement in response to members of the local Hmong community who claim that she made racially discriminatory comments about their community and culture.
“I’m sorry the Hmong community is in pain and is suffering,” she wrote. “It breaks my heart when I hear stories of anyone in the Hmong community or any other community being the targets of racism and hate.
“I’m sorry that they are being misled. And there is only one person responsible for that, and that person is Steve Ly.”
Pablo Espinoza, Singh-Allen’s campaign manager, defended Singh-Allen.
“Over the past eight years as a school board trustee, Singh-Allen has been a vocal champion for students of color, refugees and immigrants,” he wrote in a statement. “She has advocated for expanded resources and supports for the district’s highest needs students.”
Espinoza added that Singh-Allen has the support of Jennifer Ballerini, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 258; Maggie Ellis, past president of the Elk Grove Education Association; and Mary Deutsch, past president of California School Employees Association, Chapter 831.
“They have had a front-row seat on Bobbie’s advocacy, leadership and her commitment to equity throughout the district,” he wrote.