Bedford’s Town Election on March 14 turned out to have unexpected national significance. Not only was Bopha Malone the first minority candidate to win election to Bedford’s Select Board (as far as anyone seems to know) it has also been discovered that she was only the second Cambodian American woman in the entire country ever to win election to public office. This is clearly a big win for Cambodians everywhere, but especially in the eyes of young Cambodian American women.
In fact, Bopha Malone had already been leading the charge. In 2018 she ran for U.S. Congress to represent Massachusetts’s 3d Congressional District but lost in the primary. Although she knew her chances of winning were slim, she says she chose to run especially as a role model. After that attempt, she heard from Cambodian American women and girls all over the country who said that they were inspired to follow in her footsteps. Bopha’s election to the Bedford Select Board will certainly have a similar effect.
Bopha’s swearing-in on Monday lacked some of the usual festivity and pomp it should have had because of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, but her proud husband and two children attended for the happy occasion. Select Board meetings, too, will be a challenge, requiring alternatives to the usual in-person format, but Bopha assured everyone in a thank-you letter to her campaign supporters that she is ready to roll up her sleeves and get to work. And as she has stated, “Good government is about representation—both in reflecting who the residents are and in listening to and responding to their needs. I am ready to do so, and I’m so happy to contribute to this effort.”
The first Cambodian American woman to win election to public office was Khem Khoeun, who became a park district commissioner in Skokie, IL, in 2017. A Long Beach, CA, resident, Suely Saro, may become the third, following Bopha Malone. This month Saro easily received more votes than the incumbent in the non-partisan primary for the Long Beach City Council in the 6th District and will advance to the November election.
As Bopha’s previous campaign materials explain, she and her family “escaped the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime when she was three years old, and she spent much of her childhood in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines. She immigrated to the United States as a Cambodian refugee at the age of nine and credits organizations like Girls Inc. and caring mentors for helping her to navigate two cultural worlds and gain confidence. Bopha attended Lesley University on a full scholarship and graduated in 2004 with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Business Management. Today she serves as regional business advisor and vice-president at Enterprise Bank, based in Lowell.
“As a refugee who came to the U.S. at 9 years old with nothing, I had the values of hard work and perseverance instilled in me by my parents,” says Bopha. “I’ve worked hard to achieve my American dream, but I also understand I couldn’t have made it through hard work alone. I was fortunate to have had many supportive organizations and mentors in my corner to help me become the confident, brave, and strong woman I am today. Now, my passion is giving back, helping people as I have been helped. Having the opportunity to serve community organizations and educational institutions has been one of my greatest joys. Representing the people of Bedford as a member of the Select Board is an exciting opportunity to continue to serve the town that my family and I love.”
I for one am delighted about Bopha Malone’s election to the Select Board. I think we’re very lucky to have her.