On Mon., Dec. 5, 2022, the City of Merced swore in one of its youngest city council members, Fue Xiong, 31, District 6. In 2016, the city council swore in its youngest council member Anthony Martinez, 30, from District 1. The Merced County Times said that “at the time, not a single member of the City Council was Latino, and no Latino member had been elected for nearly a decade” when Martinez was sworn in.
Xiong is the second Hmong council member with the first being Noah Lor in 2007. Now, Merced City Council has two Latinx council members, Jesse Ornelas (District 1) and Bertha Perez (District 3) and one Hmong council member, Xiong (District 6).
Xiong was born in Thailand and his family came to the United States as refugees where they happened to settle in Merced in 1992. Growing up in Merced, he has seen how the city has become stagnant and elected officials have made big promises, but failed to deliver when it comes to making Merced more prosperous. Xiong states that Merced is facing a housing crisis with families, yours, and mine, unable to afford rent or purchase their first home.
“I will be a voice for affordable housing for working families, public safety for our neighborhoods, investment for young people to have the resources they need to reach their full potential, and for a Merced that puts our community first in every development and policy decision,” Xiong says.
Throughout his campaign, Xiong says he had many challenges and successes. He was up against an incumbent Republican Sheriff’s lieutenant who had lots of old money donations, according to Xiong, and support from the Police and Fire Department, the Merced Booster, Real Estate Association and the Establishment from Mayor Serratto to North Valley Labor Federation to Sheriff Warnke to the Merced County Democratic Party.
Additionally, Xiong said there was voter suppression due ballot errors. He recalls calling and receiving little to no response from Merced County when asking what the errors were, how many precincts were affected, how many voters were impacted and what is being done to fix the errors. Initially, Merced County only acknowledged that there were ballot errors without providing details on those errors, but following community pushback and media involvement, Merced County provided details of these ballot errors and created a plan of providing impacted residents with new ballots. Despite Merced County’s efforts, many impacted residents did not know they had to submit new ballots.
Xiong’s campaign of youth volunteers performed outreach in the impacted community to help spread awareness. As of January 10, 2023, Merced County appointed Melvin Levey as the new Merced County Registrar of Voters to replace Darlene Ingersoll. Prior to 2020, the position of the Merced County Registrar of Voters was an elected official to oversee county elections with Ingersoll as the first to be appointed by the Merced County Board of Supervisors. This past election is one of many examples of the lack of transparency and ballot errors to occur after the position was changed to be an appointment instead of an election position. All the while, white supremacists intimidated District 6 voters, Xiong recalls.
Despite all the challenges, Xiong’s campaign was able to door knock on more than 4,000 doors, sent out more than 15,000 mailers, made more than 22,000 calls and sent more than 10,000 texts, all possible through the messaging of change and Merced youths who were involved and believed in his campaign and platform. As a result, Xiong won his race.
Xiong described his campaign as having a diverse support of community members and various groups from such as courageous Hmong elders, youth, students, teachers, the LGBTQIA+ community, people of color, immigrants, farmer workers, working class families and educators from local high schools to Merced College to UC Merced. Xiong’s platform, “A Better Merced for All,” where progressive policies are put forth that benefits everyone and his critical thinking skills centering on community and equity was what made the community aligned with his vision.
“I believe this city and its residents are ready to put forward policies that will begin to address the historic inequity of the city”, Xiong says. Xiong believes support from working families made this campaign possible.
Xiong was asked if he had any advice for youth in Merced.
“I want the young people and youth organizations to help guide me and co-govern this city,” he said. “This council has historically been hostile to young people, but we will continue to show up and take space. I need each and every one of you to come out and fight for the change we all deserve.”
He tells youth to never underestimate their impact, influence, or knowledge and to not allow city council to dismiss the voices of young people.
“Change is possible but unfortunately, we must fight for it every step of the way,” Xiong says.