Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen Shares Life Experiences and Community Service

On April 19, 1975, five-year-old Xuan “Cyndi” Nguyen’s parents took her and her siblings – her six-year-old brother and two sisters, ages five and seven, from their home in Phuoc Tinh, a rural area in Vietnam to escape from the Communist. Accompanying them were their grandparents and aunt. Forty-six years later, Mrs. Nguyen who serves on the New Orleans City Council, remembers the journey. Everything her family-owned, they wore. They boarded a boat with hundreds of other families in search of the same goal that her parents wanted for their children – freedom and opportunity. She remembers the anxiety on the faces of the adults; confused children who did not know what was happening. The journey to the United States was sometimes grueling. It was a journey that formed her work ethic. It is a foundation for her optimism and can do attitude. Life lessons growing up are the source of her inspiration and passion for community.

The featured guest speaker at the Students for Human Dignity & Diversity in Action’s last official meeting of the year, Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen is the first Vietnamese/Asian member of the New Orleans City Council. After coming to America, her family settled in New Orleans. A fan of the singer Cyndi Lauper, she chose Cyndi as her American name. During her youth she would frequently get into trouble, but her parents’ determination for their daughter to have a Catholic education, led to their decision to send her to a convent out of state. She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work and a master’s degree in organizational management.

In 1997, returning to New Orleans to be close to her parents and grandparents, she worked as a Social Service Coordinator for Versailles Arms Apartment, a 400-unit affordable housing development. Her vision to create a space where people of different ethnicities and cultures could live and build a strong community together, she started a nonprofit organization to guide and transition marginalized communities into mainstream American society. Her election on November 18, 2017 to the New Orleans City Council was historic, becoming the first Asian American elected to the council. Her election made her the fifth Asian American to be elected to a major political office in Louisiana. She serves District E that includes New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward, culturally diverse communities.

“My parents worked very hard to take care of us. I am grateful to be in America because if not, I would not have six wonderful children and I cannot imagine life without my children. And I think that stays with me and the work that I do,” she told the students on a virtual meeting. “We talk about hate crimes and disparity and inequity. I have seen it, experienced it and see how to use my position to address that and not just push it to the side. Forty-five years ago seems like it was yesterday for me. I feel blessed to have such a strong family foundation…family is your foundation.” 

Following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the BP Oil Spill (2010), she assisted more than 100 businesses with recovery services. She implemented the first diverse Senior Program in 2012 to help support independent living for individuals 50 and older. Her community service has been hailed locally and nationally: Time Magazine’s list of “31 People Who Are Changing the South” (2020); 44th Presidential Lifetime Achievement Award (2017); CityBusiness Woman of the Year (2016); Small business Administration Champion of Minority Business (2014).

This May, she will welcome her first grandchild. For her, the opportunity to give to her community, “is what I work for every day. I love seeing families do better. I love seeing my summer camp children 20 years later have their own families and careers. That is truly an inspiration for me. When we talk about disparity and hate crimes, we demonstrate we are not going to accept that. I challenge you to reach out to other people. Continue to love and appreciate each other and those who may be less fortunate. I do not want to take things for granted and continue to remind myself to give back. I am blessed to do it in a city, and especially in a district where my family came 45 years ago and raised me.”