2024 Womxn’s History Month web graphic

San Bernardino Mayor Helen Tran served as the keynote speaker at the Womxn’s Leadership Conference on March 29, where she shared her inspiring journey to becoming the first Asian American mayor in the city’s history. Tran took office in 2022 as the third female mayor for the City of San Bernardino.

Growing up in San Bernardino, Tran dreamed of being a third-grade teacher and had no aspirations to have a career in politics. Tran’s journey to the mayor’s office was filled with obstacles and hardships she had to overcome.

“My path here was not planned. It was not easy,” said Tran.

She is the daughter of Vietnamese refugees. Although Tran came from humble beginnings, her childhood memories are filled with love and family.

In high school, Tran volunteered with the Key Club and worked on a political campaign for former U.S. Congressman Joe Baca. With the support of her mentors, Tran’s involvement in politics continued throughout high school and college.

The experience helped shape Tran into the person she is today. Tran’s mentors went on to help her attend UC Santa Cruz and become a first-generation college graduate. She knows firsthand the positive impact mentors can have in a person’s life. For Tran, “having folks who can help guide you and support you is important.”

Tran worked for the City of San Bernardino for 14 years. She began her career with the city as the executive assistant to the director of human resources, and 10 years later, Tran became the youngest director of human resources for the City of San Bernardino.

As director, Tran hired Cal State San Bernardino students as interns, providing them valuable hands-on experience in the field. Many of the interns went on to earn full- and part-time positions for the City of San Bernardino. Tran was proud to provide those opportunities to students.

“You have to look into the youth and give them the pathway to succeed, and I was all about that,” said Tran.

CSUSB’s Womxn’s History Month celebration culminated with the annual Womxn’s Leadership Conference on March 29.
CSUSB’s Womxn’s History Month celebration culminated with the annual Womxn’s Leadership Conference on March 29.

Coming from a family deeply rooted in love and giving back instilled in Tran a passion for community engagement and civic leadership.

“My parents always instilled in us to always help others because we would not be here if we were not helped to get to this beautiful country and live this beautiful life that we have,” she said.

Tran was tired of not feeling supported as a staff member, then administrator, by the elected officials in office and was ready for a change. Her desire to make an impact in the community inspired her to run for mayor.

Along the way, Tran encountered a lot of naysayers who doubted Tran would be elected as mayor, questioning her experience in politics and relatability to voters. It took Tran three years to plan to run for office.

Tran’s previous experience in politics prepared her to take on the role. She took what she learned and brought it to the forefront, including what qualities are needed to be a good leader.

“Being a leader is to surround yourself with folks who will support you through those tough obstacles and situations so that you can lead more effectively,” said Tran.

Tran did just that. Throughout the process, Tran’s family was her support system. She also encountered allies along the way. For example, after she announced she was running for office, an executive applauded Tran for bringing her daughter to a meeting, in which Tran and her staff member were the only womxn in attendance.

“‘Thank you for bringing your daughter with you because you are teaching her that she deserves to be at the table,’” said Tran, quoting the executive.

Tran’s story is one of determination and resilience. Her keynote empowered attendees to follow their dreams and provided a blueprint for those interested in pursuing a career in politics.

In addition, there was a question-and-answer session with Tran. During the Q&A, Tran shared her priorities for the City of San Bernardino, which include addressing the city’s homelessness crisis and infrastructure.

At CSUSB, we intentionally spell womxn with an X as an objection to the patriarchal idea that womxn are an extension to men and the inclusion of all womxn go beyond just cis-women.