Found in Translation: Fireside Chat with Citizens League Executive Director Pahoua Hoffman

Fleeing to America as a young refugee in 1976, Pahoua Hoffman found herself in kindergarten not knowing any letters, not knowing any colors. Her parents didn’t drop her off at her first day of school because they couldn’t communicate with her educators. Pahoua’s new normal became the role of the translator. It was a burden, she recalls, but she was a fish in water. She didn’t know any different.

As the newly appointed executive director of the Citizens League — a nonpartisan organization that engages Minnesotans of all ideologies in policymaking — Pahoua reflects back at her time as a translator and sees strong parallels to her new role: taking what she knows and helping people make their own decisions, just as she did for her parents years ago.

A way in which Pahoua helps folks make their own decisions is through the creation of the Citizens League Voice, a unique periodical that provides a safe space to learn about and debate fiery political issues. And today? We could use more healthy debates. Because we so admire Pahoua’s work, we invited her to the Studio/E Clubhouse as the subject of our Member Morning Series. Here’s the story of her adventure of creating the magazine, as told by Pahoua over coffee and breakfast (donuts included):

The “why” behind the periodical

I wanted to grow Citizens League’s membership by educating people and giving them tools. I find there is a desire for people to learn about issues they might be too embarrassed to admit they don’t know much about. I wanted to create a place where people could see all the different perspectives right next to each other, written by those who could be held accountable to that topic. I mentioned this to Representative Nick Zerwas (fellow Studio/E Cohort U member) and that started the process. Nick wrote an article in the first issue, and on our last day at the Studio we presented the magazine.

Citizens League Voice: an Only

My goal was to help our community better understand issues in plain language so they can find whatever entry is appropriate to them to be a part of the process. I’m proud of the Voice because it’s the physical manifestation of what we do at Citizens League. We help people make their best case without throwing grenades at one another. Unlike most magazines with one perspective, this has both sides.

On the ideation process

I used to hate doing the draft process in school. It was hard for me to put anything down that wasn’t perfect. I’m really good at convincing myself that something’s not a good idea, but Studio/E forced me to put it down on paper. I didn’t know I needed that formal process. I know now that the magazine wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have that conversation with Nick or the process of writing down my early idea. I’d still be dreaming about it.

The value of a learning community

It’s important not to be the smartest person in the room. When you think you’re the smartest person, you defend your thinking. But when you’re not the smartest in the room, you know you don’t have all the answers, so you seek because others might know. When you walk into a room with that mindset, through the words you choose and the questions you ask, you’re emanating that you want to learn.

The vision for the future

My dream is that eventually the Voice will be free for everyone. In addition to our membership, each issue gets mailed to legislators, even those who aren’t Citizens League members. Eventually I want it to be a broader distribution because I think everyone needs to read it, not just Citizens League and legislative members.

In this political climate we’re in, a safe space is needed more than ever. Fortunately for all Minnesotans, Pahoua is spearheading that space at the Citizens League.

If you would like to join our learning community and attend events like this Member Morning Series with Pahoua Hoffman, we’d love to meet you.

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