Tribute For Marny Xiong, Progressive Dynamo in Minnesota, Dies at 31


This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Marny Xiong, the chair of the school board in St. Paul, Minn., was just getting started. She was 31, the child of Hmong refugees. She talked about going to law school or into politics — maybe becoming the city’s first Hmong mayor.

When her father had trouble breathing in early May but was afraid to go to the hospital, Ms. Xiong offered to accompany him. But then the virus leveled her.

On May 7, they went to separate hospitals, both going on ventilators in intensive care.

Her father, Zahoua Xiong, returned home on Memorial Day, just as the city was about to erupt in protests over the killing of George Floyd. Ms. Xiong never came off the ventilator, never spoke to her family again. She died on June 7, her sister Amee said.

Ms. Xiong’s brief tenure as school board chair, which began in January, included a three-day teachers’ strike and then the closing of all schools for online learning. Before she fell sick, she was working to strengthen ties between local Asian-Americans and other people of color, her friend Mai Chong Xiong (no relation) said.

“We talked about dismantling systems of racism,” said Jeanelle Foster, the board’s vice chair. “Marny was always really strong and vocal. I call her my badass.”

Marny Xiong was born in St. Paul on March 23, 1989, the fourth of eight children of Zahoua and See Xiong. Her parents had arrived in the United States as part of a refugee resettlement program for the families of Hmong soldiers who had aided the C.I.A. in Laos during the Vietnam War. In St. Paul, Mr. Xiong worked as a technician making hearing aids.

The family lived in public housing in the Frogtown neighborhood, and in high school Ms. Xiong attended a program on social justice at Stanford University.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in African and African-American studies, she worked first at the Food Group, an anti-hunger organization. She moved on to work for TakeAction Minnesota, a community organizing group, and for the Service Employees International Union, working on campaigns to raise the minimum wage and to oppose state constitutional amendments requiring voter ID and banning same-sex marriage.

From there she became an administrative manager in the Minneapolis public schools and joined the St. Paul school board, running in 2017 on a progressive agenda.

“Her older sister Amee got the siblings involved in politics, and Marny took it to another level,” said Trista MatasCastillo, a county commissioner who worked on Ms. Xiong’s campaign for school board and then enlisted Ms. Xiong to help with her own election effort.

Ms. Xiong worked on Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign and was disappointed, but not discouraged, when he dropped out.

In addition to her sister Amee, she is survived by her parents, another older sister and five brothers, all of whom were prepared to work for her political career.

“She had so many dreams and goals,” Amee Xiong said. “We could have reached a lot of people.”



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