Recognizing Important Texans
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, an important time for educators and students to celebrate the contributions and achievements of individuals from these communities in all aspects of society. It’s also a chance to educate about the discrimination and racism faced by these communities, historically and still today.
Each week of AAPI Heritage Month, Texas AFT will highlight a Texan from our communities and current or retired Texas school employees, all nominated by our local leaders.
We believe to #TeachTheTruth, we must recognize and lift up the contributions of the wonderfully diverse population of our state, our country, and our world.
- Jennifer Han, McAllen ISD teacher
- Ayaan Moledina, Round Rock ISD student activist
- Tiamjon “Lee” Forbes, Texas AFL-CIO director of operations and special projects
- Rep. Hubert Vo, state representative
- Hyacinth Natividad, Channelview ISD educator
- Debbie Jayne, Houston ISD teacher
- Anne Sung, former Houston ISD board of trustee
For more ways to bring AAPI Heritage Month into the classroom, check out the free lesson plans and resources available to AFT members through Share My Lesson.
Teacher of Every Year
Nominated by Clarissa Riojas, vice president of McAllen AFT
As a student, Jennifer Han discovered her calling thanks to inspiration from her teachers in McAllen ISD. From as early as childhood, she knew that she wanted to make a difference through education.
Now, she does so as a fourth-grade teacher at Seguin Elementary in McAllen ISD.
That she makes a difference for her students and her community has never been in doubt. But last year, Han received official validation of that fact.
In 2022, Han was named Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year, making her the third teacher in McAllen ISD history to win this prestigious award — the most in the Rio Grande Valley.
Han holds bilingual generalist and Spanish certifications, as well as a bachelor’s of science in education from the University of Texas at Austin with honors, magna cum laude. She is now in her 15th year of teaching and is also a robotics team coach.
Since winning Teacher of the Year, she has used her platform to advocate for her colleagues and her students. You can watch the speech she gave to the State Board of Education last year online, in which she outlined the reasons so many Texas educators are being forced to leave our schools.
Leader of the Next Generation
Nominated by Tammy Conrad, president of Education Round Rock
Ayaan Moledina is an eighth-grader at Canyon Vista Middle School in Round Rock ISD.
But if you have been at the Texas Capitol for this legislative session in any capacity, you’ve likely seen him there too.
Moledina has been involved in political advocacy — and specifically advocating for student voices in education — since he was 11 years old.
Today, he is the deputy executive director of The Youth Power Project, a nonprofit with the goal of engaging young people in the policymaking process by writing legislation that directly affects and empowers them.
One of those bills is working its way through the 88th Legislature. House Bill 2647 would give Texas school districts the ability to add a non-voting student member to their boards of trustees. The goal of Moledina and his peers at the Youth Power Project is simple: give students more voice in the decisions made about them.
Moledina has been walking the halls of the Capitol all session, advocating for HB 2647 and working with bill author Rep. Carl Sherman on its passage. And that hard work is paying off. The Texas House passed HB 2647 on May 11, and it has been referred to the Senate Education Committee for consideration.
Tiamjon “Lee” Forbes
Putting Communities First
Nominated by Zeph Capo, president of Texas AFT
Tiamjon “Lee” Forbes is the director of operations and special projects at the Texas AFL-CIO, a state labor federation that consists of 235,000 affiliated union members who advocate for working families across Texas.
Forbes has worked extensively on community service, disaster response, and organization of major meetings for state labor federation members. Working with United Way labor liaisons, she has coordinated efforts to counsel and help disaster victims, visiting recovery sites, connecting people to services, and overseeing a disaster relief fund to contribute toward recovery.
Forbes is in the Hall of Fame of the Texas Labor-Management Conference, which coordinates an annual conference stressing community, leadership, education, and relationship building between labor and management groups. She also serves on the board of the Workers’ Assistance Program, a nonprofit with a long history of innovative community involvement that provides charitable and educational services to the community it serves.
Before entering the director’s job, Forbes served as an administrative assistant at the state federation and worked in a grant-funded program that helped unemployed workers return to the workforce. She is vice president of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance of Texas and secretary of the Texas Democratic Party.
Born in Thailand, Forbes came to the U.S. at age 7 and became a citizen 23 years later. Forbes, a twin, is the mother of three children — including twin boys — with her husband, Donovan Forbes.
Rep. Hubert Vo
An Ally to Public Schools
Nominated by Rita Runnels, chair of Texas AFT Retiree Plus
At 19, state Rep. Hubert Vo fled Vietnam with his family when the country fell to the People’s Army of Vietnam in 1975.
Starting over with little, Vo and his family found a new community in Alief and started a new chapter of service and dedication.
He graduated from the University of Houston with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and has since become a businessman and entrepreneur in Harris County.
In 2004, Vo was elected to represent that community (HD 149) in the Texas Legislature, becoming the first Vietnamese American elected to that body. Speaking Spanish, Vietnamese, French, and English, Vo can seamlessly communicate with the diversity that makes up his home district.
For the past two sessions, Vo has served on the House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee, where he has fought for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for retired educators. Since he assumed office, Vo has been a stalwart champion for increased education funding and has long opposed private school voucher programs.
A Tradition of Service
Nominated by Shonda Below, president of Northeast Houston AFT
“Always, in all ways, for learners.”
That is Hyacinth Natividad’s motto as an educator. Born and raised in the Philippines, Natividad — a licensed nurse, certified school counselor, and certified autism specialist — has been pouring her heart into Texas schools since she moved to the United States in 2009.
She’s supported her learners in a number of ways. Before moving to the Houston area, she worked as a literacy specialist in Garland ISD. In Channelview ISD, she served as a structured learning classroom teacher at Harvey Brown Elementary and Anthony Aguirre Junior High School, before being promoted to a special services program specialist.
Natividad comes by this dedication to students naturally. She is a second-generation educator; her mother, Nannette Natividad, is a retired educator and a longtime AFT member herself in Galena Park ISD. In fact, Nannette Natividad still substitute teachers for both Channelview and Galena Park ISDs.
The family tradition continues, too. Hyacinth Natividad is a mother of two. Her eldest child, Anne Espina, is an inclusion aide at Anthony Aguirre Junior High School — and an AFT member. Her youngest child, meanwhile, is a sixth-grader at the same school.
Among her many accomplishments, Natividad is also an occupational therapist in the Philippines.
Parent Turned Educator
Nominated by Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers
Debbie Jayne is an elementary teacher at Pugh Elementary In Houston ISD, where she has been teaching for the past 27 years. She enjoys working with the primary grades.
Following Jayne’s high school graduation from St. Andrew’s Priory, a parochial school in Hawaii, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Texas Woman’s University.
When her children started attending HISD schools, she became involved with the Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) program. Jayne became even more involved with her children’s school and extracurriculars by volunteering with the district’s parent organization, the Girl Scouts, and the school band’s Parent Booster Club.
After substituting in her neighborhood elementary school and then working as a paraprofessional, Jayne earned her alternative certification through Houston ISD. She serves as the Houston Federation of Teachers steward on her campus and also as Elementary Vice President No. 3 on HFT’s executive board.
Jayne was selected as the district’s Teacher of the Year in 2008-2009 and the ESL Teacher of the Year 2022-2023.
A Voice at the Table
Nominated by Jackie Anderson, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers
Anne Sung is a Houston ISD parent and graduate, as well as a former teacher and member of the Houston Federation of Teachers.
Sung served for five years on the Houston ISD Board of Trustees, from 2016-2021. During her tenure, she led the charge to amend the district budget to make teacher and staff salaries more competitive with other districts.
A hallmark of Sung’s time on the school board was her commitment to improving Houston ISD’s special education services. She has sat on the district SPED committee and met regularly with concerned parents and teachers.
In addition to her work as an educator and board member, Sung served as chief strategy officer for Project GRAD Houston, a nonprofit that works with lower-income high school and college students.
“Every student need is an academic need,” Sung told The Harvard Gazette. “If a kid is hungry, if a kid doesn’t have a way to wash their school uniform, if a kid doesn’t have eyeglasses to see the board — these are academic concerns, and we need to address them as educators.”