Meet 2019 Forward under 40 Award Recipient Kashoua Kristy Yang JD’09

UW Major: Law
Age: 38 | Milwaukee
Judge, Milwaukee County Circuit Court

Kashoua Kristy Yang’s 2017 election to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court made historic headlines: she’s the nation’s first Hmong American judge elected without appointment and the first Hmong American female judge.

“Every day when I put on my robe, I am reminded of what an honor and privilege it is to serve the public in this role,” Yang says. “I am impartial and rule justly. I am not without compassion, and I am courteous to
all who come before my court. I embrace the rule of law; it guides me in all that I do.”

Running for elected office was far from Yang’s first challenge in life. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, she was seven when her family moved to Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

“I didn’t speak English, and everything was new and wondrous to me,” she says. “Snow, cold weather, elementary school — I didn’t even know what a football looked like. I was a quick student of English and learning the culture of the United States.”  — Kashoua Kristy Yang

While her parents worked in factories and raised 11 children, Yang stayed committed to her education and went on to earn a computer-science degree. But when her brother was badly injured, Yang saw how difficult it can be for people to make sense of health care and legal systems, especially for those with financial or language barriers. Inspired to unblock those paths to justice, she enrolled at the UW.

“My time and education at the University of Wisconsin Law School has certainly enabled me to beat the odds,” she says.

Yang’s professional win was followed by personal tragedy; she’d been a judge for just two months when her husband died in a car crash. With the support of her family and a close Hmong community, Yang says she’s trying to teach her three daughters what she learned as a youngster: “work hard, overcome obstacles, and never give up on your dreams.”

Photo by Lacy Landre