The 22-year-old, a graduate of Marysville Getchell High School and the University of Washington, has been in the nation’s capital just a month. With a paid internship, she’s a staff assistant in the office of a Democratic congressman from our state.
When we spoke Monday, Vital didn’t name that U.S. representative. For this column and in a recent social media post that gained wide attention, she’s sharing her own thoughts — not speaking for a member of Congress.
Her stint in Washington, D.C., coincides with a season of riveting political developments. Americans are tuned in to the fallout of President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, and to the House Intelligence Committee’s probe into Russian efforts to meddle with the 2016 election.
“Folks who call me nowadays are concerned with everything happening — Trump, Russia, the latest leaks. Every day, we don’t know what to expect,” said Vital, who graduated in 2012 from the School for the Entrepreneur at Marysville Getchell.
Vital also didn’t elaborate after a gunman wounded Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise, the House GOP whip, and several others Wednesday. The attack occurred during a practice for a congressional baseball game. “It’s difficult to formulate words at this time,” she said by email.
Her words, though, were shared far beyond her own Facebook page when something she posted June 6 led to an interview published on the Yahoo website. “Young Woman’s Powerful Post About What It’s Really Like to Work in Congress Goes Viral,” said the headline on the June 9 article by Yahoo writer Beth Greenfield.
Vital’s lengthy Facebook post, quoted in the Yahoo piece, begins: “I broke down at work yesterday, slumped against a hallway in Congress weeping. … Is this business as usual? I’m overwhelmed; it’s hard to breathe here. Working for Congress is like always being in crisis mode. I’m forgetting how to eat, sleep, or relax.
“Constituents from around the country call every day to share their hopes, fears and anger.”
On Monday, Vital talked about what she called in her Facebook post “a barrage of racist hate mail.”
“It’s been rough here the past month,” said Vital, whose parents are immigrants from the Philippines. Before posting her feelings, she had spent hours going through about “50 pieces of hate mail.” It came, she said, after the congressman she works with was interviewed on a cable news network.
Vital also listens to callers’ rants. “People have said unspeakable things to me, thinking I’m not a person of color,” said Vital, who at UW was the Filipino American Student Association’s political leader.
A political science and communications major at UW, she was involved with the Black Student Union, First Nations at UW, Micronesian Islands Club and other groups. “I’ve done a lot of work around diversity,” said Vital, who in Marysville served on a diversity panel.
“There is racial tension in America,” Vital said Monday. When people call the congressman’s office, “they don’t expect a young Asian woman,” she said. “They feel free to say whatever they want.”
It’s a heady time for someone who in 2011, as a high school junior, was crowned Marysville Strawberry Festival queen. The daughter of Laurente Vital and Lucky Tan said she entered the pageant to sharpen her public speaking skills. The festival queen’s $5,000 scholarship plus $500 for winning a congeniality award helped with education costs.
Six years after Queen Louie rode on a float, her community will celebrate Saturday with the Marysville Strawberry Festival Grand Parade along State Avenue. Vital has gone far since wearing the crown. This fall, she’ll begin studies for a master’s degree in public administration at UW’s Evans School of Public Policy &Governance.
At Marysville Getchell, she was a student body president. After her first year at UW, she was accepted into a Summer Institute for the Humanities as a Mary Gates Scholar. She has studied in Spain and the Philippines.
Vital embraces her heritage, and on her official website describes herself as a “de-colonial cultural activist.” Her mother, who lives in Hawaii, wrote on Facebook that her daughter “strives to be the voice of the Filipinos” in U.S. politics.
Looking ahead five years, Vital said she might be in law school. First, after her internship ends in August, she is scheduled to fly to Casablanca — for a solo backpacking tour of Morocco. “I like doing things that scare me, and make me a better person,” she said.
As daunting as Congress has been, Vital knows there is much to learn walking those marble halls.
“What a privilege,” she said. “What some people would give to even be stepping in this hallway.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.