With their surging Census numbers, Asian-Americans are taking the next step: They are running for public office.
Including Pacific Islanders, 30 Asian-Americans launched campaigns for Congress this year, compared with 10 in 2010 and eight in 2008, according to the Asian Pacific Institute of Congressional Studies (APICS).
A nonpartisan political group, APICS tracks the political engagement of Asian Pacific Americans, now the fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States, but long considered a non-player in the political arena.
"It's extremely exciting," says Gloria Chan, APICS president and CEO. "We could really stand to gain seats and affect the balance of power in Congress."
It was a sentiment widely shared at the OCA Asian Pacific American national convention that ended Sunday at the Planet Hollywood Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
"We have become more politically savvy," said Chan, a panelist in one of the convention workshops. "The community is more engaged and we have more role models in the federal and state levels.
According to APICS records, in the 2008 and 2010 election, six to eight candidates ran for Congress. In 2012, the number has tripled to 25 challenger candidates – one running for the Senate and at least two dozen contending for the House.
At least several more did not win their party's primaries, APICS records indicate. In addition, more Asian Pacific Americans are running for state seats.
"When I first started, Congress seemed a far-off dream," said Honda, who as a toddler was sent to the concentration camps along with other Japanese in the U.S. during World War II.
“Today, there are 10 Asian American and Pacific Islander members of Congress – and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) has 42 members and associates. That’s a testament to the persistence, enthusiasm and sheer will of the community to get and stay involved in the mainstream political process of this country," he said.
Another convention panelist was Edwin Lee, the first mayor of San Francisco of Asian descent. He credits his involvement in community advocacy for his entry into politics.
From 1979 to 1989, Lee was the managing attorney for the San Francisco-based Asian Law Caucus, which fought for civil rights, housing and labor issues for Asian-Americans.
He is widely regarded as a potential candidate and could be the first Asian-American governor of California.
"Our ancestors were discriminated against," Lee said. "But we had to push harder, be better than the rest, and that made us more competitive, more determined."
Currently, there are two Asian Pacific Islanders in the U.S. Senate and 10 serve in the U.S. House of Representatives (including delegates from American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.)
Since 1903, APICS said there have been five AAPI U.S. Senators and 21 AAPI U.S. representatives, along with 20 Delegates and Resident Commissioners representing territories. They have come from a mix of ancestries, states and party affiliations.
This year, the 25 Asian- American and Pacific Islanders running in the congressional elections come from diverse backgrounds. At least eight are Indian American, four are Chinese- Americans, three are Japanese-Americans, two are Korean-Americans, and there is one each who is Hmong-American, Taiwanese-American and Native Hawaiian.
Another three are mixed race. Four candidates are Republican, with the remainder running as Democrats.
In addition to Asian-American hub states like California, Hawaii, Michigan, New York and Texas, the candidates also hail from Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Washington.
Ten of the candidates are hold key party positions and could be influential in the next congress. They are Senate candidate Mazie Hirono, Congressional candidate Ricky Gill and Congressional candidates Ami Bera, Mark Takano, Tammy Duckworth, Manan Trivedi, emerging candidates Blong Xiong and Nathan Shinagawa, and Steve Hobbs and Darshan Rauniyar.
The 2012 AAPI congressional candidates:
- Mazie Hirono (D), U.S. Senate HI
- Dr. Ami Bera (D), CA-07
- Ranjit “Ricky” Gill (R), CA-09
- Blong Xiong (D), CA-21
- Otto Lee (D), CA-22
- Justin Kim (D), CA-31
- Jay Chen (D), CA-39
- Mark Takano (D), CA-41
- Sukhee Kang (D), CA-45
- Vipin Verma (D), FL-06
- Charles Djou (R), HI-01
- Muliufi Francis “Mufi” Hannemann (D), HI-02
- Tulsi Gabbard (D), HI-02
- Esther Kia’aina (D), HI-02
- Tammy Duckworth (D), IL-08
- Dr. Syed Taj (D), MI-11
- Upendra Chivukula (D), NJ-07
- Grace Meng (D), NY-06
- Nathan Shinagawa (D), NY-23
- Dr. Manan Trivedi (D), PA-06
- Ron Bhalla (R), TN-3
- Joe Chow (R), TX-06
- KP George (D), TX-22
- Steve Hobbs (D), WA-01
- Darshan Rauniyar (D), WA-01
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