The U.S. Congress had a “first day of school” feel to it on Tuesday as the 114th Congress officially started in Washington, DC. On the “Senate side” north of the U.S. Capitol building, Vice President Joe Biden swore in the new Senate. Meanwhile, on the House side, the 435 members of the U.S. Congress, as well as the five non-voting delegates representing Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, convened for the first time under the leadership of Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
The Diverse Elders Coalition (DEC) was on hand to welcome old and new members of Congress. One particular set of members we were able to connect with is the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). Made up of members of Congress of Asian American/ Pacific Islander (descent) or who represent districts with sizable AAPI populations, CAPAC is dedicated to promoting the well-being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Reflecting both the demographics of the AAPI community as the fastest growing racial/ ethnic group according to the U.S. Census, as well as their political emergence as a force to be reckoned with, the 114th Congress has, for the first time, 14 members of AAPI heritage. These fourteen are an interesting cross-section of the Congress, including bipartisan (Democrat and Republican) and bi-cameral (House and Senate) representation:
- Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
- Del. Amua Amata (R-AS)
- Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA)
- Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA)
- Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
- Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA)
- Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA)
- Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA)
- Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY)
- Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)
- Rep. Mark Takai (D-HI)
- Del. Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI)
- Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA)
Many members of Congress hold open house events in their offices and Washington, DC fully indulges the “Back to School” vibe by hosting any number of events for the new Congress to meet with constituents. This week, I was able to go to Capitol Hill and meet with a number of CAPAC members, including:
Rep. Ted Lieu, new to the Congress from the 32nd District in California,
Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA), former Chairman of CAPAC, and
Rep. Ami Bera, MD (D-CA), who withstood a strong challenge in the 2014 midterms to win his election by less than 1,500 votes.
The Diverse Elders Coalition is also served by other groups such as the Congressional Native American Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.
Caucuses like these give members of Congress who serve all their constituents a unique opportunity to lift up particular perspectives of communities of color, in Indian country, and the LGBT community. By providing a venue to focus on specific needs that communities that are often underresourced face, these caucuses serve a critical role in addressing the needs of the elders DEC and its members serve.
We are going to need all the help we can get. The 114th Congress will have plenty of challenges to face in terms of meeting the needs of diverse elders, including issues such as proposed attacks on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA). CAPAC, and the other caucuses that work with DEC members, will continue to be an important bridge between our communities and the increasingly politicized climate of Capitol Hill.
Ben de Guzman is the National Managing Coordinator for the Diverse Elders Coalition. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.