January 24, 2017
A New Class of AAPIs In Congress
By: Diverse Elders

by Brianna Brown

Earlier this month, a record number of ethnically diverse congressional representatives were sworn into the 115th Congress. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) congressional members reached an all-time record of eighteen Representatives and Senators, up from fourteen AAPI members in the 114th Congress.

Judy Chu, a Representative from the 27th Congressional District of Southern California, is the Chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC). Following the election, Rep. Chu noted that the increasing number of AAPI congressional members “serve as a testament to the growing political influence of the AAPI community and the diversity we represent.” CAPAC was established in 1994 with the purpose of ensuring that US Congress provides full participation, addresses the contributions, and protects and advances the rights of AAPI citizens.

Looking to get to know the newest class of AAPI congressional members? This post gives a snapshot of the two newly-elected Senators and five newly-elected House Representatives.

tammyduckworthTammy Duckworth – Senator (D-IL): Tammy is only the second woman and first Asian American woman to be elected as a Senator in Illinois. She was born in Thailand and was elected as a US Representative of Illinois’ 8th District in 2012. Before serving in congress, Tammy served as Assistant Secretary at the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Tammy lost both legs and partial use of her right arm while serving in Iraq. As a result of her injuries, Tammy was awarded the Purple Heart. Tammy is an advocate for supporting small businesses, infrastructure, and improving the lives of veterans. Learn more about Tammy here.

kamalaharrisKamala Harris – Senator (D-CA): Before being elected as Senator, Kamala served as the first woman, first South Asian, and the first African American Attorney General of California in 2010 and District Attorney for San Francisco in 2003. She was born in Oakland, California and attended Howard University, the oldest historically black university in the US. Kamala’s platform includes issues of criminal justice and immigration reform, creating good-paying jobs, enacting family leave and equal pay policies, college affordability and universal pre-kindergarten for children and tackling climate change. Learn more about Kamala here.

stephaniemurphyStephanie Murphy – Representative (D-FL 7th District): Stephanie is the first Vietnamese American Woman elected to Congress and only the second ever Vietnamese American person elected to Congress. Fleeing communist Vietnam by boat, Stephanie’s family was rescued by the US Navy at sea. At the time, Stephanie was only one year old. After September 11, 2001, she joined the Department of Defense as a national security specialist, attributing it to wanting to protect the country. Stephanie is dedicated to promoting women’s entrepreneurship, and she herself is a successful businesswoman, innovator and entrepreneur. Learn more about Stephanie here.

01222016-Pramila JayapalPramila Jayapal – Representative (D-WA 7th District):  Pramila is the first Indian American woman elected to the House of Representatives. Pramila left India when she was sixteen to attend Georgetown University. Her career has involved working both internationally and domestically as a leading advocate for women’s, immigrants’, civil, and human rights. Following September 11, 2001, Pramila founded the Hate Free Zone, now known as OneAmerica, to address hate crimes and discrimination facing Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities. She is an expert on topics including fair and minimum wage, community-police relations, as well protecting every American’s civil rights.  Learn more about Pramila here.

rajakrishnamoorthiRaja Krishnamoorthi – Representative (D-IL 8th District): The 43-year-old grew up in Illinois and started his political career when he served as issues director for Barack Obama’s successful 2004 campaign for the US Senate. He later was appointed to serve as a Special Assistant Attorney General on a Public Integrity Unit to root out corruption under Lisa Madigan. Raja advocates for policies for working families, equal pay for equal work, paid sick and maternity leave, raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable. Learn more about Raja here.

rokhannaRo Khanna – Representative (D-CA 17th District): Ro is a long time resident of the Bay Area but is originally from Philadelphia, PA.  Ro comes to Congress with the hope of bringing Silicon Valley innovation to Middle America.  The 40-year-old former property attorney and former deputy secretary of commerce in the Obama administration was highly supported by multiple tech corporations in running for his Representative position. The district that he represents is the only Asian majority district in the US. His grandfather, who was an activist under Gandhi’s independence movement in India, influenced Ro’s commitment to public service. Learn more about Ro here.

colleenhanabusaColleen Hanabusa – Representative (D-HI 1st District): Colleen was not expecting to return to Congress this year. However, after the death of 1st District Representative Mark Takai in July, an opening formed in the Hawaii delegation that she won. Colleen was elected to the House in 2010 and re-elected in 2012, she gave up her seat when she ran for a Senate but was defeated by Brian Schatz. In the interim between serving as a congressman, Colleen returned to Hawaii as a labor attorney representing Hawaii State Teacher’s Association and serving the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation. Colleen is one of two Buddhists who serve in the house. Learn more about Colleen here.



The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.