A record number of Asian-Americans will serve in the next Congress, and several achieved groundbreaking firsts in last week’s elections.
The first Hindu will arrive in January in Congress, as will the first Buddhist and Asian-American woman senator. Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S., and they voted overwhelmingly for President Barack Obama.
Here’s a look at notable Asian-Americans elected on Nov. 6:
Mazie Hirono, 65, will be the first Buddhist, the first Asian-American woman and the first Japanese-born senator. Born in Fukushima, Japan, she moved in 1955 to Hawaii with her mother, who raised her as a Jodo Shu Buddhist. The Democrat was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2006, becoming the first Asian Buddhist member (Hank Johnson of Georgia, also elected that year, shares the title of first Buddhist).
The Hawaii Democrat who won Hirono’s House seat is also a pathbreaker. Tulsi Gabbard, 31, is the first Hindu to win an election for Congress, where she will also be the first member born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa (which is represented by a non-voting delegate). Gabbard became the state’s youngest-ever legislator at 21 before resigning to serve in Iraq. After beating a former Honolulu mayor in a Democratic primary, she spoke at this year’s Democratic National Convention. Gabbard is not of Indian heritage. Her mother converted to Hinduism and raised her in the Vaishnava tradition.
Democrat Ami Bera, a 47-year-old physician, holds slim lead over a Republican congressman. If it stands, he will become first Indian-American Hindu and just the third Indian-American ever elected to Congress. The first was also from California: Dalip Singh Saund, a Sikh who was elected as a Democrat in 1957 and became the first member of Congress who was not a Christian or Jew.
Five other Indian-American candidates lost their races this year in California, Michigan and New Jersey.
Democrat Mark Takano, a 51-year-old high school teacher whose parents were detained in Japanese internment camps during World War II, will be the first openly gay non-white member of Congress.
Democrat Mike Honda, 71, who lived in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans as a child, was re-elected in California’s 17th District, which after redistricting is expected to soon become the first majority Asian district outside of Hawaii.
Tammy Duckworth, a 44-year-old Iraq war veteran born in Bangkok, beat a first-term Republican in Illinois in one of the most closely-watched House races. Duckworth, who became a double amputee when her helicopter was shot down in Iraq, is the first woman to serve in Congress after being seriously injured in combat. She will also be the first Thai-American woman in Congress and the first Asian-American representative from Illinois, where she defeated an Indian-American in a Democratic primary.
Grace Meng, a 37-year-old lawyer and Democrat, is from what’s known as New York’s other Chinatown, the predominantly Chinese neighborhood of Flushing in Queens. She becomes the first Asian-American elected to Congress from New York.
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