A record number of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders will serve in the next Congress, and several achieved groundbreaking firsts in last week’s elections.
The first Hindu will arrive in Congress in January, as will the first Buddhist senator. At least 10 members of Congress will be of Asian-Pacific heritage, with another Asian-American candidate leading an undecided race, according to The New American Leaders Project, an organization that recruits civic leaders from immigrant communities.
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.
Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who won Hirono’s vacated seat in the House of Representatives, is also a pathbreaker. Gabbard, 31, will be the first practicing Hindu in Congress, where she will also be the first member born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Gabbard, who served in Iraq, spoke at this year’s Democratic National Convention. While Gabbard is not of Indian heritage — she is a mix of Caucasian and Samoan — her mother converted to Hinduism and raised her in the Vaishnava tradition. She plans to take the oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita.
Democrat Ami Bera, a 47-year-old physician who is the son of immigrants from the Indian state of Gujarat, holds a slim lead in his unsettled race over an incumbent Republican congressman. He attended an orientation Tuesday in Washington for new members of Congress. Bera, who was raised a Hindu and is now a Unitarian Universalist, is poised to become 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 Christian or Jewish.
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.