A record number of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders will serve in the new Congress that was sworn in Thursday, and several achieved groundbreaking firsts in the November elections.
The first Hindu member of Congress was sworn in Thursday, as was the first Buddhist senator. Eleven members of Congress are of Asian-Pacific heritage, 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-American members of the 213th Congress:
Democrat Mazie Hirono, 65, is 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, is the first practicing Hindu in Congress, where she is also the first member born in the U.S. territory of American Samoa. Gabbard, who served in Iraq, spoke at last 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 planned 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, won a very close race over an incumbent Republican congressman. Bera, who was raised a Hindu and is now a Unitarian Universalist, is 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.
Democrat Mark Takano, a 51-year-old high school teacher whose parents were detained in Japanese internment camps during World War II, is 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 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 is the first Asian-American elected to Congress from New York.