At the start of 2019, we welcomed 20 Asian-American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) members–a record high number–to the 116th United States Congress. There are now 14 representatives and 3 senators of AAPI descent who are currently serving in Congress. Additionally, there are three non-voting delegates of Pacific Islander descent also currently serving.
This is a record number in our nation’s history!
While we celebrate this historic win, we have to also recognize the work that is still needed to be done. In the United States House and Senate, Asian Americans made up 3 percent of leadership on the federal level. This is a severe underrepresentation, compared to the 5.6 percent of the total U.S. population.
In addition, no new members elected to this Congress were AAPI women. The number of AAPI women in Congress actually decreased this term.
But why does this matter?
CAPAC Chair Congresswoman Judy Chu has said:
“It is so important for Asian American Pacific Islanders to be in office. If we are not in office, our rights can be overrun or taken away. We saw that with Japanese Americans with the internment camp experience or the Chinese Exclusion Act which was the most discriminatory acts in our nation’s history. Asian Americans were not in government at that time.”
We need folks that look like us and have experiences similar to ours to decide policies concerning our community. Issues like housing, immigration, census, business, and education should be decided upon by the people they affect most. All experiences must be taken into account as to not marginalize groups further.
In a Facebook post, Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas wrote that the opportunity to network with the large freshman class of representatives and to build relationships with its members is unprecedented in Guam’s history. “We have many new voices joining us in Congress who are now very much aware of our island, our struggles, our unresolved status, and our need for their help to move our issues forward given our voting limitations.”
Arizona State Treasurer Kimberly Yee has also spoken about the need for representation.
“She acknowledges her political career is an indicator that cultural diversity is growing in politics. She said she remains hopeful that growth will continue to flourish. ‘There’s much more to be done, but the work is being done, and that’s the good news.’”
What changes are being made?
Part of APAICS’ flagship programming includes the National and Regional Leadership Academy–two-day training programs for AAPIs interested in public office. The Leadership Academies bring together a bipartisan group of promising AAPI political leaders, as well as current elected officials from state legislatures, city councils, and local governing bodies all across the country. The program consists of interactive leadership training with topics ranging from planning your campaign, developing and telling your campaign story, base building and outreach and fundraising strategies. Collectively, APAICS has trained more than 900 participants since the organization’s inception.
This problem extends to a lack of staff-level diversity on the Hill. The Joint Center’s September 2018 report, Racial Diversity Among Top U.S. House Staff, revealed that “people of color accounted for 38 percent of the U.S. population, but only 13.7 percent of top House staff.” The Joint Center’s earlier report found that “the U.S. Senate was even less diverse, with people of color accounting for only 7.1 percent of top staff.”
Before the start of the new Congress, APAICS signed onto a letter by the Joint Center addressed to the new members of Congress, directing attention to the lack of racial diversity in House staff. The letter asked the members to prioritize diverse hiring in their top staff (chiefs, directors).
It’s time for our leadership to reflect the people it serves. You can be a part of the change that is being made. Your civic participation, vote, and leadership matter.
Resources/Initiatives dedicated to promoting diversity in leadership: