By Ed Diokno
Their numbers may be relatively small but Asian Americans in Illinois are carving out a presence on the political scene after the state conducted its primary on March 14.
The Asian American community of Illinois turned out to vote in large numbers in the northwest suburbs thanks to voter engagement efforts and ran successful campaigns for public office.
“Not only are Asian Americans voting at higher numbers, but they are energized to participate in the November election,” said Tuyet Le, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago. “Now, we are seeing more community members eyeing seats at federal, state, and local levels of government.”
While the Thai American’s victory grabbed most of the national attention, other Asian Americans were making their own mark with the support of the AAPI communities. With Duckworth moving onto the Senate race, that left her 8th district Congressional seat wide open.
Raja Krishnamoorthi won the Democratic nomination for the 8th Congressional District. Krishnamoorthi will face Republican Pete DiCianni in a district that has over 93,000 Asian Americans. The 8th district has the second most Asian Americans of any Congressional District in Illinois.
Krishnamoorthi, a local businessman who was born to Indian immigrant parents, beat two opponents to take home 56.9 percent of the vote (43,945 votes) and the Democratic nomination for Illinois’s 8th congressional district, which is currently represented by Duckworth.
AAAJ-Chicago staff member Kristina Tendilla credits pan-Asian community efforts for mobilizing larger numbers of underrepresented Asian American voters, particularly in the northwest suburbs, that make up the 8th District.
“There is a groundswell happening around Asian Americans as a way to carve out our own movement as a part of this broader movement,” she said. “For folks who are trying to fight for Asian American and immigrant and racial justice, it’s important and exciting to have legislators who are from those communities.”
Theresa Mah won a narrow victory in the 2nd State Representative District, which contains much of Chicago’s Chinatown and surrounding areas. Mah will face no Republican opposition in November, and will become the first ever Asian American member of the Illinois General Assembly when she takes office in 2017.
Former college professor Mah, who ran against Alex Acevedo, son of incumbent State Rep. Eddie Acevedo, for 2nd district state representative, attributes her 51.2-percent victory (10,470 votes) in part to the “rising political engagement” of the Chinese community. She also points to key endorsements from the Latino community, including from long time leader and well-respected Rep. Luis Gutierrez.
“It is really wonderful to have more diversity in terms of people who are representing us. Having someone from the Chinese community, especially a woman, is a welcome breath of fresh air to the state of Illinois,” said Gutierrez, who was accused of being a “turncoat” by some members of the Latino community.
Asian Americans make up over 23% of the 2nd district but it is viewed primarily as Latino-dominated district.
“We were happily surprised when we saw the vote totals coming in because, even though we knew we were strong with that demographic, it was clear that not only were Chinese Americans voting, they were bringing their friends and families to the polls, as well,” said a senior campaign staffer from Mah’s campaign.
Josina Morita won one of the Democratic Party nominations for a six-year term on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. If she wins in November, she would be the first Asian American elected to a countywide board in Cook County.
“They say in politics you’re either at the table or on the table. For a really long time, Asian Americans have been on the table,” said Morita, who won one of the Democratic Party seats on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners with 18.3 percent of the vote (372,755 votes).
“It was a huge night for the Asian American community,” she told Medill Reports
. “I think it’s a huge sign of what’s to come.”
Harish Patel was vying to be the first Muslim member of the Illinois General Assembly, running in the 40th district on Chicago’s northwest side, but lost his primary race to incumbent Representative Jaime Andrade.
Andrew Seo, running for a 2-year term on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, finished in 3rd place.
(Ed Diokno writes a blog :Views From The Edge: news and analysis from an Asian American perspective.)
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