By Erin Chew, AsAmNews Staff Writer
The 2020 election not only broke ground by electing Kamala Harris as the first female Black and South Asian Vice President, but also saw an injection of more Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders into Congress.
For AAPI Heritage Month this year, we acknowledge those who have breached the “bamboo ceiling” in politics, and are representing AAPIs in the nation’s capital. Here are five to watch:
CONGRESSMAN TED LIEU (D-California)
Anyone who is active on Twitter will know that Rep. Ted Lieu tweets with impact. Currently serving his third term in Congress, Lieu doesn’t shy away from using his voice and platform to speak out on issues of racial discrimination and empower AAPIs. Lieu has braved internet trolls, threats from white supremacist groups and other dissenters to ensure the AAPI voice is heard.
Lieu began drawing attention in 2017, when he was touted as the politician who “out-tweeted” Trump. In 2020, Lieu spearheaded a 150-member letter urging the Department of Justice to condemn COVID-19-related racial discrimination, and he was instrumental in pushing for the Executive Order condemning anti-Asian racism, which President Biden signed within his first 10 days as president.
CONGRESSWOMAN GRACE MENG (D-New York)
Currently serving her fifth term in Congress, Rep. Grace Meng has achieved a lot for not only the people in her district, but also for people of color and for AAPIs. Meng has passed several pieces of legislation on issues such as religious freedom, striking “Oriental” from federal law and protecting residents of public housing. She has also has fought to expand opportunities for communities of color, young people and women.
More recently, Meng has shown her flare and emotions in using her voice and platform to speak out against the attacks on AAPIs. She does so by sharing her personal experiences of discrimination.
Just last month, Meng introduced the House version of the bill sponsored by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), which addressed the rise in violence against AAPIs. Meng added an additional measure to condemn anti-Asian sentiment.
CONGRESSMAN ANDY KIM (D-New Jersey)
Who could forget the iconic image of Rep. Andy Kim cleaning up the Capitol Building at midnight after the Jan. 6 insurrection? That image went viral because it showed the humility and care Kim had for his elected position and for the U.S. Capitol. When asked about him cleaning up at midnight by the media, he said, “It’s a room that I love so much — it’s the heart of the Capitol, literally the heart of this country. It pained me so much to see it in this kind of condition.”
After that moment, it was clear how appreciative Kim was to be able to represent the people of New Jersey and to represent AAPIs. He became a “people’s politician,” and his story echoes the experiences and lives of many AAPIs.
“I feel blessed to have this opportunity as a son of immigrants to be able to serve in Congress,” he said (via NBC News). “Democracy to me is this place of opportunity that is affording me a chance to do something extraordinary.”
Before he went into politics, Kim was a National Security aide for President George W. Bush and President Barrack Obama. In 2018, he became the first Asian American to represent New Jersey in Congress, winning a predominantly white and Trump-supporting district.
SENATOR TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-Illinois)
Sen. Tammy Duckworth epitomizes an AAPI woman who pushes barriers. If you read her bio, the impression you get is that she is absolutely badass. She is more than just a politician. She is also a war veteran and a Purple Heart recipient. After she lost her legs in a helicopter accident in Iraq, she became an advocate for war veterans, eventually retiring in 2014, and becoming the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
As a Senator, Duckworth has been outspoken on issues impacting communities of color. In an interview with The Verge, Duckworth expressed her anger at the shootings in Atlanta where six Asian women were killed.
“As an Asian American woman, I’m still reeling from the murders in Atlanta last month, and what feels like a steady stream of attacks against people who look like me and my elders,” she said.
PRAMILA JAYAPAL (D-Washington)
Elected in 2016, Rep. Pramila Jayapal is the first South Asian woman elected to the House of Representatives. A progressive voice, she has joined Bernie Sanders in calling for a re-haul of the health care system.
She has also been an outspoken critic of President Trump, even introducing a series of bills with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) that demanded transparency and disclosures of conflict of interest in the Trump White House.
More recently, Jayapal, who immigrated from India to the United States at the age of 16, has called for help to aid India’s deadly second wave of Covid-19. Jayapal, who shared that her parents are recovering from Covid-19, said, “India needs our help — and it is our moral responsibility to rise to the challenge at the local, federal and international level because to defeat a global pandemic, we need a global response.”