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2 firsts for Asian Americans in 2 California cities

After a week filled with fierce debate, the city council in San Mateo, south of San Francisco, appointed its first Asian American and Jewish Mayor.

This as the city of Bakersfield, in Central California, gets ready to swear-in Wednesday its first-ever elected Sikh Punjabi city councilwoman.

The city of San Mateo has been appointing its mayors based on the seniority of its city council for more than 100 years. With the advent of district elections, this year’s city council is made up of three first-year officials and Amourence Lee, who has served for three years.

CBS5 reports that two of the city council people tried to hold up the vote for mayor until a fifth city council person could be appointed.

A hundred people packed the meeting Monday night in support of Lee to be mayor.

“I’ve been very disappointed by your actions councilmember Diaz Nash. I am disappointed that you and councilmember (Rob) Newsom are obstructing the process in order to pick the fifth councilmember and doing this by your shady, shady backroom deals. And San Mateo deserves better than this. San Mateo and its residents deserve honesty and transparency,” said one resident during public comment. 

Lee said both Newsom and Nash offered to vote for Lee as mayor if she agreed to support their candidate for the fifth council seat, Cliff Robbins. Nash and Newsom both denied they offered a deal to Lee.

In the end, the council voted for Lee as mayor and chose Lee’s pick for the fifth council seat, Rich Hedges.

In Bakersfield, Manpreet Kaur is preparing for her first term on the city council after she is sworn in Wednesday, December 14. Kaur recognizes the significance of being the first Sikh Punjabi woman elected.

“We might be the first ones through the door, but we never want to be the last,” she said to KERO. “Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of role models that look like us, that had lived experiences like ourselves.”

Both of her parents are immigrants from a working-class family. She graduated from the University of California San Diego and earned her Masters degree from the University of Wisconsin Madison.

Raji Brar who leads the Sikh Women’s Association and once served as the first Sikh councilwoman in California say Kaur’s win is significant.

“Our folks come to this country with the hope that their kids get treated equally. It doesn’t matter where you come from. It doesn’t matter what you look like. That you can be anything you want in America. So when you see Manpreet, that idea in her is visualized, that she just did that.”

(Editor Note: An earlier version of this story misspelled Kaur’s first name. We regret the error.)

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Please fill out this 2-minute survey which we will use to improve our content. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.


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