Hyphen magazine - Asian American arts, culture, and politics

Politics: AAPIs leading the Red-to-Blue Charge

Democrat Mark Takano speaks to workers during his campaign to win a US House seat in California 41st district.

There are a record number of Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) running for Congress in this year, according to the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS). The advocacy group reported 29 AAPIs were running as of June, more than triple the number of candidates who ran in 2010 (eight ran that year). Among these races, several are competitive, bringing a real possibility that AAPI representation in Congress will increase. 

One such race is happening in the 41st district of California, where Mark Takano, a Japanese American, could become the first non-white, openly gay member of Congress. Born and raised in Riverside, California, Takano hails from a family that was sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. 

“I can look back to the history of my own group back to the internment camps, when they had no voice in government,” Takano said in an interview. “Now we have a more direct voice, and more representation in Congress. It is important that there is a diversity of representation in all aspects of government.”

Since his childhood, Takano felt that public service was his calling. He worked as a public school teacher for 23 years, and first ran for Congress in 1992. He ran again in 1994, but lost the general election by fewer than 550 votes in one of the closest Congressional races in California history. This year, however, Takano has high hopes for victory and is included in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red-to-Blue List," which targets close races that could flip Republican-controlled districts to Democrats.

Takano’s District is based in San Bernardino County in Southern California. It is a new district that was created after California redrew districts following the 2010 census. The old district is currently represented by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), who is retiring.  The new 41st district has a 23.9-percentage-point advantage for Democrats over Republicans based on registered voters.

Although the re-districting process has given Takano an electoral advantage, he also credits the help of AAPI leaders as an important supporting factor in his campaign.   

Takano said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) was the first person from Congress to endorse him, while Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) raised money for his campaign through the Asian American Action Fund (Triple-A Fund),  an AAPI-focused political action committee.

Dr. Manan Trivedi, a veteran of the Iraq War, hopes to win Pennsylvania's 6th district.

Another potential red-to-blue district with an AAPI candidate is Pennsylvania’s 6th district, where the Democratic candidate is Dr. Manan Trivedi, an Indian American Iraq War veteran.

Trivedi’s parents immigrated to the US from India and he was born and raised in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania. He went to college and medical school before embarking on a naval career that took him to the front lines of Iraq as a battalion surgeon. He attributes his time in Iraq as a turning point that boosted his drive to enter politics.

“I was the one of the first ones to arrive in the front line of war,” Trivedi said in an interview. One of the reasons he said he is running “is so there can be a veteran perspective in Congress.”

Trivedi also believes his experience as a doctor who has first-hand knowledge of the US healthcare system is another reason for his desire to run.

Like Takano, Trivedi is a beneficiary of re-districting. A big chunk of the redrawn district is one that Obama carried by 10 points in 2008, according to Trivedi. Many voters are also new to this district, so they have not had much experience with him, nor his Republican opponent, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA). This helps mitigate an incumbency advantage that is typical in House races. In addition, Gerlach has voted along tea party lines during his term, which could hurt his support within the moderate district.

In his campaign, Trivedi says he hasn't felt any barriers due to his ethnic background even though only 12.9 percent of the people in his district identify as being a racial minority.

“I think people recognize that I was born and raised here,” he said. “They respect my roots and respect the diversity I can bring to Congress. In this district, there isn’t much of that pushback, I think I have an established background in the military and as a doctor and people recognize that.”

Dr. Ami Bera, who is running in California’s 7th district, is a red-to-blue candidate who has outraised his incumbent opponent for nearly every quarter since declaring his candidacy. Bera has yielded $2.7 million for this election cycle, while his opponent, Rep. Dan Lundgren (R-CA), has managed only $2.2 million.

Bera’s parents immigrated to the US from India over 50 years ago, and he was born and raised in Southern California. He has served as an associate dean for admissions at the University of California-Davis School of Medicine, and was the former Chief Medical Officer for the County of Sacramento.

Bera first ran for Congress in 2010, when he lost a close race to Lundgren. In this year’s rematch, Bera has gotten significant press coverage due to his fundraising prowess. He has also gained the support of AAPI groups. Like both Trivedi and Takano, he is a candidate targeted by Rep. Honda’s Triple-A Fund. 

These three candidates, along with Tammy Duckworth in the 8th district of Illinois, are the AAPI candidates being targeted by the Democrats in their red-to-blue campaign.  Only Election Day can confirm whether they will make it.

The AAPI community has a history of lower-than-average voter turnout and under-representation in Congress.  But there is hope that significant progress can be achieved during this election. If these races go the right way, the AAPI community will be able to have more voices in Congress, contributing for the next two years to making our country a more perfect union.

About The Author

Nadia Hussain

S. Nadia Hussain is a Bangladeshi American activist, poet, blogger and photographer with a passion for human rights work and progressive politics. She lives in Oakland, CA, where she works with refugee and emerging API communities. 

She is actively involved with South Asian, Muslim and API organizations. She is also involved in Democratic politics and will serve as a delegate from CA's 13th Congressional District to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, NC this Fall.

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