Asian Americans make a big imprint in Illinois politics

Asian Americans make a big imprint in Illinois politics

In 2016, she became the first Asian American to be elected to the Illinois General Assembly. For two years, I was there alone among the 177 members in our room, representing over 600,000 Asian Americans in Illinois. Finally, four others joined me. On Election Day, our party bloc increased to nine – an 800% increase in six years.

How did this happen and why is it important? In Illinois, Asian Americans were not elected to a highly visible position in government until 2011, when Amiya Power became the first Asian American elected to the Chicago City Council. The following year, Tammy Duckworth won her seat in Congress, the first Asian American elected to Congress in Illinois. In 2016, Josena Morita and I appeared on the ballot with Duckworth when she ran for Senate.

This was perhaps the first time in a Cook County election, in the state’s home district, that voters saw three Asian American women together on one ballot.

The drought that afflicts Asian Americans in elected office in most states besides California and Hawaii is not because our population is such a small percentage, or that there is any truth in the misconception that Asian Americans are “politically inclined,” unwilling to engage, or “rock the boat.” “.

The actual explanation is closely related to the structural racial inequalities that have shaped how our social, cultural, political, and economic institutions develop.

discrimination in immigration

A 1792 law governing naturalization made it impossible for immigrants from Asia to become American citizens. A law of 1875 made it unusually difficult for Asian women to enter the country, as they were all classified as prostitutes and of low character, and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 singled out an entire Asian ethnic group, with few exceptions, legally barring them from emigrating. In 1924, immigration from all other parts of Asia was cut off (except for the Philippines, at that time an American colony).

Some of these restrictions were not relaxed until the 1940s. In the 1950s, the ability of Asians to become naturalized citizens was restored, and in 1965 major reforms to our immigration system led to waves of Asian immigration that continue to shape our demographics today.

Unfair immigration laws kept the Asian American population artificially low for most of the twentieth century. There were fewer healthy families that could produce US-born citizens. The majority of the Asian population cannot legally become citizens and participate in our civic institutions in a meaningful way. Importantly, the urban political organizations, or political “machines” that operated in every major city, had no incentive to recruit Asian Americans because they had no political value because they could not vote.

Excluded from the patronage processes that led European immigrants to jobs in city, state and county government, law enforcement, and the Politburo, Asian Americans were not in a good position to run for office—and for the most part, were constrained even from inclusion in the process.

Representative Teresa Mah speaks at a press conference on the election results in Casa Michoacan in Pilsen on November 9th.

In the first two decades of the 2000s, the status quo began to change. Migration patterns since the 1960s have changed the face of cities. A generation of US-born immigrant children has come of age and has benefited from learning about the Civil Rights Movement and the Third World Student Movement, which gave birth to Race Studies and Asian American Studies. Patronage systems were weakened, due to stricter regulations against political nepotism and corruption, demographic shifts, and the presence of a new generation of politically experienced individuals who did not see their ethnic background as a hindrance.

Many of us who became “firsts” came to Illinois from other places, usually Asians or Asian Americans in leadership positions, which is unusual. Morita and I grew up in California. Duckworth grew up in Hawaii. Pawar, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ram Villivalam trace their legacy back to the world’s largest democracy, India.

Perhaps there is truth in the idea that one must first “see it for what it is”.

On Tuesday, Asian Americans broke several records. The number of Asian Americans in the Illinois General Assembly has increased nearly tenfold since 2016 and also has historically diverse representation: Sharon Chung would be the first Korean American, Hwan Huynh would be the first Vietnamese American. We’ll have three from South Asia: current Senator Villivalam, Kevin Olikal, and Nabila Syed. Abdel Nasser Rashid will be the first Palestinian American, and with Sayed will be the first two Muslim members.

They will be joined by Jennifer Jung Gershwitz and Janet Yang Rohr, three women of Chinese-American descent.

With these numbers, Asian Americans come close to a fair representation of the state’s fastest growing population. We will be able to defend our communities so that it is not possible to put in place “without us” policies and we will fight more effectively for the resources our audience needs.

State Representative Theresa Mah represents the second district in Illinois.

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