The Illinois General Assembly has an African-American caucus and one for Hispanic legislators, too. Now, there’s one to represent the interests of the state’s rapidly growing Asian-American community, though there’s a notable difference.
“We don’t actually have any Asian Americans in our General Assembly,” said Tuyet Le, Executive Director of the Chicago-based Asian American Institute. “As much as we want the first Asian-American to be in the General Assembly sometime soon, we also know there’s a lot of other legislators, and one vote isn’t going to be able to pass any of the bills that we are interested in.”
Le’s organization reached out to 34 state legislators to form the caucus; more than half have agreed. State Representative Daniel Biss (D-Skokie) is among them. Biss says about 16 percent of his district in the northern suburbs of Chicago is Asian-American, but even within that category there is great diversity.
“When you have that many different nations and languages of origin, you have a real challenge to make sure that state government services are adequately accessible across all those different lines,” said Biss, “and I think making sure that that kind of accessibility, as well as cultural sensitivity of service delivery, is met is going to be a huge goal of the caucus.”
Asian-Americans make up 5 percent of Illinois’ population, but it’s one of the state’s fastest growing minority populations. Recently, Asian Indians won language assistance at the polls under Section 203 of the federal Voting Rights Act.
The caucus will likely hold its first meeting in the summer. “I think it’s a step towards the community as a whole looking at what does it really mean to be represented,” said Le.