Illinois’ Asian-American community is hailing Tammy Duckworth’s win in the 8th Congressional District as a milestone, as it seeks greater political representation and involvement at all levels government. Duckworth’s victory over Republican incumbent Joe Walsh is the highest elected office achieved by an Asian-American in the state. She will represent a district where Asians make up a significantly larger portion of the population than they did in 2010. State legislators recently redrew the district lines to include more minorities.
Tuyet Le of the Asian American Institute said Duckworth’s success is the culmination of several trends, including the rapid growth of Illinois’ Asian-American population, and a sustained, deliberate effort to register more Asian-American voters. “The growth of the community has allowed the operations to be more sophisticated in pairing candidates and representatives with the grassroots movement that is able to identify the needs in our community, and push whomever it is,” Le said.
Duckworth, born in Bangkok to an ethnically Chinese mother and an American father, took care at her election night rally in Elk Grove Village to thank Asian-American organizations and volunteers for their support during her bid. Duckworth said she is proud to be the first Asian-American elected to such a high office from Illinois. “We add to the wonderful diversity of our country, of our state,” she said after her victory speech, “and I think we make this country stronger.”
Asian-Americans make up about 5 percent of the state’s population and about 12 percent of the 8th Congressional District. Historically, few have pursued public office, but interest has grown in recent years. Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar (47th) became the first Asian-American elected to City Council in 2011.
More recently, Duckworth squared off with Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Asian-American candidate of Indian descent, in the 8th Congressional district Democratic primary. Krishnamoorthi later endorsed Duckworth, and said he feels that Illinois’ congressional delegation should reflect the diversity of the state’s population. Speaking of Duckworth, Krishnamoorthi said, “I’m really looking forward to her speaking on issues of concern and significance to this community, along with all the other issues that she’s going to be talking about.” In particular, Krishnamoorthi said, Duckworth’s positions on immigration policy and public education will be of great importance to her Asian-American constituents.
No Asian-Americans has yet been elected to Illinois’ General Assembly, but the body has recently created an Asian-American Caucus of representatives from districts where the minority group is concentrated.
“The growing population of the Asian-American community in Illinois is getting to a point where there is a tipping point of people really understanding what representation means and how they need it,” said Le. “And so I think that this is just going to be a continuing trend of Asian-Americans being involved in politics and running for office, as well as people mobilizing the grassroots vote.”