5 Lessons from Asian Pacific American Women in Politics

May 24, 2016

Although several barrier-breaking Asian Pacific American women have run for elected office, the population is still severely underrepresented in political leadership. Programs such as Elect Her and organizations like the Asian American Women’s Political Initiative are working to change that by training and engaging women in politics from a young age.

Elected officials, ranging from student government representatives to U.S. senators, make up the pipeline for future politicians. Currently, seven Asian Pacific American women are in Congress: Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA), Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), and Rep. Amata Radewagen (R-American Samoa). Here are just some of the lessons we’ve learned from two generations of Asian Pacific American women in politics.

1. If the odds are against you, beat them.

Patsy Mink (back row, fourth from left) and the women of the 89th U.S. Congress

Patsy Mink (back row, fourth from left) and the women of the 89th U.S. Congress; image from Wikimedia Commons

Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI), was an AAUW member and the first woman of color elected to Congress. Mink did not shy away from challenges: She ran for student government when anti-Japanese sentiment was prevalent in Hawaii, she ran for Congress against her state party’s wishes, and — when she realized the extent of gender discrimination in education — she co-authored Title IX. She used obstacles as platforms and fought to change the systems that worked against her. By treating those obstacles as challenges instead of impossibilities, she accomplished what had never been done before.

2. Make politics personal.

Mazie Hirono (fourth from left) stands with AAUW members and staff at an AAUW Title IX anniversary event.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI, fourth from left) stands with AAUW members and staff at an AAUW Title IX anniversary event.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) is the only woman of color senator in the 114th Congress. She has famously said, “I bring quadruple diversity to the Senate: I’m a woman; I’ll be the first Asian woman ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate; I am an immigrant; I am a Buddhist.”

The senator knows that politics are personal, and she fights for equality for all people. She is working to get the Equal Rights Amendment passed again and encourages young women to run for office. Hirono is a trailblazer and feminist champion in her own right, but she gives a lot of credit for her success to her inspiration and friend Mink.

3. Lead by example, and advocate for others.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) encouraging young women to run for office at Running Start’s Women to Watch Awards ceremony; image from Facebook

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) encouraging young women to run for office at Running Start’s Women to Watch Awards ceremony; image from Facebook

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) was elected in 2002 to the Hawaii State Legislature. At age 21, she became the youngest elected official in Hawaii. Several years later she ran for U.S. Congress and won, filling the seat once held by both Mink and Hirono. Since becoming a congresswoman, Gabbard has encouraged young women to run for office. She has spoken at the University of Hawaii, Manoa’s Elect Her events and has served as a congressional co-chair for Running Start.

4. Never give up.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) delivers an address as part of her role as the Wounded Warrior and Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental and Public Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a Thai American, was the first woman injured in combat to be elected to national office. In 2009, AAUW honored her as a Woman of Distinction for breaking barriers for women in the military and advocating for veterans. When Duckworth first ran for Congress, she lost. But she didn’t quit, and in 2012 she ran again — and won.

5. Get involved early.

 

Had the opportunity to meet and speak with some of our Hawaii State Legislators. ^-^ #ElectHer #Hawaii #futurepolitician #bethfukumoto #lindaichiyama #politics #StateRepresentatives #HeforShe #PoliticianInTraining #UHM #leaders #legislators #professional

A photo posted by Roxie-Anne Kamoshida (@r_kamoshida247) on Mar 15, 2015 at 2:58pm PDT

Elect Her alumnae Kelly Zakimi and Roxie Kamoshida are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Associated Students of the University of Hawaii. By running for student government and continuing their involvement with Elect Her, they’re blazing trails for more women to follow in their footsteps and in the footsteps of the many Asian Pacific American women leaders who came before them.

 

This blog post was written by AAUW Elect Her Intern Regina Monge.


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