AAPI Politics: Meet Tammy Duckworth
Asian American Pacific Islanders are represented now more than ever in Illinois politics. Our success in representation comes with tough challenges. How unified is our voice? Are we represented enough? What’s our future locally and nationally? Meet history making Asian American Pacific Islander Democrats from Illinois and learn their thoughts on these and other issues.
Tammy Duckworth is the U.S Congresswoman for the Eighth District of Illinois.
How do you see Asian Americans currently represented in local, state, and national politics?
It’s not where it needs to be. Certainly, we are under represented. When I get elected, I will be the first Asian American in the Senate not from Hawaii, which is a majority Asian state. I can’t believe it’s taken until 2016 to get there. I’m the first Asian American to be elected to federal office in Chicago, in all of Illinois, actually. This is something that we have to work on. It can’t just be the AAPI communities on the coasts who have representation, we need to represent the heartland of America and all across this great country. States like Illinois are a great example. I hope that we have more Asian American representation. We currently have Theresa Mah whose running at the local level and Raja Krishnamoorthi running for my Congressional seat. We’re going to eventually get more representation, but we have a lot more work to do. We are a part of this nation. We’re a part of the economy and a part of the educational institution. We need to be a part of decision making at the very top levels of government and we’re simply not there.
Are there Asian American issues that you are passionate about?
I’m passionate about a lot of issues. Some of them are not specifically Asian American, but are ones that are especially important to Asian Americans, like immigration reform. I’ve been pushing very hard to make sure the sibling category is kept into any type of comprehensive immigration reform. Asian Americans, I think, are among the largest users of the sibling category when it comes to visas to bring relatives over. I work very hard on that. Also, we need to invest money into the National Institute of Health to do research on medical conditions that are more prevalent among Asian Americans, like different kinds of liver cancers. I will continue to work on those. There are other issues that, while important to the Asian American community, are also important all across the United States. For example, issues of affordable higher education, making sure we don’t have a litmus test on who can come to this country, making sure you don’t have to be white or Christian to be considered American. That you can be Buddhist or Muslim or whatever you choose to be, and be just as American as the next person. I really see that I have a special role to play in representing the diversity that is our country.
What do you see as the Asian American voice and is that voice currently being heard?
I think that the great diversity among the Asian American community is why our voices have not been as heard, because we tend to break down along identities. Even among South Asians, there’s a difference between Pakistanis and Indians. To have South Asians having a different voice between East Asians or Southeast Asians; we need to come together. Caucuses that I’m a member of like the AAPI Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus are really critical parts in pulling everyone together so we have an unified agenda while we continue to work on issues that are of particular interest to our communities, and to make sure that our voices are heard. When President Obama was reelected, I think he received 80% of the vote of the Asian American population. We need to keep that up so that the political powers see that Asian Americans do make a difference.