It’s nice to see media stories about Sen. Kamala Harris’ Indian American roots. Contrary to most references, that she is the first Black woman to be a vice presidential candidate for a major American political party, stories about this part of the senator’s life are appreciated.
Interestingly, all of the stories I’ve seen treat the Indian American community as newcomers to American politics. Au contraire, the first Asian American elected to the United States Congress was Dalip Singh Saund in 1956. He was an Indian American immigrant and represented the congressional district that included Imperial and Riverside counties in Southern California.
Actually, the presence of Asian and Pacific Islander Americans in the political sphere is not that well known or acknowledged. Maybe that’s why the first list of featured speakers for the Democratic National Convention had no APIAs.
Congressman Ted Lieu’s immediate Twitter response, “The gross underrepresentation of Asian American speakers in the four days of the DNC Convention is tone-deaf and a slap in the face,” and the Yang Gang’s uproar seemed to have shocked the convention organizers into corrective action. Yang and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (Chinese/Thai American) were put on the Thursday night agenda.
Admittedly, Asian American political growth was stunted by not being able to become naturalized citizens until the McCarran-Walter Act in 1952. Note, Indian immigrants were allowed to become naturalized citizens a few years earlier with the Luce-Cellar Act of 1946.
This was unlike European immigrants (“free white persons”), who could immediately become naturalized citizens. Asian immigrants and earlier “Native Americans, indentured slaves, slaves and free blacks” were prohibited. Asians were also prohibited from owning land (Alien Land Law), marrying people of other races (anti-miscegenation laws), and there were strict limits on women immigrating from Asian countries.
All were meant to keep Asian immigrants out of the mainstream and the woman’s issue was related to immigrants getting married and having native-born children. They of course would then be American citizens by birthright with all the accompanying rights and constitutional guarantees. That is, until WWII.
Remnants of this attitude and strategy were the basis for the “birther” attacks on Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. Recently, President Trump publicly pondered the same question relative to Sen. Harris. The question is whether they, Obama and Harris, fulfill the “natural-born citizen” qualification for running for president or vice president.
But we have overcome these many barriers. Listed below are a few political firsts for the overall APIA community with California APIA included. (D = Democrat, R = Republican)
• The first Asian American (Chinese American) United States senator, Hiram Fong (elected 1959: Hawaii – note, Hawaii became a state in 1959) R
• The first Asian American to run in a presidential primary (Republican), Sen. Hiram Fong – 1964
• The first Asian American (Indian American) elected to the United States Congress, Dalip Singh Saund (elected 1956: California) D
• The first woman of color and first Asian American (Japanese American) woman elected to Congress, Patsy Mink (elected 1964: Hawaii) D
• First Chinese American woman to be elected to Congress, Judy Chu (elected 2009: California) D
• First Filipino American elected to Congress, Bobby Cortez Scott (elected 1993: Virginia) D
• First Japanese American elected to Congress, Dan Inouye (elected 1959: Hawaii) D
• First Korean American elected to Congress, Jay C. Kim (elected 1993: California) R
• First Vietnamese American elected to Congress, Anh Joseph Cao (elected 2009: Louisiana) R
• First Vietnamese American woman elected to Congress, Stephanie Murphy (elected 2017: Florida) D
• First Asian American elected California secretary of state, March Fong Eu (elected 1974) D
• First Asian American (Korean American) elected to the California State Assembly and State Senate, Alfred Song (elected 1962: Assembly, 1966: State Senate) D
• First Asian American woman (Chinese American) elected to the California Legislature (Assembly), March Fong Eu (elected 1966) D
• First Asian American woman (Chinese American) elected to the California State Senate, Carol Liu (elected 2008) D
• First Filipino American elected to the California Assembly, Rob Bonta (elected 2012) D
• First Indian American elected to the California Assembly, Ash Kalra (elected 2016) D
• First Japanese American elected to the California Assembly, Paul Bannai (elected 1973) R
• First Korean American woman elected to California Assembly, Mary Chung Hayashi (elected 2004) D
• First Vietnamese American woman elected to California State Senate, Janet Nguyen (elected 2014) R
• First Vietnamese American elected to California Assembly, Van Tran (elected 2004) R
• NOTE: Many Pacific Islanders have been elected as non-voting delegates to Congress. They represent the U.S. territories of American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The list goes on and we, along with our sisters and brothers in the Latinx community, are the fastest-growing populations in the United States. Also, our population is growing in states outside of the West Coast, Hawaii and metropolitan areas on the East Coast. So, you ain’t seen nothing yet!
Warren Furutani has served on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education, on the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees, and in the California State Assembly. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.