AA+PIs make history nationwide in midterm elections

Raise a glass to celebrate an election with many ‘firsts’

Words by Samantha Pak

Former President Donald Trump running for president again may not be the political news many of us want to hear. But last week’s midterm elections have come with some good news: A number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have won their races and made history—at the local, state, and even national levels.

Here are some of those newly elected folks:

Kenneth Mejia: A case study of TikTok done right

@kennethmejiala #LosAngeles City Council has been embroiled in endless scandals. The latest audio leak of Councilmembers Nury Martinez, Kevin de León, and Gil Cedillo is just the tip of the iceberg. Tell everyone you know to vote #mejiaforcontroller ♬ original sound - Nancyandersonfit

When Kenneth Mejia was elected as Los Angeles’ city controller, he became the city’s first Filipino American elected official and the first Asian American to assume a citywide office. The accountant and leftist community activist won with a 21-point lead over his opponent, L.A. City Council member Paul Koretz, who conceded on Nov. 9.

As controller, Mejia will be the city’s chief accounting officer. He won’t be able to pass laws or make changes to the city budget, but he’ll be managing city payroll and spending, reporting on city finances, and providing city metrics and data. While this doesn’t sound very exciting, Mejia and his campaign team utilized social media, especially TikTok, and billboards to explain the city budget and make it more accessible and easier to understand, according to NBC News Asian America. Also, it probably didn’t hurt that his two corgis were often the stars of these campaigns.

Nabeela Syed: The Gen-Zer who flipped her district

Nabeela Syed was a senior in high school in Palatine, Illinois, when Trump was elected. As a young Indian Muslim American woman, the racism and Islamophobia being spewed at that time brought her to tears She told NBC News Asian America that on that Election Day, she cried in “every single one of (her) classes,” saying she didn’t know if she belonged in this country—the only home she’s ever known.

Last week, just six years later, Syed was elected as a state representative for Illinois’ 51st Legislative District, leaving no question of whether she belongs here. She does—hijab and all. At 23, when she’s sworn into office in January, she’ll be the youngest member of the state’s General Assembly. And if that weren’t enough, the Democratic Gen-Zer also flipped the previously Republican-held 51st, turning the suburban district blue.

Shri Thanedar: Ready to help his constituents

For Shri Thanedar, representing Michigan in Congress is not something he takes lightly. Talking to CBS Detroit, he described his election as a “huge honor, this is a huge trust, people let me have this responsibility and honor.”

Thanedar, a Democrat and current state representative, will be a representative for Michigan’s 13th Congressional District and his win makes him the state’s first Indian American in Congress. Despite this historic moment, Thanedar feels his most important role is helping his constituents.

Salman Bhojani and Suleman Lalani: A proud moment for South Asian Americans

In Texas, history was made twice with the election of Salman Bhojani and Suleman Lalani. The two Democrats will share the title of the state’s first Muslim legislators. Bhojani won for House District 92 in Tarrant County (Fort Worth area), while Lalani won for House District 76 in Fort Bend County (just outside of Houston). In addition, as immigrants originally from Pakistan, they will also be the first South Asian Americans elected to the Texas Legislature.

According to Houston Public Media, the two men have known each other “for the longest time” due to their common backgrounds (true, not all Asians know each other, but sometimes we do). And Lalani described his and Bhojani’s election as a “very proud moment,” as well as a responsibility.

Victoria Gu and Linda Ujifusa: Making history together

Rhode Island also saw a joint historic moment. When Victoria Gu and Linda Ujifusa were elected to the senate seats in the 38th and 11th state senate districts, respectively, they became the first Asian Americans elected to Rhode Island’s state legislature. Gu is Chinese American and Ujifusa is Japanese American.

Following their wins, both women tweeted out their response. Gu thanked her district for “putting (their) faith in (her)” and for sharing their stories with her. Ujifusa said she was “honored and inspired.”

Aruna Miller: Fighting for America’s promise

Aruna Miller’s election to be Maryland’s next lieutenant governor made history twice. Not only will she become the country’s first South Asian woman to be elected to lieutenant governor, she’ll also be the first immigrant elected to the position. Miller, a former Democratic state legislator for Maryland, emigrated from India in 1972 when she was 7 and became a U.S. citizen in 2000.

Following her Election Day victory, Miller tweeted about how she’s never stopped being excited for the “promise of America,” adding that she “will never stop fighting to make sure that promise is available to everyone.”

Now while it’d be great to live in a world in which “firsts” and other milestones are a thing of the past, we’re not there yet. So let’s just take a moment to recognize all these folks who are paving the path.

Published on November 18, 2022

Words by Samantha Pak

Samantha Pak (she/her) is an award-winning Cambodian American journalist from the Seattle area and assistant editor for JoySauce. She spends more time than she’ll admit shopping for books than actually reading them, and has made it her mission to show others how amazing Southeast Asian people are. Follow her on Twitter at @iam_sammi and on Instagram at @sammi.pak.