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Illinois primary results highlight rising political power of Asian Americans

By Jenny G. Zhang

Tuesday’s primary election proved a big win for Asian Americans, as candidates Theresa Mah, Josina Morita, Tammy Duckworth and Raja Krishnamoorthi won their respective races in Illinois.

Mah and Morita made history by becoming, respectively, the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly and the first Asian American elected to a countywide board in Cook County.

“They say in politics you’re either at the table or on the table. For a really long time, Asian Americans have been on the table,” said Morita, who won one of the Democratic Party seats on the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District Board of Commissioners with 18.3 percent of the vote (372,755 votes).

“It was a huge night for the Asian American community,” she added. “I think it’s a huge sign of what’s to come.”

The months leading up to the election were marked by increasing civic engagement and involvement in the political process among Asian Americans, according to community organizers.

Former college professor Mah, who ran against incumbent State Rep. Eddie Acevedo’s son, Alex Acevedo, for 2nd district state representative, attributes her 51.2-percent victory (10,470 votes) in part to the “rising political engagement” of the Chinese community.

“We were happily surprised when we saw the vote totals coming in because, even though we knew we were strong with that demographic, it was clear that not only were Chinese Americans voting, they were bringing their friends and families to the polls, as well,” said a senior campaign staffer from Mah’s campaign.

Mah had secured a key endorsement from some in the Latino community, a large segment of the district’s population.

Meanwhile, Duckworth and Krishnamoorthi made waves on a national scale in their bids for seats in the U.S. Congress.

Duckworth, the first Asian-American congresswoman from Illinois, as well as the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, won 64.3 percent of the vote (1,180,939 votes) to become the Democratic Party’s candidate for the U.S. Senate. She will face Republican Sen. Mark Kirk in November.

Krishnamoorthi, a local businessman who was born to Indian immigrant parents, beat two opponents to take home 56.9 percent of the vote (43,945 votes) and the Democratic nomination for Illinois’s 8th congressional district, which is currently represented by Duckworth.

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago staff member Kristina Tendilla credits pan-Asian community efforts for mobilizing larger numbers of underrepresented Asian American voters, particularly in the northwest suburbs, where Krishnamoorthi ran.

“There is a groundswell happening around Asian Americans as a way to carve out our own movement as a part of this broader movement,” she said. “For folks who are trying to fight for Asian American and immigrant and racial justice, it’s important and exciting to have legislators who are from those communities.”

At the same time, Tendilla said it’s important to demand high standards from these elected officials, Asian American or not.

She said, “As an organizer, I’m really committed to working with them, but I also understand that it’s my job to hold them accountable.”

Photo at top: Josina Morita and Theresa Mah celebrate their historic victories. (Courtesy of Josina Morita)