Represent! Record Numbers of Women of Color in the House

5 years ago

If President Obama’s re-election was a confirmation that the politicians need to embrace the changing face (or is it faces?) of our nation, the winners of the Congressional races show that voters want our representatives in Washington to actually represent the many kinds of people who make up America. The 2012 election may go down as one of the most diverse campaign seasons ever. Not just in the faces celebrating President Barack Obama’s re-election, but in the candidates who won the Congressional races.

Tuesday's election results will make the 113th Congress the most diverse legislature our nation has seen. Not only are we seeing an all-time record number of women on The Hill, they are from a variety of races, religions, sexual orientations and abilities. If the 1992 election is remembered as "Year of the Woman", perhaps the 2012 election will go down as "Year of the Woman of Color". Overall, the old boys club now includes an Asian American woman in the Senate and 28 women of color in the House of Representatives.

Here’s the breakdown:

Record Numbers of Asian Americans Elected to Office

Tammy Duckworth, Credit Image: © Harry E. Walker/MCT/

A total of six Asian Americans Pacific Islander women, all Democrats, are headed to Congress in January. This is an especially big deal for a community of nearly 10 million voters, who often feel overlooked in political discussions. But the 2012 down ballot races were record making for Asian Americans, with the number of Asians running for office tripling over past election seasons.

Now there are four new Asian American women headed to Congress. Maizie Hirono will become first Asian woman to serve in Senate, in fact she is only the second woman of color in the Senate – ever. Representing Illinois in the lower house is Tammy Duckworth (D), who is half-Thai, and made a stunning entrance to the Democratic National Convention on her two prosthetic legs, the result of her wounds while serving as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot in the Iraq War. Other newcomers include Grace Meng (D-NY), a Taiwanese American and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), an Indian American and the first Hindu Representative. Like Duckworth, Gabbard is also a military veteran.

Most importantly, the rise in numbers of Asian Americans running for office is a reflection of a demographic that is not only rapidly growing, but increasingly political.

Latinas Shaped the Presidential -- and Congressional -- Vote

L- Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA), R- Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM), Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Latina voters are showing their electoral muscle this fall, not only as voters, but as politicians. Nine Latinas will be serving in the next Congressional session, including two incoming freshmen: Michele Lujan Grisham (D-NM) and Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-CA).

Other high profile Latino winners, notably in Texas, include Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz won a seat in the Senate and Democrat Joaquin Castro, brother of San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, won a place in the House. However, many Latinas – notably from California—defended their seats in Congress, including: Grace Flores Napolitano (D), Linda Sanchez (D) and Loretta Sanchez (D).

The only two GOP minority women in Congress, Jaime Herrera-Beutler (R-WA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) are also Latinas.

African-Americans Remain the Largest Minority Demographic in Congress

Maxine Waters, Credit Image: © Brian Cahn/

Thirteen African-American women, all Democrats, will be serving in the 113th Congress, making up the largest minority demographic. Among them, will be just one newcomer, Joyce Beatty from Ohio. And many veterans retained their seats, including Maxine Waters (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Corrine Brown (D-FL).

However, it was not a good election for black Republicans. Mia Love, the 36-year old mayor of Saratoga Springs, Utah and a rising star who spoke at the RNC, was projected to win a seat in the House. Instead Love was narrowly defeated by a moderate Democrat Jim Matheson. If she had won, she would have been the first black Republican woman to serve in Congress. At this time, Tea Party favorite Allen West – controversial for sexist, racist, and Islamaphobic comments-- is projected to lose his Florida Congressional seat, but an extremely close count could trigger a recount.

But is it enough?

While diversity is increasing in the halls of Congress, it is still not anywhere near representative of the American population.

And will having more diversity in Washington make a difference?

It’s a good start.

News and Politics Editor Grace Hwang Lynch blogs at HapaMama and A Year (Almost) Without Shopping.

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