Asian Americans in Congress

Dalip Singh Saund and Patsy Takemoto Mink made history as the first Asian Americans to be elected to congress in the 50's and 60's. The 2016 election also saw progress in the form of firsts for Asian Americans in congress.


Last year, we swore in the most diverse senate and congress to date: 19% female and 19% minority.[1] There are 12 Asian Americans serving in the House of Representatives and 3 in the Senate. The first Asian American to be elected to congress was Dalip Singh Saund, in 1957, and the first Asian American women to be elected to congress was Patsy Takemoto Mink, in 1964. That's only 60 years ago!

Dalip Singh Saund

Dalip Singh Saund was the first Asian American to be elected to congress. He was born in India and after receiving a degree in math there, he moved to the United States to study canning at UC Berkeley—no, I didn't see that coming either. Nonetheless, he eventually received a Masters and PhD in math as well. Still, due to racism, the only way he could make a living was to work as a farmer. He was elected to congress in 1957, becoming not only the first person of Asian descent to be elected to congress, but also the first (and only to date) congressman to practice skhih. Dr. Saund worked on the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and even came up with the Saund Amendment to avoid corruption in providing aid to foreign countries. His autobiography, Congressman From India, was published in 1960. Dr. Saund was at the height of his career when he suffered a stroke, which may have prevented him from going even further.[12][13]

Patsy Takemoto Mink

Patsy Takemoto Mink graduated from law school in 1951 and became the first person of Japanese descent to practice law in Hawaii. By 1958 she had been elected the Hawaii State Senate and in 1964 she was elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. One of the most notable accomplishments of her career is that she helped author Title IX, specifically fighting for the equality of funding for women's programs in schools (both academic and athletic). Title IX is one of the most important pieces civil rights legislature we have today, and you can thank Mrs. Mink for helping to make it possible.[5]
Patsy Takemoto Mink
Photocredit: History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives

Present Day

The 2016 elections ushered in even more firsts for Asian Americans in congress! In a way, it's sad because it reminds us how many barriers still haven't been broken down in our country, but it's also great to finally see change occurring.
  • Pramila Jayapal became the first Indian American woman to serve in the House (Washington).[7]
  • Stephanie Murphy became the first Vietnamese American woman to serve in Congress (Florida).[8]
  • Tammy Duckworth became the first female disabled veteran to serve in the Senate and the first woman to give birth while serving. Her family immigrated from Thailand, though she is of Chinese descent (Illinois).[9]
  • Kamala Harris, who is both South Asian American and African American, became the first South Asian American and the second black female senator in history.[10] There's even presidential buzz surrounding her! #2020![11] (California)


  1. Cristina Marcos. "115th Congress will be most racially diverse in history". The Hill. November 17, 2016
  2. Phillip Bump. "The new Congress is 80 percent white, 80 percent male and 92 percent Christian". Washington Post. January 5, 2015
  3. Gabrielle Levy. "The 115th Congress by Party, Race, Gender and Religion". US News. Jan. 5, 2017
  4. Lakshmi Gandhi. Four Asian-American Women You Didn't Learn About in School". NBC News. March 1, 2017
  5. "Patsy Takemoto Mink". Encyclopædia Britannica. March 30, 2017
  6. "MINK, Patsy Takemoto". History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives; visited May 2018
  7. "Pramila Jayapal: About Me", House of Representatives; visited May 2018
  8. Mohamed Hassan. "5 Things to Know About Stephanie Murphy, First Vietnamese-American Woman Elected to Congress". NBC News. November 8, 2016
  9. "Tammy Duckoworth". April 20, 2018
  10. "Kamala D. Harris". US Senate; visited May 2018
  11. Lois Beckett. " Kamala Harris: young, black, female – and the Democrats’ best bet for 2". The Guardian. July 22, 2017
  12. SAUND, Dalip Singh (Judge)". History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives; visited June 2018
  13. "Breaking Barriers: Congressman Dalip Singh Saund". Pew Research Center. December 19, 2008

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