There’s no doubt that last year was a breakthrough year for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). In January, we welcomed a record high - 20 AAPI members - to the United States 116th Congress. However, no new members elected to this Congress were AAPI women. In fact, we decreased the number of AAPI women in Congress. While it’s significant for our community to celebrate our historic milestone, let’s not forget that AAPI women continue to be invisibilized in almost all aspects of our lives.
That’s why APAICS is creating the Women’s Collective. The purpose of the Women’s Collective is to increase AAPI women representation in public service at all levels of government by leading the national conversation about AAPI women representation, uplifting AAPI women, and creating tools and resources for AAPI women to run for office and win.
When we consider big policy issues like immigration and economic justice, we rarely hear or center AAPI women in these debates. It’s because AAPI women are heavily underrepresented in elected offices and other positions of influence, meaning that our unique stories and experiences are invisibilized and as a result, our voices are ignored.
It’s going to be challenging to disregard our voices for much longer as there are over 10 million AAPI women in the United States and as the fastest growing immigrant group in the country, AAPIs need to continue to grow our political influence. As we all saw in the 2018 midterms, AAPIs were a political force, serving as a pivotal voting bloc in key elections throughout the country.
The midterms were also a big year for women, especially for women of color, with the exception of AAPI women on the congressional level. There were no new AAPI women elected to congress; of the 7,383 state legislative seats there are only 42 AAPI women serving; and there are only 3 AAPI women elected to statewide office out of 312 statewide positions. As a growing political force, it’s important that we cultivate AAPI women and build political pathways for them.
This work is personal. I am the result of the many strong women who supported me throughout my life. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the support of my mother, a confident Vietnamese woman, who empowered me from the time I was a child to never question my value. I had the honor of being elected President of my high school student body at 16 years old and later in college, Vice President to a diverse all-women executive board for Tulane University’s student government. My professional career is a testament to the more experienced women who believed in me when I was a young regional field director working on my first presidential race. I am inspired everyday by women who are passionate about making this world a better place. The concept of having women leaders as peers and supporting one another as sisters has always been an integral part of my life.
In my nearly 25-year career in politics, I have come across so many talented AAPI women; women who are political operatives, women who are fierce leaders, women who want to serve and run for office. I recognize that our community has yet to invest in developing and supporting AAPI women to become elected officials, especially at the local and state levels. AAPI women have been behind the scenes for so many candidates who have run for office, from the local, to the state, to the national level, and they are barely recognized for it. It’s time that AAPI women step into the spotlight.
The Women’s Collective is the first step to creating more opportunities and access for AAPI women to become political leaders. We will create a powerful network and community of AAPI women who work to inspire and support each other with the vision of electing more AAPI women to local, state, and national office. I am so excited about this initiative and honored to have the privilege of building political power for AAPI women.
Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke is the President and CEO of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS).