On Jan. 8, when four Indian-American lawmakers joined another 16 Asian-Americans, in a ceremonial oath of office hosted by the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), it showed the strength in numbers and potential to affect policy, that the group can wield in the 116th Congress.
The influence of Indian-Americans even outside of Congress shone at the event as Judge Padmanabhan Srikanth “Sri” Srinivasan of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, administered the oath.
The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) is becoming increasingly visible in Congress, also obvious from the heavyweights who addressed the meeting – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California; Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland; and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina.
The rising visibility of Asian-Americans, is significantly impacted by Indian- American members like Reps. Ami Bera and Ro Khanna of California, Pramila Jayapal of Washington, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois. They are taking strong positions and frontline roles on policy issues ranging from “The Wall” to skills training, the shut down, and immigration in general. Jayapal is the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and Khanna is the first vice chair of the CPC.
“I am so honored and touched to stand with 19 of my AAPI brothers and sisters and to be sworn into the most diverse Congress in history,” Rep. Jayapal told News India Times via email. “With Democrats in power, we, as Indian-Americans, people of color, women and immigrants, are finally at the table making change for our communities. The 116th Congress will see policy made by us, for us,” Jayapal asserted.
Krishnamoorthi told News India Times he “felt compelled” to have his salary withheld until the shutdown is over because he could not countenance being paid while whole communities had to forego their pay – from farmers to aircraft controllers, and those needing housing or other assistance.
Asian-Americans make up some 18.2 million of the total population in the U.S., which is about 5.8 percent. It is one of the fastest-growing minorities in the country.
The potential to make a bigger impact in the 116th Congress, has increased with the Democrats taking over the House of Representatives, since all Indian-American lawmakers are from that party. But with a Senate dominated by Republicans, the positions taken by Indian-Americans in the House will obviously be limited, though their visibility may rise.
According to people News India Times spoke to, the APAICS received some 700 RSVPs for its Jan. 8 event at the Congressional Auditorium in the Capitol Visitor Center. Some 400 to 500 turned up for the swearing-in and reception, the APAICS spokesperson Nashwah Akhtartold News India Times.
“Our diversity is our strength but our unity is our power.” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, reiterating her remarks made at her own swearing in as Speaker of the House. She quoted President Ronald Reagan’s words about America being pre-eminent because of its newcomers. She also added, “The hopes, dreams, aspirations, courage, determination, optimism – those are American traits,” and when newcomers come with those qualities, “Newcomers make America more American.”
“What a wonderful, wonderful vision this is of America,” Rep. Hoyer said prefacing his speech. He described Asian- Americans as the most “courageous, entrepreneurial, energetic, enterprising people in the world. And together they’ve made America what it is today.”
Returning CAPAC members, including the four Indian-Americans, were congratulated, as were the the Congressional freshman class of 2019, which APAICS noted “includes the most racially diverse and gender balanced group of representatives ever elected,” organizers said in a press release. An Indian-American sang the national anthem.
“Each time you take the oath, it reminds you of why you are in Congress,” Krishnamoorthi said. Earlier on Jan. 3, Krishnamoorthi’s son held the Bhagavad Gita on which the Congressman swore.
“Repeating the oath with all the Asian American colleagues I felt that inspiration all over again — again – not just hearing yourself but all the others,” Krishnamoorthi told News India Times. “We are growing in numbers – now with 20 Asian Americans on the floor. It is good, and when Congress begins to look more like America, it works better,” he added … noting, “The reason America is exceptional is because it attracts people from everywhere.”
The Chair of CAPAC Rep. Judy Chu, DCalifornia, the first Chinese-American woman to be elected to Congress in 2009, addressed the crowd before the reception.
A special welcome was given to newly elected Democrats, Rep. Andy Kim of New Jersey, TJ Cox of California, and Michael San Nicolas of Guam.