Asian Americans underrepresented in politics, but a Bay Area race is shaking things up this November

Anita Chen is running to unseat Ro Khanna in 17th Congressional District race; Khanna is running for a fifth term in office

Julian Glover Image
Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Anita Chen running to unseat Ro Khanna in congressional district race
On the ballot this November in the 17th Congressional District are two candidates facing off. Anita Chen is running to unseat Ro Khanna.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- This May, we are celebrating Asian American and Native Hawaiian-Pacific Islander heritage month here at ABC7 News. In the South Bay, there is a noteworthy political campaign: two Asian Americans running against each other for a seat in Congress.

Vice President Kamala Harris shattered multiple glass ceilings with the Biden-Harris campaign victory in 2020. She became the first woman, Black person, and Southeast Asian American elected as Vice President.

MORE: Watch Kamala Harris' journey from Berkeley to be 1st Black, Asian woman elected to vice presidency

"Kamala Harris: To Be The First" details her journey of hope from Berkeley to Washington, where she will soon begin a new chapter as the first Black and Asian woman elected vice president of the United States.

However, Asian American Representation lacks among elected leaders nationwide.

"We're the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in this country-our numbers doubled over the past 20 years. Despite us making up 6% of the American population, we are less than 1% of elected officials, even in San Francisco. So a huge lack of representation for the AAPI community," said Norman Chen, CEO The Asian American Foundation.

TAAF is an advocacy group created after the rise in AAPI in 2020.

"Politics, traditionally, has not been a path that many Asian Americans have taken," he added.

In Silicon Valley, the heart of innovation and progressive ideals, there is a notch towards progress.

On the ballot this November in the 17th Congressional District representing parts of San Jose, Fremont, Sunnyvale, Milpitas, Newark, and Cupertino two candidates are facing off.

Representative Ro Khanna, a Democrat, is running for a fifth term in office.

"I believe that our district has something to offer the country in terms of new jobs, new economic opportunities," said Khanna.

MORE: Oakland Mayor-elect Sheng Thao makes history, becomes 1st Hmong mayor of major US city

Oakland Mayor-elect Sheng Thao becomes 1st Hmong mayor of a major U.S. city after declaring victory over Loren Taylor.

Anita Chen, 26, is an educator, a Republican, and is running to unseat Khanna.

"I listened to the voices of those in Congressional District 17. As I asked different communities, what are their top concerns," said Chen.

What's special here is the who and where of this race.

California's 17th Congressional District has the largest Asian American population of any district outside of Hawaii.

"When I grew up, there was not a single Indian American in the United States Congress.

MORE: San Francisco welcomes new mayor London Breed

History was made as London Breed was sworn in as the first African-American female mayor of San Francisco, the 45th person to take that oath.

My parents would have had a hard time getting a meeting with a staff member to a member of Congress," said Khanna. "Now there are five South Asians in Congress, there are about 20 Asian Americans, and more young people are getting involved."

"I think it's awesome that there are two AAPI candidates running in the AAPI district so that people see 'I have two candidates that look like me, represent me that I can choose from.' I think it's a wonderful thing," said Chen.

With that growing representation is room for distinction - something neither candidate shies away from.

"I think representative Khanna would make a move towards centralization of government and more government power," said Chen. "I would make a move towards decentralization of power returning powers back to the states and the local governments.

"I'm very much for abortion rights and for LGBTQ+ rights. I think there's some fundamental values of voting rights that we may disagree on. But I think it's wonderful that we have Asian Americans running in any party. I think that's great for democracy," Khanna added.

MORE: Evan Low beats Joe Simitian for 2nd place, will face Sam Liccardo in District 16 congressional race

The recount process is now finished in the District 16 congressional race following a tie for who would face the first place finisher Sam Liccardo.

Representative Khanna said he draws inspiration from his family's history in fighting for equality.

"My grandfather was involved with Gandhi's independence movement and spent years in jail. So it's sort of full circle here. I represent San Jose, where Cesar Chavez had roots and his movement was inspired by a movement my grandfather participated in," said Khanna.

Chen hopes her run inspires the next generation.

"We were putting up my yard signs across from a middle school. I just had this thought that I hope there's one little girl somewhere who looks at that photo and thinks 'Wow, she looks like me. And maybe that can be me one day as well.'"

Now Streaming 24/7 Click Here

If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live