Chris Chyung of Dyer, St. Township was elected to represent District 15 in the Indiana State House of Representatives.
The 25-year-old Democrat beat Rep. Hal Slager, a Republican from Schererville, by 82 votes in last month’s election.
Chyung’s victory makes him the first Asian American state legislator in Indiana’s history.
He credits a total of more than 12,000 votes to attending community forums, frequenting sidewalks and knocking on thousands of doors, which were not always pleasant experiences.
“They told me, ‘Go back to China!’” Chyung told the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve never even been to China. My parents, who are both physicians, were born in Korea. So at least get your racism right.”
Chyung was born in Merrillville, Ross Township and grew up in Munster, North Township. He currently lives with his parents in Dyer.
“I’ve lived my whole life in Indiana, so I’m used to being the only Asian person in the room. Any room.”
The political newcomer points out his unexpected win over Slager, who served as a town councilman in Schererville for 10 years and state representative for three two-year terms.
“The notion that we could actually pull this off was unfathomable when we began,” Chyung said. “I’m still digesting my victory. And so is my family.”
Chyung’s parents — both physicians — moved to the U.S. from South Korea after the Korean War. They landed in Chicago, where they completed their medical fellowships before settling down on Indiana to practice.
As a child, he imagined following his parents’ footsteps, but he has no plans of attending medical school at present; something internally drove him to do different work.
He did not plan to become a public servant, either. His parents, who leaned conservative when he was younger, typically voted Republican on the ballot.
Things took a turn in 2016 when Chyung, an industrial engineer, became interested in local politics. His family started to self-identify as Democrats.
Chyung eventually learned that Slager was “out of step” with his constituents. He tried contacting Slager but received no reply. He then suggested that other Democrats run against the Republican representative; no one responded.
“So I (ran), even though I knew we would be outgunned on many fronts by Mr. Slager and the state’s Republican Party,” Chyung recalled.
Nevertheless, he sees Slager as a constituent and remains open for his thoughts. “If he wants to talk with me about any issues on his mind or projects he was working on, I’m available. Just like for all of my other 65,000 constituents.”
Chyung is currently drafting legislation to help Griffith, a town in Calumet and St. John townships, control its own services.
Indiana is home to 1,008 townships, each pooling taxes generated by township landowners that provide financial assistance to residents.
According to the Times of Northwest Indiana, voters “overwhelmingly” cast ballots to leave Calumet and join either North or St. John for lower tax rates.
“I’m trying to really cooperate with the Griffith Town Council to make this as smooth a transition as possible. I hope we can all get a solution that will accommodate everyone’s views,” Chyung said, adding that he has until early January to file a bill before the General Assembly.